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Brands turn to ‘character actors’

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Character actors often get typecast in films and these stereotypes are reinforced through adsCharacter actors often get typecast in films and these stereotypes are reinforced through adsCharacter actors often get typecast in films and these stereotypes are reinforced through ads

In the last two weeks alone, actor Pankaj Tripathi has become the face of four brands — Glucon-D, Abzorb, Nilon’s and Britannia Milk Bikis (100% atta variant). He is not the only character actor who is in demand as an endorser, though. Gajraj Rao, Boman Irani, Saurabh Shukla, and most recently Sonu Sood, are now the flavour of the season when it comes to brand endorsements. Some of these actors have been in the public eye more so recently due to their presence on OTT shows and movies.

Gajraj Rao recently became the face of Tata Pravesh, a brand of doors from Tata Steel. Saurabh Shukla, known for his performances in movies like Lagey Raho Munna Bhai and Jolly LLB, has been the face of Mankind Pharma’s Gas-O-Fast, while Boman Irani endorses brands such as GTPL Hathway, Eris Lifesciences and has been the face of ITC’s Savlon and P&G’s AmbiPur in the past.

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Brand strategist Harish Bijoor calls actors like Tripathi, Rao, Irani and Shukla ‘micro stars’. “The connect that micro-stars make with consumers is unlike the one that audiences share with mega stars. A-list actors are distant while character actors proximal, allowing consumers to closely identify with them.”

It is this relatability that brands wish to leverage.

Zydus Wellness CEO Tarun Arora says Pankaj Tripathi fits the bill for Glucon-D as it is a product that is consumed by the masses. “Further, he is an actor who is popular among the OTT-watching SEC-A audiences and consumers from the Hindi heartland,” he says.

Character actors often get typecast in films and these stereotypes are reinforced through ads. Earlier this year, in the ad for Tata Pravesh, Rao played a naïve consumer looking to buy a door. The role he essayed in the ad was remarkably close to the kind of simple-minded Indian ‘uncle’ that he often portrays in movies.

Arjun Mukherjee, VP and executive creative director, Wunderman Thompson, Kolkata, who was part of the creative team that made the Tata Pravesh ad, says, “There’s always the danger of typecasting the actor which can be a definite turn-off for any brand. Therefore, it is important to know the actor’s body of work, and intelligently borrow from the actor’s on-screen persona.”

The other challenge is that character actors do not tend to have pan-India recognition. Mankind Pharma tackles this by having multiple endorsers specific to the region. “In addition to Shukla for Gast-O-Fast, we have Biswanath Basu in the east of India and Brahmanandam in the south,” says Joy Chatterjee, GM, sales and marketing, Mankind Pharma. The company uses A-list stars such as Ranveer Singh for its overall over-the-counter category and Kareena Kapoor Khan for its pregnancy test-kit product PregaNews.

Character actors like Tripathi and Rao charge about `25-40 lakh per endorsement per year. Brands on a budget opt for actors like these because of their pocket-friendly fees and wide appeal. However, it is unclear if employing them as endorsers as opposed to casting them in a campaign add significant value to the brand.

“The reason brands enlist celebrities as endorsers is because they are role models and audiences wish to emulate such personalities. Character actors whose roles are interesting in the context of a movie earn likability and do not necessarily become role models who can be imitated,” says Sandeep Goyal, CEO and founder, Mogae Media.

Analysts also say audiences find it hard to differentiate between a character actor playing a role in an ad as opposed to being the endorser. This is possibly why Saregama Carvaan used Rao in its ads as an actor, and not an endorser. “Actors like these are adept at playing different kinds of roles and therefore can be suitable in ad films. But brands cannot depend on their equity alone to drive sales,” says Goyal.

The brand choices available to these actors are in direct correlation to their roles in movies and shows. “Micro-stars are better associated with brands that have mass appeal as opposed to international or premium brands. Further, their immediate career trajectory has a heavy impact on their brand equity. A-list celebrities tend to have more longevity as endorsers, as opposed to character actors,” says Bijoor.

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