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Last month Suriya flew down to Mumbai - with his family in tow - to seal the deal with folks at Unilever for his endorsement of their Close Up toothpaste brand. Suriya will be perhaps Close Up’s first celebrity ambassador since the brand has so far not been associated with any other celebrities. But that’s not the point. The point is that, with this deal Suriya will bolster his position as the most sought after celebrity in Tamil cinema to endorse brands.

Suriya’s modeling portfolio now includes as much as ten products. These products range from motorbikes to telecom operators to biscuits. There is also a cloth store, cement product and ayurvedic products that comprise his brand ambassadorship. His recent commercial for a popular instant coffee brand became a hit online even before it was officially released on television. The fact that Jyothika was also present in the commercial added up to the appeal, however. Besides, the ad company made better use of Suriya’s name – that incidentally is similar to the product – to write taglines and created a nice medley for better brand recall.

Among his contemporaries it might seem only Suriya is accommodating brands when it comes to endorsement deals. Well there is Madhavan, who is also close on heels with Suriya. But since he was sort of a model himself even before and has a pan-India appeal he can really not be counted among the Tamil film stars who endorse brands.

For one, brands seek stars that have good command in the region they represent. Suriya is a case in point. The coffee brand’s strategy of roping in Suriya and Jyothika for their commercial is an example of leveraging star power. For the popularity the couple enjoys in Tamil Nadu, the brand is astute enough to cash in on the same. Many a times, even products / brands irrelevant to the stars (like Madhavan endorsing a jeweler or Suriya himself, a popular cement brand) are being endorsed by them. This is done with the sheer motto of better brand recall.

And for the stars, endorsing brands is the common norm of the day that comes along with the perks their movie career endows. By endorsing a brand, a star is also ensuring that his reach is far better than it is with movies. Television reaches far and wide and covers the range of audience, impossible to penetrate just using a medium like cinema. People who have never seen a single Suriya movie in theatres will relate to him with the help of his sheer presence in the television, endorsing the brands they probably use in their everyday life.

Also brand endorsement is a way to validate the reputation of a film star. For instance, SRK’s brand portfolio runs into hundreds. So is Amitabh Bachan’s. Name a popular brand; you have either SRK or big B endorsing that one. So is Suriya kind of becoming an SRK of Tamil cinema, with his increasingly growing number of brand endorsements? He might very well be.

Strange as it might sound, for all its budget restrictions in movies, Malayalam cinema has produced an enormous number of brand ambassadors among celebrities. Superstar Mohanlal seemingly started off this trend and has an impressive array of brands and products up his sleeves. He endorses products ranging from ayurvedic medicines to jewelers to dhotis to real estate. It might seem that there is nothing that you use that does not fall under the brand-ambassadorship portfolio of Mohanlal. Mammoty follows close in heels and all the Gen X / Y actors have started following suit.

As much as we love our stars in our movies, it’s hard to love them when they become brand ambassadors, selling products. You and I might not buy a particular product because our favorite star endorses it. But there is no denial to the fact that the name of the product will forever remain etched in our memories.

At the end of the day, the only thing celebrity brand ambassadors achieve is to drive the popularity of the products up – all the while driving the professional models out of business. 

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