Gucci Group NV, one of the world’s top multi-brand luxury goods companies, will celebrate the opening of its first independent outlet in Mumbai on Thursday, with select guests, who the company also hopes to be their future clients, set to get a slew of Gucci gifts.

“I can’t disclose who and what we are planning to do, but having celebrities wear and enjoy our brands at social events is pretty much part of our promotions strategy," says Sujata Assomull, communications director, Murjani Group, Gucci’s domestic franchisee partner that also

Target clientele: Guests on Karan Johar’s hit TV talk show, ‘Koffee with Karan’, take home a Rs1.5 lakh hamper filled with gifts from companies that want the celebrities to sample their products.

Indeed, with an influx of international luxury brands into India, many events are no longer just about air-kissing and sipping champagne for celebrities, but also an opportunity to be showered with gifts.

“Celebrities have always been targets of experimental marketing for luxury brands. They are not only the targeted clientele for such brands, but also a medium to promote and create an aspirational value around them," says Suhel Seth, managing partner, Counselage India, an image management firm. “As the world’s top luxury brands set foot in India, Indian celebrities will naturally be both the target and the beneficiaries of such brands to promote themselves. In effect, it means celebrities will be showered with lots of expensive products for free."

LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, the prominent French luxury brand, has a long list of celebrities, including film producer and director Karan Johar, actors Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta, who get expensive bags and accessories to use. “It’s not a commercial arrangement. They are not our brand ambassadors. We gift it to them for their use," says Tikka Shatrujit Singh, adviser, Louis Vuitton India. “The idea is simple. We don’t use mass media vehicles, such as print or television, for our advertising because they don’t target our consumer. Also, India still doesn’t have too many premium media platforms that will match our own brand equity. Celebrities, however, are a good medium to reach out to our target audience because they not only hobnob with them, but also take fashion cues from them."

Then, celebrities themselves are the target consumers for most of these brands and by gifting, the companies also get them to sample their products.

Koffee with Karan, an upmarket weekly chat show on television hosted by Johar is an interesting case in point. Johar invites celebrities from all walks of life to his show and gifts the guests a hamper that has upscale products from brands such as Lancome, Frazer & Haws, Nokia and even LVMH.

“Each guest that makes an appearance on the show goes home with a hamper worth over Rs1.5 lakh," says a senior executive from Sol, a Mumbai-based production house that produces the chat show. “Most of the gifts in the hamper are provided to us by the companies for free. The reason is they want the celebrities to sample their products. After all, the celebrities are their real consumers in India."

The concept of gifting products to celebrities to build an aura around the brand is not a new strategy globally—the Oscars have long had a tradition of gift hampers and borrowed baubles and clothes that benefit the brands and designers. But it is now catching on fast in India as the luxury market starts to take off. According to a study by KSA Technopak, a New-Delhi based management consultancy firm, the size of the luxury market stood at Rs2,400 crore in 2006 and it is projected to grow to Rs5,000 crore by 2010. The luxury market, says the firm, is growing at 30-35% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, brands are scrambling for platforms and mediums to reach out to their specific consumers. Industry observers say brands will use fashion weeks, high-profile social events and film award functions to launch or showcase their brands through celebrities. “Gifting products to celebrities who would flaunt them at such events is not only a tactical exercise, it is also a cost-effective way of marketing," says Tejaswani Aparanji, deputy general manager, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based integrated film-marketing consultancy. “Hiring brand ambassadors is a more expensive proposition and it also limits the use of celebrities. Once you have signed a celebrity to endorse your brand, there are so many others who you can’t engage," she adds.

While gifting may be a compulsion for brands, the celebrities, many of whom can easily afford these products, aren’t exactly complaining about the goodies. Zinta and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who have already been spotted sporting Jimmy Choo shoes, could get some more—for free—when the brand launches in November. “Zinta and Rai have been seen wearing these shoes, so let’s see if they will be our chosen guests," says Murjani’s Assomull.