ENTERTAINMENT
12/04/2018 2:44 PM IST | Updated 12/04/2018 5:39 PM IST

For Salman Khan’s Advertisers, All Publicity Is Good Publicity

"Just like in movies, the hero comes out of the worst situations unscathed."

AFP/Getty Images

In July 2016, Salman Khan said playing the role of a wrestler in Sultan was so hard that he felt like a "raped woman." The public outcry was swift and vociferous, but his brands stood by him.

When Coca-Cola declined to renew an endorsement contract with Khan three months later, the company refused to link it to Khan's comments. In an email this week, a company representative told HuffPost their differences with Khan were purely commercial: Bigg Boss, Khan's reality show, was being sponsored by Appy Fizz, a rival product sold by competitor Parle Agro.

In a statement, Coke said, "Salman Khan was committed to an existing relationship with a daily TV show, which happened to be sponsored by a brand that competes with the Coca-Cola India product portfolio. In light of this, both parties mutually decided not to renew their contract."

The fear of consumer backlash has pushed international brands to react swiftly to ensure their products are not tainted by the scandalous acts of celebrities who endorse them.

"Yes, he has legal cases going on but at the same time, his popularity in India is really, really massive."

Khan's Indian advertisers are slower to act and when they do, they prefer not to say why.

Over his long career, Khan has been accused of killing the homeless in car accidents and assaulting women. He has been to jail twice -- most recently for shooting an endangered species of antelope in contravention of India's wildlife protection laws.

Big international brands have quietly terminated their relationships with the actor. Last year Khan's earnings via endorsements dipped to Rs 233 crore from Rs 270 crore in 2016, according to the Financial Express.

But the Indian advertisers who have stuck by him – Appy Fizz, Yellow Diamond chips, Relaxo Footwear, Astral Pipes (they make drainage pipes), CP Plus (a maker of home surveillance devices), Emami edible oil, and Dixcy Scott innerwear – figure that their image is unlikely to be affected by the criminal conviction of their celebrity endorser.

"Yes, he has legal cases going on but at the same time, his popularity in India is really, really massive," said Nadia Chauhan, Joint MD and Chief Marketing Office of Parle Agro, the company that owns Appy Fizz. "Any brand that has been associated with him has benefited tremendously, irrespective of the court cases."

Aviral Jain, MD at the brand valuation firm Duff and Phelps, said that Khan's involvement in social projects and his Being Human work play a vital part in shifting public perception. "Over the past few years, Salman has done movies like Tubelight, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Sultan, delivering social messages about humanity, love and peace, gender equality and the importance of determination. He has also been actively involved in social projects through Being Human. So the 'bad boy' image (due to the current conviction) might be quite short-lived and public sentiment can improve in his favor."

Aditya Khemka, the Managing Director of CP Plus, the security systems company Khan endorses, appeared untroubled as well.

"Salman Khan as the superstar of Bollywood exhibits the same passion, trust, and reliability as CP Plus." Khemka had said, in a press statement, in November 2017. "Both Salman and CP Plus are action-oriented brands and believe in re-inventing from time to time. With Salman Bhai, we intend to reach out to the masses and generate awareness on security & surveillance in India."

"You want stars to do things you would never do. You want them to get away with murder. You want them to dance with the most attractive women in town."

Khan's remaining advertisers declined to comment when HuffPost reached out to them.

Brand analysts say controversy works in Khan's favor.

"For the public, Salman is a hero and heroes go through ups and downs," said Harish Bijoor, an independent brand analyst. "But just like in movies, the hero comes out of the worst situations unscathed. Beaten but not defeated. The hero cannot die. That's exactly what happens with Salman Khan."

Appy Fizz, for instance, reached out to Khan when Parle Agro sought to crack the mass market.

"Initially, it was niche but now we're going massy so having Salman on-board was the right fit," Parle Agro's Chauhan said.

Khan's public persona has been carefully crafted, Bijoor said.

"You want stars to do things you would never do. You want them to get away with murder. You want them to dance with the most attractive women in town," he said. "They see Salman as someone who lives that life."

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