SRK: The Evergreen Baadshah Of Brands

King Khan turned 58 on 2 November 2023, but he seems to be ageing like fine wine

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, fondly known and addressed as SRK, is living his flamboyant dream. To not only endorse brands and make movies, but to be a legendary brand himself.

Khan is a pro at movie marketing and no one is as good as him in the business of Bollywood. His action thriller, Jawan, grossed over Rs 1,146.78 crore (US$140 million) at the box office; Pathaan collected Rs 1,050.30 crore (US$130 million) worldwide – which put him right back on top of his game. Khan had been slipping down in celebrity brand valuations listings for several years - his brand value dipped from $106 million in 2017 to $55.7 million in 2022, according to Duff & Phelps celebrity valuation reports.

In 2017, SRK lost his top spot, and was superceded by Indian cricketer Virat Kohli. In 2021, his brand value knocked him out of the top 10 most valued celebrity brands. Also, in late 2021, with Khan’s son being arrested in an alleged drug case, edtech firm BYJUS, which Khan was endorsing at the time, took off the air ads featuring the actor.  Ever since, the edtech brand has itself been spiralling down and SRK is reportedly hesitant about renewing his contract when it ends. As per media reports, with the two successes in 2023 up to now, Khan’s brand value of $55.7 million is expected to rise 20-30 per cent at least.

Khan’s endorsement kitty has more than 40 brands across categories such as Pepsi, Hyundai Santro, Nokia, Lux, Dish TV, BYJU’S, Big Basket, Reliance Jio, LG TV, Denver, ICICI Bank, Fair & Handsome, etc. He has also been the face of Dubai tourism and the brand ambassador of West Bengal.  Adding to this list are Realme, Myntra along with Everest Masala, this year.

On the occasion of his 58th birthday, BW Marketing World had a chat with a few marketing consultants about the brand SRK has evolved into, and the pros and cons that brands need to keep in mind while associating with a name like SRK.

The brand SRK 

As per Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Independent Director, SRK has and continues to remain one of India’s most enduring and much-loved brands. “He has reinvented himself as an actor at various stages and his larger-than-life off-screen personality – his ownership interest in Kolkata Knight Riders and Red Chillies Entertainment among others adds to his mage brand.

An important element of brand SRK is his appeal amongst a vast swathe of audiences both rural and urban; and his earnestness and endearing personality.”

Vani Gupta Dandia, Founder, CherryPeachPlum and Former Marketing Director, PepsiCo Foods believes that SRK is a huge brand and will continue to remain so. He has sway across generations still and brings immediate recognition and stature, she feels.

Shubho Sengupta, Digital Marketer understands that SRK invented marketing for Bollywood. “There were other people like Aamir and even going back to the times of Rajesh Khanna’s shirtings and suitings. But SRK understood the science of marketing – he was the first guy to do so. I remember, few years back when I was at Coca Cola around 12-13 years back, he launched his movie called Ra.One – it was one of the early Red Chillies Productions. The man (SRK) went up to the extent of tying up with Google, YouTube because he was launching the teaser on YouTube. And this is 12-13 years back, he was so far-sighted. He understands marketing better than any marketer in the Bollywood genre.”

He goes on, “Inspite of many negatives and not so many good things, he’s still number one, and that’s a huge credit to him. Inspite of so much negativity, he has been able to retain his position. There were times when brands weren’t sure whether they wanted to be associated with him, but he’s weathered it so well, unlike so many other stars. He’s a very smart, strong brand – FMCG, aspiring India – he cuts across - from the urban aspiring Indian to being active in regional languages. He is the ultimate brand in India, the strongest brand in India – you can compare him to any other brand, except the Prime Minister, of course! Any brand can plug into him, even B2B, and not just FMCG.”

Pros and cons that brands need to keep in mind while associating with a name like SRK?

Mathias emphasises that celebrities always come with associated risks. “Most brands recognise this when they sign on a celebrity.  They may get into a controversy on things they say or do that gets all over the media that could cast its shadow on the brand. For movie stars there’s a risk of their movies failing, much like for sportspersons -loss of form or being dropped from the team.

SRK has had his share of controversies but has mostly emerged unscathed.”

Gupta deciphers that the onus is on the advertiser to utilise the brand SRK in a way that benefits their own brand objective. “Too often advertisers hire big celebrities to make up for the lack of a big communication idea. Big Basket’s advertising was a classic case of very poor use of SRK.  On the other hand, the launch of Hyundai is still remembered as being one of the best uses of a celebrity.”

“Don't let the celebrity overshadow the brand would be the single biggest watch out.  And make sure there is a compelling brand idea first.  The celeb must fit the brand idea.  Don't force fit some script and brand into a film which is made for the celeb - then the celeb will be the hero and your brand will have zero recall. The worst outcome of signing a celeb would be people remember the ad film ‘I love the new SRK film’ but can't remember the brand advertised,” she adds.

“I don’t see any cons really if SRK is used correctly. Just that do not put all your marketing mix into one celebrity star, which holds true for anyone, any cricketer too, and not just SRK. They are here today; they may not be here tomorrow or six months from now – who knows? You don’t know what’s going to happen. Brands are better exploring as traditional marketing mix – take your brand values and connect. I’m not a great believer in celebrities with brands except for some rare instances,” opines Sengupta.

Khan did not come with a godfather in the Bollywood industry, but has definitely left an indelible mark in the industry with his grit, to the extent that brands can’t help but want to get a piece of him. A rub-off off SRK sure helps.