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anuja iyer


I got this call from a casting co-ordinator couple of days back regarding an ad commercial for a real estate company. The client apparently had asked the co-ordinator to pass on the message that they've approved me for an ad film likely to be shot next week and asked for my availability. Little did they realize that I have to approve them too before I sign up to talk about their brand and business in a TV commercial. All that the co-ordinator knew was the agency handling the shoot was a very reputed one and I could consider doing it. There's more to doing ad commercials than just the money and exposure the ad is bound to give. The recent fiasco that got actor Genelia entangled in a messy wire for endorsing a real estate project that later turned out to be a fraudulent one has brought the exercise of endorsements under a microscope. What has been a solid money churner for most celebrities besides the money made from a popular profession as cinema or cricket, has suddenly jolted the endorsers with the dire consequences of the brand or business going sour.

Having specialized in Advertising & PR in my Post-Graduate studies in Mass Communication and also being a part of an advertising family and making ad films, I've always been clued on to the ASCI guidelines, industry practices, Regulations of the Ministry of I & B and the overall functioning of the advertising business. My awareness level with regard to being associated with brands and the resultant image that will get built up over time is fairly sound and therefore I've been very cautious and choosy about the modeling assignments since the days of Fortune Oil commercials to the very recent collection of Palam Silks. But to model for a real estate company that is barely a year old with huge amounts of investor's money involved is a big risk should anything go wrong with the project not taking off or getting into legal tangles.

When you choose to be the face of a brand, there's a mutual rub-off effect on both the brand as well as the celebrity representing it. And when established stars like Vikram, Suriya and Vijay are involved, the stakes are much more for the brand that brings them on board. Film stars are today more and more accessible to their audience through blogs, tweets, facebook updates, social gatherings and live stage performances. The exclusivity and stardom of legends like Rajesh Khanna or Rajinikanth that made people swoon and croon for them was primarily because they just could not be seen anywhere else but at the theatres screening their films. The current lot of actors, with the exception of Ajith Kumar, has made themselves omni-present with all kinds of promotions, television shows, audio launches, ad commercials, special appearances at film functions etc. That being the individual's decision to share with the world their personal traits, off-screen lives, capitalize on the success commercially and the resultant fan-star relationships, these factors have made them more real, accessible while compromising on the larger-than-life persona that yesteryear stars enjoyed or enjoy even today.

While some fans derive nothing more than entertainment from their favorite actors or at best envision a world of fantasy when they dance, sing and fight on screen, there's a large chunk of audience that sees their favorites as a beacon of inspiration and relate to everything that the stars endorse - Be it moral speeches at the climax of a film or punch dialogues by looking into the camera or the brands and products that they endorse through ad commercials. The actors therefore shoulder a huge responsibility in being the face of brands and approving their quality, service and equity. When you see a telecom operator, for instance, conveying their message regionally through your favorite star Vijay or nationally through Ranbir Kapoor, it is only natural that you notice the ad without reaching for the remote to change the channel. It might also rope in the die-hard fans of the actors to try out the service besides increasing awareness levels. Therefore most brands are very much open to the idea of roping in celebrities of cricket or cinema to get the attention of their audience.

What goes wrong even in this scripted and planned plot is when the actors endorse start-up brands with no lineage and legacy that falter in their management and cheat consumers / investors of their hard-earned money. The recent busting of Emu farms, one of which was endorsed by reputed film stars of the 80s and 90s, Sathyaraj and Sarathkumar is a recent case in point. While the investigation of the scam is still on-going and too early to comment on the farm bubble that burst all of a sudden, it makes the investors question the judgment of the actors who endorsed the brands and seek an answer from those who advocated to investing in this  project. When you ask your audience to look at this business model at the time of advertising, is it not their right that the same people ask you back their concerns when the venture goes awry? The answer to that can only be given by the actors involved who otherwise hold a dignified and respectable place in the film industry for their body of work over the decades.

I had the opportunity to shoot with veteran actor Prabhu for Kalyan Jewellers couple of years back where the script involves a to-be-married girl, as played by me, shops with her parents for her upcoming wedding and the brand endorser as played by actor Prabhu looks into the camera and tells the audience about the best wedding collection in town, available at Kalyan Jewellers. For some unknown reason, that commercial never released, but there were a slew of other series endorsed by the actor and continues to be shot and aired frequently on all major channels. Like everyone else, I agreed to do the commercial purely because actor Prabhu was endorsing it himself. But I was intrigued by the fact that he was endorsing a relatively new brand and asked him the reason as well. He said he knew the owners personally and was sure about the credibility of the brand. Had he not known the ownership well or their fair business model, he would've not been the face of the brand. I got my answer & the chance to act with him. Irrespective of the category or product or money involved, consumers listen, reach out, seek, follow and trust the message that actors convey in commercials. While the owners of the brands are directly answerable at courts should anything go wrong, the actors shoulder a huge responsibility of endorsing the right brand and guiding the consumers in making their buying or investment decisions especially when a huge sum of money is involved. Meanwhile, to all those who go for brands that your favorite stars brandish, make use of your discretion as well and make an informed well-researched decision because it's finally your money and your call.

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