Corporate branding experts channel Bollywood stars like Bipasha Basu, Deepika Padukone and Hrithik Roshan in creative new directions. By Aakanksha Devi
You may have noticed international celebrity brands fighting for elbowroom — and sales — in most lifestyle categories and getting involved in all kinds of creative offerings from candy to cleaning products. Jennifer Lopez has her Kohl’s collections, Venus Williams has EleVen (her active wear label) and Maria Sharapova owns Sugarpova (gummy candy enterprise). Closer to home, Indian conglomerates are riding the new wave of celebrity-based merchandising and marketing, and taking fashion into wardrobes, homes and offices via Bollywood. Deepika Padukone donned the designer’s hat for her limited edition line with Van Heusen, as did Lisa Haydon when she partnered with Sher Singh for a global girly line in 2012. Bipasha Basu offers buyers her pick of stylish accessories for The Trunk Label, while Salman Khan, Lisa Ray, Suzanne Khan and Nikhil Chinapa are working their lifestyle into fashion and decor. We talk to the people behind the new star power factor.
CEO at Silver Monkey Communications, Mohnish Malhotra, who handles Satya Paul, says that this change from celebrity endorsements to involvement is a growing trend that resonates especially well with customers ‘who respond to Bollywood and cricket’. With celebs preferring to shift from posing in front of the lens to tackling the drawing board, consumers take the concept they promote more seriously. Malhotra helped bring on board Ray for a 10-piece limited edition series, Ray of Hope, that reflected Ray’s own style and her personal highs and lows after she was blown away by the Satya Paul sari
she wore at her wedding. “It was a perfect way to share my message of triumph with others — design a line of clothing that featured a blend of East and West, and finding light and love after a dark period,” says the cancer survivor who auctioned off her wedding sari for charity.
Similarly, larger than life action star Salman Khan, no stranger to endorsements and collaborations, found his metier with Being Human – a label that originated in Europe in 2012 and spread globally before arriving in India. Kunal Mehta, VP, marketing and business development at Being Human Clothing, tells us how Manish Mandhana (MD of Mandhana Industries) and Salman Khan teamed up ‘to spread the brand’s ideology through cutting-edge fashion’ and how the Kick star was closely involved from the word ‘go’, adding his ideas and creativity to the trends and designs for the collection.
And while celebrity involvement is co-dependent, MD and CEO at CAA Kwan, Anirban Das Blah, feels it is not for everyone. “Brand extension is the way forward. I foresee at least ten more celebrities coming on board this concept in the next few years,” shares Blah, the man who facilitated Deepika Padukone’s Van Heusen collaborative stint. “It was originally Deepika’s idea. She is a fashion icon and trend setter, and wanted a sophisticated platform.” Padukone says, “I’m hardly a designer. I am someone who has ideas but is not very good at executing them. I need people to help me put it all together.” And that is what Blah says is the right attitude. “Stars take on such projects to satisfy a creative or business urge. For example, Oprah Winfrey and Ryan Seacrest’s media networks, the Olsen twins’ clothing line, Elle Macpherson’s lingerie line or Jennifer Lawrence and her business. In India, Being Human and HRX have made waves,” he enthuses, but stresses that the key is to be passionate and not just do it as a marketing gimmick. And attaching a celebrity name to a brand does not guarantee success he tells us, adding that profits made from such collaborations tend to favour the brand as they gain from merchandise and leverage through the celebrity. “But it all depends on the type of collaboration and the terms of the deal. It may seem that the brand wins all, but then again it is also about what one considers to be a gain – a creative outlet or remuneration.”
Robert Beady, creative and retail director of international fashion webstore KOOVS, says, “We expect the star to drive the creative development of a product and Koovs to manage the production.” Koovs brought Nikhil Chinapa on board because he is well respected within the EDM world with a large social media following and they wanted to channel his energy into a clothing collection that would reflect elements of the music scene. The merchandise is expected to go on sale soon. But he goes on to caution, “Customers can see when a collaboration is fake and has no credibility. We only develop partnerships with people that have a passion and talent within certain areas like design, music and art.”
Leading the way
Preeta Sukhtankar, the lady behind unique e-commerce company, The Label Corp, wanted to fill the gaps in the e-commerce and retail space by making celebrities an internal and integral part of the brand, not just endorsing it from the outside. She zeroed in on Malaika Arora-Khan for The Closet Label, Suzanne Khan for The Home Label and Bipasha Basu for The Trunk Label. “All specially chosen for their expertise and passion in bringing consumers and celebrities together to share a personal experience, not just dump them with shopping choices,” explains Sukhtankar, describing the three handpicked Bollywood divas as ‘taste makers’ and ‘personal guides’, akin to the sought after ‘popular girl in school’. “We wanted someone who is inspiring because of their work rather than their lineage. Someone relatable and credible,” she says, emphasising that the stars’ lifestyle is also a draw and not just their professional face. Malaika agrees, “As an industry veteran, I recognised the gap between high end apparel and everyday wear. I also rue the fact that women only tend to dress well for an occasion when you should also look your best at work; or every single day. I’ve always wanted to be a part of this project since I hosted MTV Style Check. As creative director of The Closet Label, the brand is an extension of myself. I want to reach out to all twenty-something women and cater to their individuality, yet keeping quality and affectability in mind.” Sukhtankar insists that extreme personalisation is key to their success. “In Bipasha’s section, we’ve started making shoes in the uncommon size 41, because she loves shoes and found it hard to get her size here,” she tells us.
Manish Porwal, managing director of Alchemist, treats celebrities as a solution to client branding and specialises in niche celebrities like Anoushka Shankar (sitarist) and Shameer Tandon (music director of Jail, Page 3, Corporate), among others, who rule their respective genres and have varied talents to offer to corporates to engage their consumers in ‘a cost-effective, high impact, PR-able way’. “Alchemist is a talent solutions company. And celebrities are a part of a solution that we recommend to our clients,” begins Porwal, explaining that they, along with Hansa Research, have co-created a study called CelebScore, the world’s largest celebrity research team that helps tackle the brand dilemma of choosing the right endorser in an objective fashion.
Fashion webstore Myntra has moved beyond affordable style to presenting Bangalore Fashion Week, and launching capsule collections through celebrities like Ranveer Singh, Kangana Ranaut and Lisa Haydon. Singh and Ranaut have created in-house fashion brands Roadster and DressBerry, which Abhishek Verma, business head, says is a reflection of their personal style sensibilities. Lisa Haydon, the face of ‘Live for Likes’ campaign, emphasises that celebrities are doing more than posing with a product. “What better way to resonate with the youth than through star power,” he says.
The bigger picture
Exceed Entertainment, headed by Afsar Zaidi, Uday Singh Gauri, and Kamal Punwan, is also the force behind a recent tie-up for India’s first celebrity brand extension project with Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan, in addition to managing portfolios of the likes of Saif Ali Khan and Shilpa Shetty. The launch of the star’s new casual clothing range HRX – Push Your Extreme is testament to the growing trend. “Every celebrity has unique ‘extendable’ brand attributes that can drive development of extensions. HRX is the first celebrity brand extension in India that has followed this methodical process. We combined Hrithik’s image of being a hero, fit and sexy, with his penchant for a fitness inspired lifestyle,” he says, elaborating that some cases are ‘natural brand extensions’. “Some celebrities and/or characters organically extend their brand. Kid Krrish was a natural brand extension making Krrish the first Bollywood character to become an animated character,” he signs off.