Mumbai: The new television commercial for Pan Bahar, the pan masala brand of mouth freshener from DJ Group, has all the trappings of a Bonds film. Pierce Brosnan in lead role, a fast car, beautiful women, incredulous stunts and a weapon of mass destruction—a can of pan masala.
The campaign (Watch here), created by DDB Mudra, was launched on Friday across print, outdoor and television spaces. The television commercial, which was shot in Austin, Texas, by Indian American filmmaker Chakri Toleti, shows Brosnan knocking off enemies with a tin of Pan Bahar. His commendable skills in self-defence win him his rightful place in the red velvet chair. The ad ends with the tag line: “Pan Bahar, class never goes out of style.” Interestingly, you never spot Brosnan consuming the product.
“It’s outrageous and pure genius strategically, because as a country we still have a colonial hangover, and this is especially true of tier II and tier III cities in India which is probably the brand’s core audience,” said Ashish Patil, Y-Films, Brand Partnerships & Talent Management for Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd, explaining that among all the Hollywood actors that could have fit the bill, whether it be Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, or Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, it was Bond that spelled sophistication, and from that standpoint it is a clever association.
“Having said that, the idea is done to death. Moreover, using a tin of pan masala as the weapon of choice, is a bit of a stretch. This is going to get the internet buzzing… not necessarily in a good way,” he said.
Predictably, social media was buzzing on Friday, as gobsmacked users trolled the ad for the association with the most iconic characters of all time. Jokes, mimes, photo-shopped images of the front page ads, featuring Brosnan and his pan-stained white beard were doing the rounds of Facebook and Twitter by noon. “Can advertising and brand experts tells us if going viral but becoming a laughing stock is a good brand strategy? #PanBahar” asked sports commentator Harsha Bhogle on Twitter. Another Twitter user Sadanand Dhume echoed the common sentiment with his tweet: “In case you were wondering what happens to James Bond after he retires. Hint: It’s not a happy story.”
The whole idea of using Brosnan as the brand ambassador was to up the brand’s imagery, said Akhil Jain, chief executive officer, Ashok and Co. Pan Bahar Ltd, which manufactures ethnic Indian pan masala and other tobacco products, and has a turnover of Rs230 crore. “We wanted to reposition the brand from a heritage brand to something that stood for success. And getting Brosnan on board was the perfect way to do it. As Bond, and specifically the character played by Brosnan, he has an instant recall, and appeals to a wide audience, especially those in urban areas,” said Jain. He added that the company wanted to use the association to create a premium image for the brand enabling it to improve its current market share of 20% in the premium segment dominated by competitor Rajnigandha. The company refused to comment on how much it would spend to promote the campaign.
While the company and agency refused to comment on the cost of the association, two senior executives from celebrity management firms pegged the cost of association with Brosnan at a minimum of $2 million for two years.
The ad agency isn’t worried if the core audience does not get the Bond association or know Brosnan. “When Micromax hired Hugh Jackman, few people (the brand’s target audience) knew who he was. But the association helped the brand up its imagery from that of a feature phone to that of a smartphone which could compete with the likes of Samsung,” said Ashwini Dhingra, senior vice-president and business partner, DDB Mudra Group.
“This is a classic double-edged killing machine. On one side, the sheer audacity of getting in Pierce Brosnan is incredible. And that too, for a pan masala brand. Brilliant coup this one. On the other hand, what a disappointment! While the Bond genes are almost lost under his beard, you almost expect Bond calibre action and panache. But the execution is a downer. Because the moment you see him, you’d replay Bond film sequences in your head. Sadly this doesn’t go anywhere near that,” said Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer at the agency Bang in the Middle, explaining the pitfalls of associating with a mega star and the audio visual baggage of expectation that comes with it. “Huge disconnect. Of course this might only be the case with people who know the heritage of Bond. But to those who don’t recognise him, he is just another westerner unconvincingly playing around with the brand. And therefore money unwisely spent,” he said.