So has David Beckham (for more than one brand, although it is his recent spoof of an underwear ad that has gotten more eyeballs).
What should come as a surprise, though, are the brands they endorse.
The reason why top Bollywood stars endorse relatively unknown brands is the same reason why some perform at big fat Indian weddings or grace store openings of brands they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing: money.
In fact, more money than they would make on any other endorsement deal.
Advertising for an underwear brand can easily fetch a top-ranked actor anywhere between Rs.6 crore and Rs.10 crore on an annual basis, according to three people familiar with what actors make on endorsement deals.
“For celebrities, it is about the money when it comes to selling a certain type of brand,” said Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer of Mumbai-based Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions that manages a clutch of actors and sports personalities.
“Actors can easily get 1.5x-2x shooting for an innerwear brand than what a normal more popular and so called ‘cool’ brand would fetch them,” said another Mumbai-based talent manager whose portfolio involves an actor who featured in a recent vest commercial. This person asked not to be identified.
There’s another reason, too.
Celebrities usually feel more comfortable putting their name and face to larger international brands, he said, but underwear ads do have something working for them (and for actors who can carry them off): mass appeal.
“Look, actors don’t necessarily jump at the thought of selling vests and underwear. It’s a risky proposition, but it has such a mass appeal that only a well accomplished iconic actor can be part of the selected pool. And it rarely fails,” said the second talent manager.
It seems to work for the brands, too.
Budget is never a constraint with Rupa when it comes to brand-building and advertising, added Agarwal.
The latest Rupa Frontline commercial, for instance, features Singh wearing vests of the three-decade-old brand in a commercial penned by the actor himself and directed by Yash Raj Films India Pvt. Ltd.
Singh is the new face of Rupa Frontline. Prior to him, the brand was endorsed by Dutt.
Between 2011 and 2014, Kolkata-based Rupa spent Rs.200 crore on various endorsements, the company said in an investor presentation last year. It has worked with celebrities ranging from Roshan to Rajpal Yadav.
Lux Industries Ltd has used Shah Rukh Khan to endorse its brand ONN, Tirupur-based Dixcy Scott is endorsed by Salman Khan. In the past, actors such as Sunny Deol, Govinda and Boman Irani have associated themselves with the category.
Requests for a comment from Shah Rukh Khan’s business manager remained unanswered. Salman Khan as well as Kumar’s managers did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.
Having a celebrity face helps innerwear brands considerably as there is not much brand differentiation in this category, say marketing experts.
“Since a vest is like a commodity and essentially they all look and feel the same, shoppers usually associate a celebrity face with the brand,” said Raghu Bhat, founder of Mumbai-based ad agency Scarecrow Communications, which handles the creative mandate for a clutch of innerwear brands including Rupa.
The target audience of many of these brands includes the lower income groups in metros and people in small towns, and the actors picked to sell innerwear have to enjoy a wide appeal.
“In the category, your biggest target audience is the young person in tier II and tier III cities and towns. You have to have a mass appeal at a national scale,” said Ashish Patil, vice-president at Yash Raj Films. “It takes a whole lot of credibility to lend your name to a brand.”
But for the time that celebrities have to put in, “it’s more profitable to endorse a vest than to make a movie”, added Patil.