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New Delhi: Chocolate maker Mondelez India released the second edition of its festive campaign featuring Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan—marking a shift in the narrative around brand Khan that is under the scanner following a drug—probe against the actor’s son.

The ‘Not Just A Cadbury Ad’ initiative, part of the ‘Iss Diwali Aap #KiseKhushKarenge?’ campaign is in continuation of the company’s year-old festive advertisement that was launched to lend support to small businesses in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

A series of videos uploaded on video-streaming platform YouTube, point to the plight of small traders in the country while onboarding India's "biggest brand ambassador", a reference to Khan, as the brand ambassador for small, local stores. In the advertisement, Khan is seen nudging viewers to shop from various local stores.

"First launched in 2020 to promote local businesses across the country, the current edition takes it a notch up—in addition to the brand films, the local retailers get to make a version of these ads for their stores, using the AI-powered technology developed by Rephrase.ai. The first-of-its-kind initiative is envisioned to support small businesses by helping them create unique and scalable avenues of engagement with their consumers," the company said.

Last year, Mondelez integrated names of select stores whose businesses were promoted through the Cadbury Celebrations commercial. Mondelez has continued to build on the campaign for a second year in a row—albeit, amplified by hiring a celebrity such as Khan to back it.

This year’s campaign will feature over 2,000 grocery, retail, consumer electronics, home décor, clothing, furniture, and jewellery stores across the country, highlighted by pin codes across the north, east and west zones.

Interestingly, the campaign’s timing isn’t hard to miss.

The festival campaign comes at a time when the controversy over brand Khan has peaked owing his son Aryan’s arrest in a drug-related probe.

The actor’s 23-year-old son Aryan Khan is currently in judicial custody for alleged drug consumption and conspiracy under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act in a probe led by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

The controversy has polarized public opinion; brands, endorsed by the actor, have also reacted.

Following the investigation by the NCB, online tutoring platform Byju’s was said to have suspended some ads though they were back on Star Sports during the Indian Premier League.

Mint had earlier reported that the probe against Khan’s son might temporarily threaten brand-endorsements featuring the actor. Campaigns could be delayed or put on hold as the mega star tides over the crisis. Most brand strategy consultants Mint spoke to, however, said the impact will be short-lived.

Khan endorses several large brands in the country. The actor was ranked as the fourth most popular celebrity from India in 2019, with a brand value of $51 million per a 2020 Duff & Phelps (Kroll) Celebrity Brand Valuation report.

To be sure, campaigns and brand endorsements take months of work. As a result, the campaign featuring Khan would have been in the works for weeks.

However, the company’s decision to press ahead with it amid the drug-probe controversy reflects “strength" and “spine", said ad-experts.

“This sends a message of resilience around brand Shah Rukh Khan," Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, chief executive officer and co-founder, Gozoop Group, an integrated marketing agency, told Mint.

Naqvi said negative chatter on social media is usually short-lived, and contrary to popular belief, it does not always sway public opinion at large. “While we see that audience might be divided on the internet—I think it's based on a lot of chatter from a part of the Twitter universe, which is not necessarily the sentiment of audiences at large," he said.

More recently, brands have come under immense scrutiny as campaigns draw flak on social media platforms for being either progressive or dismissive of preserving self-imposed cultural boundaries. Social media trolls panning brands for their ads are prompting them to tread on the side of caution.

The Mondelez campaign, however, represents the company’s ability to not give in to cyberbullying, said Naqvi.

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