Samsung Electronics India Ltd uses commercials created by its parent, and featuring European models to advertise its LCD TV sets on Indian television channels. LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd uses European models in a made-in-India commercial for its notebook computer. And ads for cosmetics brand L’oreal—it set up shop in India 20 years ago and signed on actress Aishwarya Rai as brand ambassador some years ago—currently appearing in Indian magazines feature Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson.
The use of foreign ads and foreign models doesn’t surprise Sushma Puri, CEO of Elite Model Management, India, the Indian arm of the famous Paris-based model agency, who claims that in 2007 alone, some 100 models have been flown into India from other countries to appear in ads. Puri estimates that India has around 500 frontline models today compared with 100 three years ago. Despite this number, advertisers and companies continue to use foreign models in print and TV ads.
“Indians are still hung up on white skin,” says Inderjeet Mukherji, client services director, Ogilvy & Mather Pvt. Ltd. “Even now advertisers believe products are endorsed better by foreign models,” he adds.
Thus, ads for most apparel brands sold in India such as Louis Philippe, Wills Lifestyle, Van Heusen, Park Avenue, Allen Solly and Koutons feature foreign models. Hindustan Lever Ltd uses its international ad campaign (featuring foreign models) for Kwality Walls ice cream and its new for-men-only Clinic All Clear shampoo—both Walls and Clinic are brands that Unilever, HLL’s parent sells in many parts of the world.
According to Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and regional creative director (South Asia and South-East Asia), McCann Worldgroup, advertisers use foreign ads or ads featuring foreign models because Indians believe foreign products are better. “When we were ruled by Britain, people started wanting to look and dress like them (the British) and now, although Indians are the most confident they have been, the aspirational value is still ingrained in us and ads still feature a lot of models from the West,” he adds.
It’s all about who the product is meant for, says a spokesperson for LG Electronics India. “For our recent XNote Fantasy laptop launch, we were trying to portray a high-end, James Bond look in our commercial, so we used European models. But for our basic entry-level products that everyone can afford, we use Abhishek Bachchan,” she adds.
Sometimes, advertisers use foreign models because they do not have an option: apart from being used in ads for lifestyle products, foreign models are also used in ads in which Indian models wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable, says Syed Amjad Ali, senior vice- president, Lowe, the advertising agency for LG.
Page Industries Ltd, the Indian licensee of Jockey International, Inc. uses only international models in its ads for underwear to maintain a uniform image (of the brand) across the world and get around the problem of Indian models not being comfortable in ads for innerwear.
Triumph International India Ltd, the Indian arm of the Swiss lingerie maker Triumph, uses its international ads in India. “There are too many restrictions in India, which are difficult to follow, which is why we prefer using our international campaigns,” says a spokesperson for Triumph India. “If we exhibit Indian models in innerwear, the next thing you know, we could be involved in some controversy,” he adds.
Companies that use their foreign ads in India get to save money too. “It (doing this) is based on the principle that when consumer insights and the creative expression of these insights are relevant across markets, brands use the same or similar executions across markets” says a spokesperson for HLL.
With Indian advertisers willing to pay more for models than they were in the past, appearing in Indian ads is a lucrative option for foreign models. McCann’s Joshi says that he gets more calls than he used to in the past from companies asking him to use foreign models in their ads.
Lowe’s Ali adds that in some cases, foreign models charge 30-40% less than Indian ones. “Anonymous international models charge between Rs50,000 and Rs75,000 roughly, which is much less than what a B-grade Indian model would charge,” he adds.
Most models and advertisers tend to overlook the visa issue, says Rathi Vinay Jha, director general, Fashion Design Council of India, an industry body. “International models need a work permit to model for a brand, but usually they come here on a tourist or a business visa, if at all,” she adds.
With increasing demand for foreign faces, the Chennai-headquartered Ma Foi Management Consultant Ltd, a search firm, has forged an alliance with Models Out of Town (MOT), a London-based agency that outsources models to countries where they are needed. “We have already received several assignments for European models needed in India from advertisements to fashion shows,” says Ajay Mallapurkar, general manager, Ma Foi.
“There is definitely a market for non-Indian models in India that will grow and mature over the next three to five years,” adds Mike Illes managing director, MOT Models. Elite’s Puri says she gets around 10 calls a month from companies looking for foreign models. She gives them the option of choosing from 200-300 Elite models from around the world.