King Khan is in a bit of a spot. The arrest of his son, Aryan, in a drug-related case, has had his brand value come under scrutiny. Nothing much is being spoken openly but Byju’s, big name in the edtech business, quietly pulled off its advertisements with Shah Rukh Khan. It was a high-decibel campaign, with the superstar reportedly charging around Rs 4 crore each year.
For at least two decades, SRK, as he is known, has endorsed some of the most well-known brands, among which have been Pepsi, Hyundai, BigBasket, Fair and Handsome, and Frooti. As his stock in Bollywood rose, so did the scramble to sign on the star. The rub with Byju’s is that the core target group for the company is the student community and that is in the same age group as his son and, therefore, meant to strike a discordant note with youngsters. This, say advertising industry executives, left the company with no option. Interestingly, the LG campaign with Khan is still on air and the view is that the festive season is on. “This would have been planned months ago and it is difficult for the brand to make any change now,” says a top official.
The larger question is what does all this mean for brand Shah Rukh Khan, a man who has been one of the biggest and most viable actors. “From an entertainer point of view, there will be no impact. When you look at him from an endorser, it will make a difference but only in the short to medium-term,” said Manish Porwal, MD, Alchemist Marketing Solutions. Citing the case of Deepika Padukone, who also was in the middle of a drug-related case last year, he says she is back as the face of many brands. “When you are a celebrity, there is a certain risk that you align yourself with. We have seen instances of collateral benefit and damage. The story would have taken a different turn had Aryan achieved something.”
Echoing the view, Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of Delhi-based agency, Bang In The Middle, says celebrities are always vulnerable. “Even if a brand decides to back the person, the worry is when social media comes into play. At that point, the brand has no choice left since a potential backlash is tough to deal with,” Suthan argued.
This is certainly not the first instance of a celebrity landing in a controversy and brands having had to take a difficult decision. In 2015, Aamir Khan saw his deal with Snapdeal being terminated on the back of a controversial remark. The following year saw Salman Khan dropped by Thums Up after his hit and run case. If these are instances of stars facing the rough end of the stick, one just saw Amitabh Bachchan terminating his contract with Kamla Pasand, a pan masala brand, not long after he was trolled on social media. “Internationally too we have seen the likes of Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Madonna not having it easy when a controversy saw their brands dropping them,” Suthan said.
Of course, Shah Rukh Khan’s case is a little different since it does not have his direct involvement in the controversy. That said, the extent of damage will depend on how the case plays out. “Generally speaking, public memory is quite short and, to that extent, it may not really hit the brand value for too long,” Porwal said.