What is the secret behind his lasting pull? I would put gravitas at No. 1. Interestingly, gravitas was one of the Roman virtues along with pietas, dignitas and virtuas - translated variously as spiritual, dignified and virtuous. Respondents, I was surprised, referred to an 'inner strength' that they felt Bachchan has, one that gives them comfort, confidence and trust. And here I thought that was the exclusive preserve of god-men and babas!
Bachchan's big advantage is that despite his age, he is current and contemporary. His movie roles are meaty and he is most times a central character. His contemporaries are either gone, or have meandered into full time politics. The only older Bollywood star in the active endorsement space is Hema Malini who has largely stuck to advertising for a water purifier brand.
Shah Rukh and Aamir are almost at the age at which Amitabh Bachchan started to anchor Kaun Banega Crorepati? But neither is transiting to mature (read older) roles. They are still struggling to look 10-15 years younger. In sports, the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, closer to the Bachchan age bracket are too narrowly focused on cricket, with an entire generation not having seen him play. So too for Kapil Dev. Sachin Tendulkar is too young at 40 to encroach into Bachchan's territory.
The study showed the overhang of KBC is Bachchan's most enduring brand asset. It changed 'the angry young man' of the 1970s-80s into a dignified, friendly and supportive older gentleman. Approachable, affable, in fact, adorable. The magic of the Big B was re-ignited.
The interesting feedback from the Human Brands study is that respondents believe he is trustworthy because so many brands trust him! I found that a bit difficult to swallow, but in our focused groups that followed the quantitative study, it was clear that consumers trust the Bachchan brand more as more brands use him. This is contra logic to the argument that it over exposes, in fact over milks, brand Bachchan.
Apart from his pole position on 'trustworthiness', Bachchan also comfortably makes the Top 10 on another very important attribute, 'fun'. He is equally at ease celebrating 'Pappu paas ho gaya' for Cadbury's Dairy Milk, to selling Gujarat as a tourism destination.
Two very interesting current questions need to be addressed however. First, is he an appropriate brand ambassador for Incredible India? Second, whether the Panama controversy has hurt Brand Bachchan. My view on Incredible India is that while Bachchan may be incredibly popular in India, and trusted, a potential tourist from NY or Tokyo may really not recognize or trust the Indian icon. On Panama though, I am abundantly clear that any controversy, true or false, does tarnish (or at least taint) the brand. If he is looking at a presidential role, he could do without the Panama hat. Still, Panama or Suez, they no longer make guys like him anymore. He is one of a kind.
Sandeep Goyal is a media and ad-industry veteran with an experience of over 30 years