I haven't lived in India for over a decade, but thanks to Facebook, I can always keep track of reactions to the country's latest news stories. Responses to Salman Khan's short-lived prison sentence have flooded my news feed over the past several days.
Normally unfazed by elite privilege, I have been taken aback by the rally for Khan. The response has been over and above what the usual Bollywood fraternity receives -- socialites and ardent fans alike took to Twitter and social media to stand by their man. This phenomenon seems contradictory to the rallying cry of the 2014 elections where there was a demand to change the status quo. Seeking to do away with dynastic rule, Indians across the country had expressed absolute intolerance for the entitled upper class. So why is Salman Khan above the fray? Surely his bare-chested, crotch-shaking dance moves seem too simplistic an answer.
"Has Salman Khan successfully rebuilt his image by hawking T-shirts?"
While reading the news coverage, another little thing has bothered me intensely: what I saw in the pictures of Salman Khan. In almost every one of them, the words "Being Human" were scribbled on his sculpted chest. The oddity and contradiction inherent in this situation has been hard to overlook. Imagine Lance Armstrong wearing a "No Doping" T-shirt to his Oprah interview.
Being Human is now a successful lifestyle brand launched with Salman Khan's foundation and Mandhana Industries. According to a Hindu Business Line story from April 29, 2014, the brand raked in Rs 140 crore in revenue since its launch in 2012. A Mumbai Mirror story says 5% of that revenue goes towards the causes supported by the foundation -- education and healthcare.
It seems Salman Khan exclusively wears clothes from his brand, Being Human. He would make for a predictable red carpet interview.
This brings me to my main question. Has Salman Khan successfully rebuilt his image by hawking T-shirts?
According to the same Mumbai Mirror article, "Being Human' stands for a holistically conscious existence (sic), aimed at fulfilling a specific 'maqsad' (goal)."
By most measures, this was a very successful campaign. The article credits Salman Khan for the idea.
Here is why I think 'Being Human' worked. It had a long-term view with clear, consistent messaging. We advise our clients to define themselves before someone else does it for them. Salman Khan defined himself as "being human" and the nation bought his line. The media did not publish a single story questioning the contradictions.
There had been little precedence of Bollywood actors launching foundations or having a dedicated charitable cause. The timing could not have been better.
Being Human spread to the racks of over 300 retail stores across the country. And as a fast-growth brand, we can only expect to see more of it. An aggressive digital media and offline campaigns fuel this growth. The Facebook fan page has over a 100k followers and a steady stream of engaging, beautifully created visual content. Salman Khan himself promotes these products on his personal page, which has over 24 million followers.
High-quality, beautifully designed merchandise caters to the demand for high fashion. According to a recent article in Quartz India, "India's merchandise retail spending will touch about $1,100 billion by 2020. By 2025, this could grow to $2,100 billion."
When the nation is holding its breath for Salman Khan, are we actually applauding the success of a PR campaign called "Being Human"?