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A brand for the Youth or for just about anyone? Pepsi seems confused!

In a sudden turn of events earlier this week, Salman Khan was announced as the new brand endorser for Pepsi. The two year deal is estimated to be around 15 crores and comes at a time when the release of Dabangg 3 is right around the corner.

What is Pepsi trying to do here? Riding the ‘Har Ghoot Mai Swag Hai’ bandwagon, Pepsi have always marketed themselves as a cola drink for the youth. Signing a 53 year old as an endorser is a big surprise! Apart from a probable communication gap that Salman might create between Pepsi and its consumers, it is a known fact that Salman Khan endorsed Thums Up which is a home grown cola drink by rivals Coca Cola. Seems like Salman is confused as to what he really stands for. While the tagline for Thums Up  ‘Taste The Thunder’ suited the drink really well as it is known for its strong taste, Salman was portrayed perfectly as the masculine endorsee.  Salman doesn’t really feel like a fit holding the youthful Pepsi bottle with the ‘heavy metal devil horns’ gesture portraying swag! Talking about the effect on the consumer brand loyalty of Pepsi, Sandeep Singh, Spotlight and previously VP Marketing, Bira 91 says, “It will not have a very positive impact on the core consumer segment of Pepsi. With their latest campaign Pepsi has been trying to connect with younger consumers using Tiger Shroff as a brand ambassador but suddenly going back one generation won’t help building that connection.”

In the earlier years, Pepsi had both Sachin Tendulkar and Shahrukh Khan as their brand endorsers. However Pepsi dropped Sachin at the age of 35 and Shahrukh , then 43; as Pepsi thought that both of them are too old for the brand. Makes one wonder how is signing a 53 year old justified then?

We also have seen rivals Coca Cola signs Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone as endorsers who were previously with Pepsi. Do the brands really find consumers that stupid? What about leaving the consumer confused? Switching endorsers from rival brands is only justified when the endorsee is putting the other brand down; something we haven’t seen yet in this situation. For Pepsi, signing Tiger Shroff too had its own risks. Yes, he is a youth icon but what about the fact that he supports having a healthy lifestyle? Going ahead and signing for an aerated beverage is something the fans don’t really expect!

Now signing Salman Khan can only be justified in one sense. Pepsi want to leverage Dabangg 3 to increase its consumer base in tier 2 and tier 3 markets. This might be because of the fact the metros are slowly adopting a healthy lifestyle while the smaller cities might be more attracted to a cola beverage endorsed by their favorite celebrity. Singh mentions, “Pepsi might be leveraging the playful personification of Salman’s character in Dabangg but that will take Pepsi away from its savvy urban millennial imagery and broad base the reach of the message.”

However we do know the real reason while a Salman Khan switches his brand or Tiger Shroff endorses a brand which doesn’t fit his ‘healthy lifestyle’ persona. Putting it brilliantly in one line, Ashok Lalla, Independent Digital Business Advisor says, “It's all about the money, honey! Money makes the mare go, and also makes the celebrity brand ambassadors say 'Yes' from an earlier 'No'!”

However it makes you wonder of the risk factor for both the brand and the endorsee. Lalla mentions “Celebrities are known to switch brands. More so, no brand endorsements are truly life-long, and neither do consumers expect this from brands or their ambassadors.” However this might still create a disconnect with the Pepsi consumers as they have seen Salman be associated with Thums Up for so long. It will really depend on what kind of communication Pepsi takes forward with Salman on board.

Consumers are very smart today and swaying them has become even more difficult over the years. While it may increase screen time for Salman, the fact that credibility will increase is really a big question. On Pepsi’s side of the story, we find ourselves scratching our heads as to what they are really trying to do. Are you a Youth brand or are you just willing to hire any 53 year old celeb for the masses? An Industry expert also said “I’m disgusted by what Pepsi is doing.” Yes, it is a money game. The endorsee will shift where money is thrown at him but what about the consumer? Salman isn’t going to buy your drink! In fact he might be getting it for free! Maybe the brand really needs to think about the end consumer. If they are already doing that, signing Salman Khan needs to be justified with effective messaging and a shift from their current communication. A close eye needs to be kept on what Pepsi has in store next! A brand for the Youth or for just about anyone? Pick your side Pepsi!

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