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Pan masala ads: A public relations masterstroke!

Date: 23rd April, 2022

Publication: The Times of India

The ongoing IPL season has courted numerous brands to spend millions to catch the captive audience of the largest cricket festival of the year. Pan Masala companies have become active participants spending a substantial part of their marketing budget on signing big celebrities to advertise in the biggest events of the nation’s calendar. Personalities like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, and Ajay Devgn have prominently endorsed pan masala brands like Kamla Pasand and Vimal Elaichi. Vimal Elaichi is one of the largest chewable brands in the country under the aegis of the Manikchand Group has signed the biggest superstars from Hindi cinema to endorse its pan masala. The “Bolo Zubaan Kesari” campaign of Vimal Elachi endorsed by Ajay Devgn has attracted the greatest number of hilarious memes and reels on social media and has become a by-line of cringe-worthy standards.

The aggressive campaign during and before the IPL has drawn a flank from the masses on the usage of pan masala that could have harmful effects on the body, especially the mouth. The endorsement by celebrities that have a large influence on society and the youth has raised questions about their social and moral obligations. Social media has had a field year in reminding these celebrities to wake up to their social obligations and refrain from further acceptance of pan masala endorsement contracts despite the huge paycheck attached. Last year in November 2021, Amitabh Bachchan sent a legal notice to the pan masala brand Kamla Pasand that he was endorsing and terminated his contract with pan masala and returned the money received for the promotion after he was heavily trolled on social media for abandoning his social duties. While he annulled his contract, the ads featuring him and Ranveer Singh have continued on television unabated (apart from thousands of hoardings and posters which continue to be on display in the market.) This is a public relations masterstroke, where despite an annulled contract, advertising continues, the brand gains and the celebrity takes the cake of being a responsible citizen.

Akshay Kumar has gone a step further in redefining the masterstroke in public relations. While on one side, Akshay Kumar endorses Government’s sanitary pads campaign which has been on the air in cinema halls for years (in which he rebukes a commoner to stop wasting money on bidis/tobacco), he also chose to endorse Vimal Elaichi pan masala in casting coup of an ad with Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn. Netizens were surprised at the pan masala endorsement from a fitness freak like Akshay Kumar whose health regimen is an inspiration for many. The power of social media and the internet forced him to issue a statement on 21st April 2022 with the following words.

“I am sorry. I would like to apologize to you, all my fans, and well-wishers. Your reaction over the past few days has deeply affected me. While I have not and will not endorse tobacco, I respect the outpouring of your feelings in light of my association with Vimal Elaichi. With all humility, I step back. I have decided to contribute the entire endorsement fee towards a worthy cause.”

With a single tweet, Akshay Kumar has struck a masterstroke in public relations. He has attempted to elevate his social standing by announcing the end of his brand association while going a step further than Amitabh Bachchan by contributing the endorsement fee towards a social cause. Though he issued a body blow to the brand image of Vimal Elachi, the brand may continue the advertisements, banners, posters, and other POP material as long as they like since the contract remains valid. It’s a win-win for the brand and its ambassador. The principle of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ works in good measure in this case.

So far, Ajay Devgn has repelled any pressure to withdraw from the lucrative pan masala ads as he dubs it as a “personal choice”. An informed citizen of today, will push celebrities to become more responsible towards the brand they choose to endorse since they have a huge following amongst the younger population.

 

Though the audiences are smarter than ever before, they continue to be swayed by brands that employ their favorite superstars to push products that are not essential or even hazardous to life.