Consumer insights firm TRA Research on Monday released a report that ranked celebrities across cinema, sports, and business based on trust among fans and followers. Film star Amitabh Bachchan ranked number one among Most Trusted Personalities, followed by Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. Popular actor Akshay Kumar, who was recently trolled online for his Canadian citizenship, ranked number four. N. Chandramouli, chief executive officer (CEO) of TRA Research, says that the field work for the study concluded in March so Akshay Kumar’s trust quotient would not have been affected by the revelation of his Canadian citizenship in May. “However, if we check his confidence among people today, it may show a dip. Controversies tend to impact trust," he says.

Not everyone agrees. Marketers feel that despite the storm that raged around the actor’s Canadian passport his brand equity remains unhurt. The controversy erupted after Kumar conducted a “non political" interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the middle of Lok Sabha elections making his political ideology clear. Although ineligible to vote in India, the actor has, over the years, emerged as the poster boy of patriotism in Bollywood through his choice of films and brand campaigns. He’s acted in overtly nationalistic films such as Airlift, Baby, and Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty and has been the face of the conscientious Indian through films such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which was aligned with the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission and promoted open-defecation free India. He also helped launch Bharat Ke Veer, an app that allows citizens to help families of martyred soldiers financially.

At the peak of the citizenship controversy, Vanesa Care Pvt. Ltd announced him as the ambassador for its range of fragrance brand Envy. “There are several industrialists, CEOs, literary stalwarts and other important people who hold citizenship of other countries…But we never question them. I don’t think the issue will affect his fans or the brands he endorses. On the contrary, it may just boost his image further," says Sanjay Sarma, founder, SSARMA Consults, a boutique branding and communication advisory. Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, agrees that holding a Canadian passport will not impact his appeal in any significant way, as he is not contesting elections or trying to hold a political office. Akshay Kumar’s on-screen image has gone through at least three phases—first as an action hero, followed by a comedy actor and now as Mister India who takes up socially relevant issues pertaining specifically to India.

The actor endorses more than 20 brands. Sarma sees that as a result of his ability to slip into various roles and the patriotic aura around him. “On top of that, his films do well. So from a brand’s perspective, he is bankable and less of a risk, as he is unlikely to do stupid things that may tarnish his or the brand’s image. His reach and mass appeal make him a good investment," he says. He is also relatable. Among the top Indian male Bollywood celebrities, he comes through as the most accessible to a vast majority of Indians. Besides he has also demonstrated durability. This combination makes him a bankable option across a slew of product categories that cater to the Indian mass market. “His involvement with India-specific social causes and nationalistic sound bites have also helped establish his credentials as a patriot, the credibility of which may have got slightly but not seriously dented among the intelligentsia after the revelation about his Canadian citizenship," says Sinha.

The actor is also an astute businessman who is piggy backing on the ideological stance and growing sentiments of nationalism among Indian masses, and using it to his advantage. “He is smarter than most actors," feels Sarma. In his interview of Modi, Kumar took a calculated gamble and aligned himself with a particular personality and a political ideology. “Though it has been perhaps the most divisive phenomenon in Indian politics so far, both Modi and the belief-system he represents are likely to continue to enjoy a large following among Indians regardless of who leads the next government. To that extent he will continue to enjoy the support of those who are in favour of Modi. He’s also unlikely to get vilified by the rest," says Sinha. Sarma sees nothing wrong in supporting a nation or its leadership. “His support has always been towards governance issues (toilets, cleanliness, traffic safety, armed forces, war victims and disaster relief) and not political ideologies. I think he is setting a fine example for others to follow. I don’t know his political leanings or ideology, but he is a better Indian in many aspects, irrespective of his passport status."

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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