Big Bazaar to Star TV, brands sign up local stars to bridge language gap

Mahesh Babu in a Santoor TV spot
With the growing clout of the regional, non-English speaking consumer, non-Bollywood celebrities are increasingly finding a big, bright spot under the endorsement sun. Brands from a range of categories and companies including the Future Group, Tata Sky, Hindustan Unilever and Star TV are seeking out stars that appeal to regional consumers. This includes Tollywood A-listers such as Rana Daggubatti and Prabhas, Punjabi actor Diljit Dosanjh and Bengali  star Prosenjit Chatterjee among others.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recently announced its association with music composer Ilaiyaraja to woo tourists from Tamil Nadu. GB Srithar, regional director (South Asia, Middle East and Africa), STB, said, “Ilaiyaraja has a huge fan following in India, especially in South India. As the STB continues to reach out to diverse audiences from across the country, this collaboration allows us to go regional in our marketing.”

To be clear, it is not that regional language celebrities did not have endorsements until recently. However, their involvement was largely with small brands or limited to a short-term arrangement for a regional extension of a large brand. Now, national brands like Domex and Big Bazaar have all appointed endorsers like Telugu actor Nagarjuna and Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh respectively. Although these names are usually accompanied by endorsers from other regions, their contracts are larger, longer and wider in their scope than ever before.

Nagarjuna and Rana Dagubatti in a Domex ad

Ambi Parameswaran, founder marks out the subtle shift taking place in the endorsement landscape. “Big brands have always successfully created ads for regional markets and have even used local celebrities. For example Nerolac had used Mohanlal some years ago. Coke and Pepsi have used Tamil and Telugu film stars regularly. So has Santoor. For Hindi it used to be R Madhavan or Saif Ali Khan and for Andhra Pradesh, it was Mahesh Babu,” he says. 

But the growing regional pie is forcing brands— national and multinational—into bigger investments for local markets, and therefore, faces that click in those places.

“I think as markets become bigger, we will see ads being created for specific regional markets. For example brands that are strong in Tamil Nadu, such as Chandrika or Hamam have made creatives that resonate with the local customs,” Parameswaran says. 

Resonance with local audiences is the main goal. While brands are still jousting each other for a few hours off the schedules of cricketer Virat Kohli or Bollywood’s Amitabh Bachchan, there is a growing realisation that these endorsers have limited sway on the local stage. “When it comes to resonance, the local celebrity will always have greater pull in a particular market than a mainstream celebrity. Given India’s granular diversity, brands have realised that to get this local resonance, they have to segment the country into smaller markets and approach each differently,” says Harish Bijoor, founder and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults. 

Diljit Dosanjh endorses Big Bazaar in Punjab
Entertainment brands were among the early ones to jump on to the bandwagon. Direct-to-home (DTH) service provider Tata Sky has been working with different celebrities in South India since 2013 in order to be more relevant in its communication in those markets. Back then, Tata Sky, among the country’s leading DTH operators, had no significant recall in the state of Kerala. So the company added features to its service that were relevant to the local market there and also signed on Malayalam actor Mohan Lal as endorser. That helped Tata Sky find a large local consumer base and enabled easy recall. Since then, the brand has associated with actor Sudeep for the Karnataka market, Mahesh Babu for Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It worked with Dhanush whose appeal cuts across South India, in 2015-2016, and more recently, with actress Nayantara.

Similarly, for Star India’s sports network Star Sports, the use of regional celebrities has helped drive viewership of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in local languages. It signed actor Shiva Rajkumar in Karnataka, and Prosenjit Chatterjee in West Bengal as official IPL ambassadors in Kannada and Bengali. Jr NTR is the IPL endorser in Telugu for the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana markets.

More recently, it adopted a similar strategy with Pro Kabaddi League when the network appointed actor Vijay Sethupathi as the face of the tournament in Tamil Nadu. “With the home team Tamil Thalaivas, the affinity for Kabaddi in the region has grown multifold, and today we are glad to bring on board Vijay Sethupathi as the face for VIVO Pro Kabaddi in Tamil Nadu. He will partner with us to build a deeper connect with the sport in the state. Fans can tune in to Star Sports 1 Tamil for kabaddi extravaganza,” the company said when announcing the endorsement in September. 

Dagubatti performs a similar role for the network in the Andhra and Telangana markets, driving up interest in kabaddi. He also features in ads about the launch of Star Sports 1 Telugu, which began last week in the two states. 

With inputs from Aneesh Phadnis

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