More than a dozen brands that leverage the popularity of actor Deepika Padukone remained tight-lipped about the actor’s decision to stand with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students, who faced on-campus violence on 5 January. The actor, who was in the capital to promote her first film—Chhapaak—as a producer, stood with protesting students at the JNU campus to express her solidarity.
Padukone is the second most powerful celebrity endorser with a brand value of $102.5 million and over 21 brand deals as of 2018. Advertising and brand experts said brands walk a tight rope while taking a stand on socio-political issues in India, where even personal opinions of celebrity endorsers end up having a direct impact on their businesses.
“As an individual, she has made a personal choice to express solidarity with JNU students and it has nothing to do with the brand," said a senior executive working for a brand Padukone endorses. The person declined to be named.
Brands, such as Goibibo, Britannia and Tanishq, that Mint reached out to declined to comment on Padukone’s move and its impact on their deals with her. Celebrity management firm Kwan Entertainment, which manages Padukone’s portfolio, did not respond to Mint’s queries. A recent report from ThePrint said the Narendra Modi government’s skill development ministry has dropped a promotional video that had Padukone speaking about acid attack survivors and Skill India.
At the peak of her career, the 34-year old actor has been one of the highest-paid actors among her contemporaries having delivered hits, including Padmaavat and Bajirao Mastani. Her popularity can be mapped through the massive social media following on Instagram (42.7 million), Facebook (33 million) and Twitter (26.8 million), which further enhances her brand value. However, with such social media presence, she is equally at the risk of being trolled and attacked online for taking a stand on a contentious issue. Social media, for instance, was divided on her JNU visit with a section dubbing it as a blatant PR stunt with #BoycottChhapaak trending on Twitter while #ISupportDeepika also surfaced with users vowing to watch the film. Padukone is no stranger to the troll army of Hindu right-wing, having faced fierce protests from Rajput Karni Sena during the filming of period drama Padmaavat. So far no such boycott trends have touched her brand deals.
“The last thing any brand wants is any kind of unnecessary controversy. While celebrities do have a right to personal opinion but when they repeatedly say or do things which invites negative publicity it harms their overall image including brands they endorse," said Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media, a Mumbai-based marketing and communication agency.
Unlike Aamir Khan who commented on increasing intolerance in the country which cost him Snapdeal’s contract, Goyal thinks that Padukone never had a rebel positioning in her films or personal life and she has never been outspoken on political issue so the JNU incident seems out of character. “If she doesn’t repeat it and attends another protest it will largely be forgotten in a week’s time, therefore, damage to her brand endorsements will be nearly nil," he added.
Samit Sinha, brand expert and managing partner at Alchemist Brand Consulting, said while Padukone has earned tremendous respect among a section of the society that stands with JNU, only time will tell if business owners would like to be associated with her in future.
“If this stand gets her positive feedback from majority of the country then she’s safe; but if brand owners feel the wind is blowing in the opposite direction and if they feel the government may come hard on them, then they will definitely not risk it because at the end of the day it boils down to protecting the business interest," he noted.