With a shrinking list of endorsements, has brand SRK lost the Midas touch?

Shah Rukh Khan. File photo: Reuters
The face that once launched a thousand brands seems to be in retreat. From being one of the most sought-after endorsers by some of the biggest companies on the block, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) today helms a handful of brands. Besides, unlike an Amitabh Bachchan or an Akshay Kumar, he is not the go-to man for government advertising and nor is he the first choice for a new launch. Has Brand SRK lost the Midas touch?  

A decade back, SRK was everywhere. Be it magazines and newspapers extolling his stardom, or hoardings and television sets beaming him down as he sold cans of cola, pens, paint and what have you. It was impossible to escape his overwhelming presence on the screen and outside. 

In 2008, as per TAM AdEx, SRK was India’s top brand endorser, with as many as 39 endorsements running concurrently. Today, his monopoly on the endorsement scene is broken. New brands are not queuing up and recently, Nerolac Paints, a brand he had endorsed for close to a decade, opted for a younger face, Ranveer Singh.

It may be unfair to pit the SRK of today to the brand that he was a decade ago, point out industry sources. For one the environment has changed with brands seeking stars with a millennial appeal. Thus, the rise of sports stars and young influencers from a variety of disciplines. SRK is still to make an impact on the digital galaxy. 

“Whichever way you look at it, Brand SRK is headed for decline. Nerolac is the most recent example,” says Sandeep Goyal, founder, Mogae Media. He believes that Khan has failed to reinvent himself for the new age consumer, which has made brands wary. (SRK’s team refused to comment for the story).

The other problem is his tepid run at the box office. And brands that measure saleability through ticket sales have been quick to pull back. “When it comes to actors, the only thing brands look at is Bollywood success, and so SRK is seeing a lull in terms of the quantum of brands,” says Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults. While critics attribute a range of reasons for his poor turn at the ticketing turnstiles—from poor scripts and ill-suited roles to lazy marketing—brands have scant use for the cause of his downturn. Their concern is more to do with the appeal he brings to the product or service they want to sell. And of late, that seems to be missing. 

“Celebrities provide instant fillip to brand presence and enable better cut-through (in a cluttered marketplace). Most marketers operate at this basic level. That’s what explains SRK’S historical dominance over endorsements. However, times change and so do heroes and icons. As SRK’s influence wanes, especially among the young, brands will replace him with the more popular younger celebrities,” says Ashish Mishra, managing director, Interbrand.

It does not help that SRK the actor, even at 52 years, continues to play a young lead in his films. He is a maturing actor being caught in his old image. As Mishra explains, the problem with the likes of SRK and a few others is that brands have always used them as an extension of their on-screen personalities. “It is challenging for them (the old actors) now to become contextual characters. They often endorse brands as themselves. In the context of ageing and lesser relevance to younger audiences, this poses a serious threat to the endorsement value of the legends like SRK or even Salman. They are also at a stage where they are maximising their equities by channelling them into multiple ventures. This further dilutes the personal brand,” Mishra adds.

Among SRK’s peers, Salman Khan’s brand has also seen volatile times, while Aamir Khan has played it smartly by sticking to a few endorsements and films at a time. This means he has been fairly under-exposed as an endorser and with his films hitting the jackpot, he is still in demand, points out one expert. 

Endorsement fees also prove to be a stumbling block when it comes to superstars such as SRK. “At his level there is a certain value attached to the brand. Now when his films aren’t doing the same business and brands do not find him as attractive, companies want to pay less. That is not an option for Khan or anyone at his level. Hence brands go for the younger, and inadvertently less expensive option,” Bijoor adds.

Brand consultants and managers are unanimous that Brand SRK needs some refurbishing in order to return to the top. This could come through a successful film or TV show. Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and even Amitabh Bachchan, though much older but in the same endorsement bracket, have all used the small screen to their advantage.

Television offers reach and visibility, two big pluses for brands. For SRK, his TV run has had mixed results. Be it as host of KBC for season 3 (2007), as host of Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? (the Indian adaption of Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?) or, more recently, as part of TED Talks on Star Plus. “A good and wildly successful TV show could do wonders to Brand SRK. Basically, he needs to get back the Midas touch,” Goyal says.

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