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Salman Khan is the brand ambassador for a clutch of brands, including soft drink Thums Up. Photo: PTI
Salman Khan is the brand ambassador for a clutch of brands, including soft drink Thums Up. Photo: PTI

Will Brand Salman take a beating over jail term?

With Rs45 crore riding on endorsements, only time will tell if the actor's brand will be affected by the verdict

Mumbai: The much awaited verdict in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case was pronounced on Wednesday by a local sessions court, which found him guilty and sentenced him to five years of imprisonment for the car accident that killed one person and injured four more in 2002.

Khan was later granted two days’ interim bail by the Bombay high court.

Will the verdict affect the Bollywood star’s image and popularity enough to hurt his lucrative endorsement deals?

An estimated 45 crore is riding on his brand endorsements, according to celebrity management professionals. Salman Khan is the brand ambassador for a clutch of brands, including soft drink Thums Up, detergent brand Wheel, P.N. Gadgil Jewellers and Astral Pipes. He has also hosted the reality show Bigg Boss on Colors for the last few seasons.

Suhel Seth, managing partner at Counselage, a strategic brand advisory, does not think Wednesday’s verdict will have an impact on Salman Khan’s brand value and popularity.

“Khan has had brushes with the law even earlier and he continued to endorse brands. We, as a country, are quick to forgive and forget. And why not, you have to move on."

Seth noted that actor Sanjay Dutt continued endorsing a jewellery brand even after being sentenced in 2013 to a five-year prison term for possessing illegal weapons bought from gangsters accused of orchestrating the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai. His campaigns still run in newspapers.

“In the case of Salman Khan, his talent and popularity remain untouched. A sentence would not change that. A brand manager’s decision is based on whether the endorser can carry the brand credo forward."

According to Shailendra Singh, joint managing director, Percept Ltd, an entertainment, media and communications company, the fate of brand Salman Khan depends on “ how his personal brand is managed during this time". He is not only a commercially viable star, he’s known for his philanthropy too through Being Human—The Salman Khan Foundation.

“After launching his philanthrophic initiative, Being Human, fans have also got to see a softer side to the superstar," Singh said. “That’s adding to the curiosity around him now."

Today, of the total industry box office collections, Salman Khan, along with Shah Rukh and Aamir Khan, collectively contribute around 50% annually. “The last few years have seen him deliver many commercial hits," Singh said.

To be sure, not all celebrity manager and media buyers agree that the Salman Khan brand will remain unaffected by the verdict.

According to one media buyer, he may end up losing nearly one-third of his endorsement deals. “Multinational companies have strict guidelines in place when it comes to using a brand ambassador who is convicted. In most likelihood, Khan will be dropped by these brands and the campaigns may also be pulled off air," he said on condition of anonymity.

Currently Salman Khan is a brand ambassador for Thums Up, which is sold by the US-based beverage maker Coca-Cola Co. In an emailed statement, Coca-Cola India said: “We hold the court verdict in the highest regard. We are evaluating the next steps."

The company has in place a four-year contract with Salman Khan to endorse Thums Up. The contract is valid till November 2016.

Khan also signed a three-year contract to endorse jewellery brand P.N. Gadgil Jewellers starting in February this year. The company declined to comment.

Pratap Bose, president, Ad Club Bombay, added that while the verdict may hurt the actor’s career as a brand endorser, that’s not to say brand Salman Khan is nearing its end. Tiger Woods, for instance, continued to endorse brands despite a slump in his form after revelations that he cheated on his wife.

According to Manish Mandhana, managing director, Mandhana Industries Ltd, which has the global license to distribute and market Being Human clothing and merchandise, while this verdict may affect the brand’s campaigns to some extent —since Salman Khan is also the face of the brand—it will continue promoting the brand in different ways.

“We continue to have a very strong association with the Being Human Foundation and we’ll continue to do what we are doing now," added Mandhana.

A substantial percentage of the royalties out of the retail chain’s total sales go to the Being Human Foundation. He said that the brand could also see a lot of support from its customers, given how the Bollywood star is an extension of the brand.

As far as his film deals go, trade analysts say that as much as 200 crore in investment is at stake for two films that are near completion. In addition, Khan has greenlighted a few more projects.

According to trade analyst Komal Nahata, “Salman has completed two projects—Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (produced by Sooraj Barjatya) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (by Kabir Khan)—and these films are due for release in 2015. The amount riding on these projects would be anywhere between 175 and 200 crore."

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