NEW DELHI :
Having accosted celebrity news anchor Arnab Goswami on a flight to Lucknow this Tuesday, stand-up comic Kunal Kamra seems to have earned new brand value for both himself and his arch nemesis. Though as the more niche, Internet celebrity, Kamra is likely to be the bigger beneficiary.
“I think this is a lifetime opportunity for Kamra. What notoriety often does is make little known brands visible which is definitely true in this case given how he has hit national and international headlines with one smart alecy gimmick," said Sandeep Goyal, chief mentor at the Indian Institute of Human Brands, calling Kamra’s act both opportunistic and clever considering he was simply spontaneous about grabbing an opportunity when he saw it.
Clearly, Kamra may not have anticipated the magnitude of conversation and controversy he would stir after calling Goswami out for his journalism, labeling him a coward and terming the act something he did for late dalit scholar Rohith Vermula, as he filmed the incident on his phone and posted the same on social media on Tuesday evening. But the comedian who was, so far, known only among young millennials scouting the web for political satire, or urban metro dwellers attending comedy gigs, has been covered by all of mainline media over the past two days, taking the conversation far beyond the echo chamber of Twitter where Kamra’s primary target group exists.
M.G. Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com equated Kamra’s break out to the way controversial movies get written about so much that they ultimately notch up great box office numbers. As an example, after being opposed by the Rajput Karni Sena for months, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat ended up making close to Rs. 300 crore in India alone.
Some brand experts feel Kamra became a bigger story after the government decided to intervene in what was clearly a chain reaction not backed by rule or logic. Even without a formal complaint against Kamra, IndiGo, the flight that the incident took place on, suspended him from flying with them for six months calling his conduct onboard unacceptable. In its tweet, IndiGo tagged Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri who then took it upon himself to “advise other airlines to impose similar restrictions on the person concerned". Soon, three other airlines – Air India, SpiceJet and GoAir – had banned Kamra from flying with them, each dutifully tagging the minister too.
“Kamra has suddenly emerged as an important spokesperson (for ideologies opposing the ruling regime). A political party or institution looking to leverage this may tap into his popularity," said Saurabh Uboweja, founder and managing partner at management consulting firm Brands of Desire adding that in this era of digital influencers, a lot of entities could see a strong mouthpiece in Kamra.
To be sure, the controversy augurs well for Goswami too, whose supporters have harped on his dignified silence as Kamra filmed and ‘heckled’ him. And while the celebrity news anchor is too big a brand in himself, Parameswaran points out no publicity is bad publicity. According to data from digital marketing agency AdLift, tweets in favour of Kamra as of Wednesday evening ranged around 1,700 while there were about 1,000 tweets against him.
Kamra, known for his political commentary including through a political comedy podcast called Shut Up Ya Kunal, comes from a generation of millennials that likes to wear its political views on its sleeve. Apart from stand-up comics like Vir Das and Varun Grover, a bunch of young YouTubers like Dhruv Rathee and Akash Banerjee are known for consistently engaging with digital savvy audiences on a host of political issues.