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Celebrities warm up to licensing

The number of stars extending their name to brands is on the rise. But the motives need sharpening

Salman Khan
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is the latest celebrity to lend his name to an apparel line. With the brand Hrx, he joins the licensors' bandwagon to enter the casualwear market. He follows the footsteps of who had licensed his own line of casualwear called ''. But it has to be seen if the pull of star-power is going to sustain a brand in the consumer space or not.

Brand analysts say that the longevity will depend on the kind of product the licensor chooses to associate with and the way the licensee manages the distribution and product development after the celebrity hype dies down.

Hrx will be sold online through Myntra's e-commerce portal, as it has obtained exclusive manufacturing rights for the brand.

"We work on the design and product development, but all the designs are finally approved by Hrithik. A percentage of sales will be given to him as royalty," says Ganesh Subramanian, COO of Myntra. In the recent past, Salman Khan had lent his charity's name, 'Being Human' to Mandhana Industries, an apparel exporter, which now has the mandate for the retailing, designing, manufacturing and marketing of the brand till March, 2020.

"Initially the brand got a huge push due to Salman Khan endorsing it. But now we have been working on our product line and distribution network to increase sales," says Mitesh Shah, vice-president, corporate affairs, Mandhana Industries.

The trend of floating their own brand of consumer products is picking up in India, as gains pace in the country. But Indian celebrities have been late to the party. In developed markets, celebrities such as sportsmen and movie stars have struck liaisons for years and some have been long-lasting ones.

When the legendary US basketball player, Michael Jordan, was an upcoming talent, Nike signed him for licensing his own line of shoes in 1984. In 1985, when Jordan wore the first product, Air Jordan, to court, NBA officials promptly fined the athlete $5,000 for wearing shoes that were not part of the uniform. Not only did Jordan wear them again, Nike picked up the bill, everytime, for the fine (over the royalty paid to Jordan) and advertised it as: "...Fortunately, the NBA can't keep you from wearing them. Air Jordans. From Nike." The product sold like hotcakes in the frenzy that followed, and many iterations later, it is said to be selling twice as much around the world than when he was playing.

However, Indian celebrities are yet to taste success like that. As it is still a nascent phenomenon, brand experts say that both the licensor and licensee should strike when the iron is hot and make the most of marketing the line when the celebrity is at her peak.

"When a celebrity lends her name and identity to a brand, it helps to give the product the initial push, but later it depends on whether the product is able to deliver to make the consumer come back for more. Initially, fans will come ahead and try the product," says Prashant Agarwal, joint-MD of Wazir Advisors.

The licensee has to keep re-inventing the product line and spruce up distribution to sustain recall. "It is more like 'out of sight, out of mind'. The licensee has to invest in tweaking the product as the image of the celebrity changes over time or take up marketing initiatives to remind the consumer of the brand," Agarwal says.

However, the celebrity licensing trend will pick up only if licensors themselves are careful with evaluating the product with which they are defining themselves. Jordan, though reluctant at first to go to Nike (his heart was set on rival Adidas), saw the connect of Nike's explanation of how the shoes aided his athletic ability as a reason to sign up with it.

Such savvy is expected to seep in once celebrities see this as a way of making substantial money, apart from a channel to connect to fans. For now, it is the licensee which is learning that a famous name can get products to fly off the shelves. "The celebrity's name gives a huge push to sales, as fans troop in," says Ankur Bisen, senior vice-president at Technopak Advisors. So far, we have seen popular figures endorse products in mainstream advertising or brand activations.

In licensing so far, many have dabbed themselves with licences for perfume . The first Indian to get started was yesteryear's actor Zeenat Aman, with a perfume named Zeenat. Lata Mangeshkar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Arjun Rampal, Shilpa Shetty and MS Dhoni are some of the other celebrities who have their own line of perfumes.




LACOSTE SET THE STAGE

Lacoste was perhaps one of the first brands that was built on a licensor's name. It took after Grand Slam tennis champion, Rene Lacoste's loosely-knit cotton pique shirt with a collar. The polo t-shirts of today were introduced by Lacoste as a result, and the brand has grown since then.

Brand experts say that Lacoste is no longer known because of the former tennis player but because of the 'petit pique' shirts, which Lacoste had introduced in 1933. Polo t-shirts, now almost generic, but Lacoste's bestsellers have been able to outlive the founder. Experts point out that innovation has ensured that the brand has come into its own. Till last year, the brand had tennis player Andy Roddick as its brand ambassador and even started a line in his name. The current ambassador is former tennis player Gustavo Kuerten.

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