When Mahesh Babu beat up the goons in picturesque Istanbul in his recent movie Dookudo, it’s not the front-benchers alone who were cheering. A host of marketing managers at some of India’s biggest companies were equally thrilled by their decision to make the Telugu superstar their brand amabassador.
Dookudo opened much bigger than most Hindi films in the overseas market and became what in trade parlance is known as a super-duper hit. Mahesh Babu is now flooded with endorsement offers and has taken on Idea Cellular, pain relief balm Amrutanjan, apparel brand Provogue, jewellery retailer Jos Allukas, ITC Vivel and mobile retailer Univercell.
He commands Rs 2.5-Rs 4 crore per brand endorsement, which is almost similar to the amount charged by most Bollywood stars.
Babu is certainly not alone. The celebrity endorsement market is sizzling down south, with regional films getting bigger by the day and a sharp increase in the marketing budgets of big spending categories like telecom, beverages and FMCG sectors.
Popular southern stars hot on the endorsement circuit include Surya, Mahesh Babu, Ram Charan Tej, Trisha, IIeana, Shriya Saran and Sneha. According to celebrity endorsement agencies, the southern stars have cornered a quarter of the Rs 1,100 crore endorsement market for celebrities.
“There is a big demand and opportunity for southern movie stars to endorse national brands in the four southern states, primarily because of the brand connect and their hysterical fan following. In most cases, a Bollywood star wouldn’t be enough. In addition, the brands have also realized that in order to penetrate further into these markets, they need localised campaigns,” says Anirban Das Blah, Managing Director, KWAN Entertainment & Marketing Solutions.
KWAN has opened a dedicated division to manage the endorsements and appearances for South Indian stars. It has also joined hands with Geetha Arts to form Artist Alliance, the country’s first entertainment marketing firm focused on South Indian cinema. There are others such as Globosport, Cornerstone, Bling and a few other smaller ones.
The move for regional brand ambassadors has gained ground after the huge success of many regional movies. In Hyderabad, for example, the highest grossing Telugu film (Magadheera) sold Rs 22 crore worth of tickets compared to Rs 9 crore of the biggest Hindi hit (3 Idiots). Some of the smarter brands have realised that they need a local brand ambassador if they have to improve the connect between their consumers and ads.
“Brands need to localise the campaigns and make them relevant for the consumer,” says Navin Shah, Joint Managing Director, EMC Solutions Worldwide.
Companies have been quick to realize that. For example, while Malaika Arora Khan is the brand ambassador for Zandu balm for north, Emami, the owner of the popular pain reliever brand, signed on Surya as brand ambassador for the same product for the Tamil Nadu region, which is a big consumption market for such products. For Andhra Pradesh, however, the brand ambassador is different – Tollywood’s top actor, NTR junior.
Surya has also been associated with Emami Fair & Handsome, Himani Navratna Oil, Pepsi, TVS, Nescafe and Sun Fest biscuits . Surya commands Rs 3-5 crore per endorsement.
Brand experts say regional stars give them a much better reach to the target audience as the market is clearly identified. Besides, the choice of local media properties enables the national brands to promote a specific communication strategy.
“To penetrate further and establish a connect, we need someone whom local people can identify with,” says Ritesh Ghosal, Head - Brand Marketing Tata Teleservices. Tata Docomo has two brand ambassdors for Southern market which includes Ram Charan Teja for Andhra Pradesh and Vijay for Tamil Nadu.
Brand experts say companies often make the mistake of trying to have a single brand amabassador for the whole of south India, without realizing that it’s a highly pluralistic market.
And it’s not national brands alone that fuel the endorsement market. There are quite a few regional powerhouses as well.
The southern market has also shown a huge increase in disposable income and purchasing power. For example, 40 per cent of fairness creams for men are consumed in Tier III cities while according to the World Gold Council, 60 per cent of India’s annual consumption of gold and gold jewellery is from semi-urban and rural areas in the south.
“If Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were a country, it would be the 70th and 71st biggest economy in the world in terms of GDP, “ says Blah.