Among highest ad spenders, how pan masala brands are thriving despite bans & low image

Recently, there was a lot of hullabaloo over Akshay Kumar appearing in a Vimal Elaichi ad. The actor faced a lot of flak on social media for endorsing a brand that markets pan masala, which many consider to be not good for health. In fact, so severe was the trolling that Akshay Kumar, who is well-known as a fitness enthusiast, had to distance himself from the ad and he also promised his fans that he would never endorse such products.

However, regardless of how much pan masala and the brands selling in this space might be trolled, the fact remains that the pan masala market in India is a huge one and the brands in this space spend a considerable amount on advertising. In fact, pan masala is one of the highest ad spenders in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

According to IMARC Group, the pan masala market in India reached a value of Rs 41,821 vrore in 2021. Going forward, IMARC Group expects the market to reach Rs 53,081.5 crore by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 3.88% during 2022-2027.

In 2011, all state governments had banned the production, advertisement and sale of gutka and pan masala mixed with tobacco, amid rising concerns over their health impacts. However, pan masala has a very strong and active lobby. It didn’t get banned for advertising when tobacco was halted. Hence, lots of flimsy surrogates are used to promote pan masala with impunity and vigour.

There are many varieties of products in this segment, like coated fennel seeds, silver-coated betel nuts, cardamom, gulkand and Kesar that help increase the consumer base, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and others.

While pan masala is a product that people in blue collar jobs are seen consuming more, the advertisements, however, are created in a manner that promotes a highly aspirational imagery and a narrative that suggests that pan masala is consumed by people who are successful, with taglines such as ‘Pehchan kamyabi ki’ (Pan Bahar). Or equate having pan masala with doing something good, as in the case of Rajnigandha with a tagline such as ‘Acchai ki chamak.’

Elaborating on this, Vani Gupta Dandia, Founder, CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners, commented, “That’s the magic of advertising unfortunately. A good ad campaign can make even the most unscrupulous look good.”

Speaking about what keeps this industry thriving, even though tobacco is bad for health and has repercussions on one’s body, Piali Dasgupta, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Columbia Pacific Communities, stated, “The addiction factor, coupled with the fact that it is seen as a mouth freshener that fights bad breath is what keeps the industry thriving.”

Pan masala companies spend aggressively during the IPL. It is estimated that the big players of this industry, such as Vimal, Kamala Pasand, Rajnigandha, etc., spend around Rs 10 crore on their IPL campaigns. They have also become active participants in spending a substantial part of their marketing budget on signing big celebrities to advertise in the biggest events of the nation’s calendar. Personalities like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, and Ajay Devgn have prominently endorsed pan masala brands like Kamala Pasand and Vimal Elaichi.

About celebrities endorsing pan masala brands, Sandeep Goyal, Managing Director, Rediffusion, remarked,Using celebrities gives pan masala social acceptability. Budgets are not a constraint. The big names help create an aura of moralistic goodness around their narrative.”

Umesh Mandve, Business Head, Infectious Advertising, added here, “To a certain extent, having a celebrity endorse the product works to attract eyeballs and build trust in a consumer’s mind. However, the youth today are both woke, and vocal – especially on social media. For example, the way the audience trolled Akshay Kumar for the latest Vimal ad. Also, pressure from fans made Amitabh Bachchan terminate his contract with Kamala Pasand. These days, pan masala brands have nothing to lose, but if a celeb gets trolled by his/her fans, they pay a hefty price in popularity and ratings.”

The distribution strategy of these brands seem to be working, given the fact that the industry was valued at Rs 41,821 crore last year and is growing at a CAGR of 3.88% despite the pandemic, which affected manufacturing of the product and the fact that the sale of gutka is banned in a few states.

When asked about what other industries can learn from the pan masala Industry in terms of marketing and distribution, Columbia Pacific Communities’ Piali Dasgupta stated, “With all due respect to the category, there isn’t much to learn and imbibe from the marketing communication strategy of pan masala brands. They all seem to follow a formulaic approach to communication. It is largely about roping in A-list celebrities with lucrative endorsement deals, shooting in foreign locations such as London and Turkey and creating a narrative which tries to position pan masala as something that the successful/ rich/ and do-gooder consumes. One has not seen innovative storytelling or cutting edge creativity in this category.”

CherryPeachPlum’s Vani added here, “None. This category is driven by bags of cash – very big bags I am guessing (I have never seen, but heard too many stories from verified sources). When there’s as much money involved, creativity has little role to play.”

Meanwhile, according to, Infectious Advertising’s Umesh Mandve, “There are two key learnings from this industry – The use of surrogate advertising: Despite restrictions from the government and bodies like the Advertising Standards Council of India, brands find loopholes to make ads that often bend the rules and regulations. Being responsible advertisers, brands and brand ambassadors should be mindful of this, especially in matters related to public health. The audience knows everything: Social media is unforgiving. One wrong statement could result in severe backlash, and can lead to entire ads being pulled back or celebrity contracts being terminated. So, it is always a great idea to keep it tasteful, for the audience’s sake.”


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