New Delhi: A year ago, actor Hrithik Roshan stepped off a train in a foreign land to fight off attackers with bare hands and a blue VIP suitcase. This April, cricketer Rohit Sharma recounted his struggles for his fans, before slipping a note that reads ‘Break my own record’ into a miniature replica of a VIP suitcase.

Cricket and Bollywood always sell, and 46-year-old luggage maker VIP Industries Ltd is not too old to discover that.

Its latest advertising campaign ‘Unpack your dreams’ for its mass segment brand Aristocrat features cricketers R. Ashwin and Rohit Sharma. The objective is to attract value-for-money consumers to branded luggage . “We chose R. Ashwin to reach out to consumers in South while Rohit Sharma has been hired for North India market. The marketing campaign comes at the back of our aim to penetrate tier III and IV towns primarily through general trade as well as hypermarkets this year," said Sudip Ghose, vice president, sales and marketing, VIP Industries.

Besides Aristocrat, VIP uses celebrities to attract young consumers to its other brands as well. Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan is the face of the company’s youth brand Skybags, Hrithik Roshan endorses mass premium brand VIP and actor Alia Bhatt promotes handbag brand Caprese.

“Celebrities work wonders as they bring value which gets rubbed on the brand. Varun Dhawan brings youthful energy to Skybags. Alia brings glamour to the brand Caprese. We have found that VIP brand lacked sophistication and style; that is why we have brought Hrithik Roshan," said Ghose.

VIP’s arch rival and world’s largest luggage maker Samsonite also rolled out an integrated marketing campaign ‘I am ready’ for its brand American Tourister.

The ad features the brand’s first-ever celebrity endorser and Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli. Samsonite declined to offer comment. Media buyers estimate that both these firms spend up to Rs25 crore on media every year.

Industry experts say that the luggage category is witnessing growth because of low household penetration and increase in travel (both domestic and international) especially business travel by air. High growth is expected in the backpacks and handbags categories driving the $3 billion luggage market in India.

“Legacy brands like VIP have the distribution might, but they completely lack the consumer connect with the youth. Meanwhile, the category is becoming increasingly competitive with the likes of Spanish fashion brand Zara and luxury brands like Michael Kors going beyond women’s handbags to launch a separate range for men. Many brands are also rolling out exclusive range of bags collaborating with fashion designers which also tend to do well. Therefore, both VIP and American Tourister have upgraded the look and feel of their products and are spending advertising money to promote themselves," said Rajat Wahi, partner and head (consumer markets), at KPMG India.

According to a 2016 Euromonitor report titled Bags and Luggage in India, brands like Fastrack (owned by Titan Company Ltd) and Hidesign recorded positive year-on-year market share growth, while the top three brands including VIP, Samsonite and American Tourister’s market share declined between 2012 and 2015.

VIP claims that despite the competition, it has managed to maintain its leadership position owing to product segmentation which caters to a wide variety of consumers. “We have managed to keep the leadership intact despite our competition having international stature, talent and resources. Owing to segmentation, we have managed to target consumers of all economic segments through different brands thereby maintaining the sales," said Ghose, adding that backpacks, polycarbonate luggage and ladies’ handbags continue to drive the company’s sales.

This year, VIP has two clear targets: to push its mass brand Aristocrat to smaller towns and to promote its premium luggage brand Carlton London which targets affluent business travellers. The latter sells through exclusive outlets at high-end malls and airports.

While celebrity advertising is one of the best ways to connect with young consumers, advertising experts say that the biggest challenge with such a communication strategy is that it becomes difficult to differentiate between brands. Consumers, at times, tend to only remember the stars, often confusing one brand with another. “I do not find the element of differentiation in the advertising of luggage brands. Almost all the ads look similar in execution. While using celebrities, the onus is on the brand and the agency partner to ensure that their communication strategy should be able to differentiate," said Anita Nayyar, chief executive officer of Havas Media Group, India and South Asia.