Dhruv Chitgopekar, partner at talent management firm KWAN Entertainment & Marketing Solutions Pvt. Ltd, is currently busy negotiating with companies in categories such as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), apparel and consumer electronics, among others, for brand endorsement deals for his client, celebrity chef Vikas Khanna.

Khanna has been in the limelight for being one of the judges in the ongoing edition (Season 5) of the cookery show MasterChef India on Star Plus. That he was part of Season 4 of MasterChef India as well reflects his continued popularity in India.

In fact, in the last couple of years, Khanna has increasingly been on the list of companies looking to engage him for their brands. Earlier this year, he was signed up by the American multinational PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats as the nutrition ambassador for the brand. Last year, Domino’s Pizza, run by Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd, had inked a deal with him to introduce gourmet European-style pizzas and snacks. That is not all. Khanna was also signed up by seafood producer Gadre Marine Exports as the face of its brand. Gadre processes and packages frozen marine products such as shrimps, squids and cuttlefish.

Currently, the Michelin-starred chef is also the brand ambassador for Usha Kitchen Appliances from Usha International. In fact, last month, he hosted a cookout session for the brand at the Delhi Golf Club.

“Food may be his core, but Vikas Khanna has transcended that association. His experience on television has lent him a universal appeal," says Chitgopekar, adding that the chef is also being pursued by men’s grooming brands. “He has taken food and cooking out of the female domain and made it modern and sexy. It is a lifestyle statement so he appeals to men also and is apt for men’s accessories brands as well," he says.

The reasons behind Khanna’s rising popularity are easy to find. For starters, India’s world of brand endorsements is far more democratized now. For a few years now, the celebrity endorsement sector in India has been moving away from just Bollywood and cricket stars to encompass other icons as well. In fact, the advent of digital media has only accelerated the trend. The popularity of social media has made bite-sized celebrity endorsements from diverse fields possible, as mentioned in this column on an earlier occasion.

“We look up to many stars in different fields. From being very narrow and concentrated we now have wider role models," says Manish Porwal, managing director at Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions Pvt. Ltd. “I like to hear about, say, health from one star, food from another. Among chefs, Vikas Khanna may not be the pioneer, as that title goes to Sanjeev Kapoor who is really big, but Khanna’s popularity with brands is growing," he adds.

There is room for people like Vikas Khanna as celebrities are no longer just ambassadors, they are now seen as influencers.

According to Saurabh Uboweja, the founder of brand consultancy Brands of Desire, “In the last 3-4 years Khanna has positioned himself smartly. On the one hand, he’s a food expert which is an integral part of what he does. The other is his extraordinary screen presence. He is known for his good looks, alright. But not everyone with good looks has a screen presence."

That is not all. He also comes across as being very genuine. He’s built that aura around him. “It’s not that he’s created that aura deliberately but the feeling is that if he’s saying something, it must be true," says Uboweja, adding that Khanna is still evolving as a brand ambassador.

Chitgopekar, however, feels that Khanna’s biggest asset is that he is very personable. “He is very rooted. Through television he reaches beyond the metros and enters homes in smaller towns. His advantage is urban appeal as well as acceptance in small town India," he adds.

Clearly, there are two kinds of celebrities. The first kind are the widely recognized people with near-universal appeal, cutting across categories. In India, film and cricket stars fall under that category. The other type has celebrity status as an expert in a particular domain, and is known to a more limited section of the population; for example, photographers, writers and chefs, among others.

“The first type adds status to a brand, while the second type adds credibility to a brand. The first type makes the brand famous, while the second type is made famous by the brand," says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting Pvt. Ltd. “Amongst celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver are widely recognized faces because of their own shows and heavy exposure on media, and so are able to straddle both celebrity types. At the moment Vikas Khanna is more in the latter than the former category. In time, like the famous names mentioned, he too will probably have wider appeal, and a pretty face will certainly be an asset in that transition," he adds.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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