Experts Opinion: Brand Sonu Sood in the making?

Brand Sonu Sood

He became a ‘messiah’ for millions of migrants in the country during the pandemic. Brands soon picked up on his increasing following and roped him for campaigns. We dwell deeper into Brand Sonu Sood with experts sharing their views on it.

From arranging buses to chartered planes to express trains, Bollywood actor Sonu Sood went beyond his limits in reaching out to the helpless migrant population of India and ensured of their ‘ghar-vapasi’ safely amid coronavirus-induced lockdown. The hashtag #SonuSood made noise on social media and continues to trend till today with netizens applauding his efforts and the kind-hearted work.

The actor who has so far donned ‘villainous’ roles in Bollywood blockbusters got termed as the ‘real-life hero’. Recently he also rejected allegations that his deeds had anything to do with his interest in politics and claimed that whatever he is doing is “purely out of love”.

Sood who has been showered by praises from all parts of India was also seen promoting some brand campaigns lately. Following his popularity among people on social media and instant increase in his fan base on all platforms, brands were quick to get associated with the ‘Dabang’ actor for spreading their respective brand messages across.

Currently, the actor is seen shaking his leg to the tunes of Pepsi #SwagSeSolo and on World Menstrual Hygiene Day spread awareness about ‘periods being normal’ with Stayfree’s #ItsJustAPeriod initiative.

In addition to paying a tribute to the star, Godrej Interio’s recently launched digital campaign with Sood and his definition of a home. 

Godrej Interio | Saluting Sonu Sood's selfless endeavors

Home is our safe haven, a place of refuge where little comforts and moments with family bring us joy, now more than ever. This sentiment resonates strongly with actor Sonu Sood who stepped up to help thousands of people stranded in Mumbai, on account of the lockdown, find their way back to the comfort and safety of their homes. We applaud and salute this selfless endeavor. You really are a star, Sonu Sood.#GodrejInterio #MakeSpaceForLife #StaySafeStayHealthy

Posted by Godrej Interio on Thursday, June 4, 2020

With the eccentric combination of his devotion, persistence, and his empathy towards others which is seen through his recent work, Edelweiss Tokio Life also unveiled Sonu Sood as the Product Ambassador for its insurance plan named – “Active Income”.

Before this, he was associated with FitIndia movement, YepMe, IG International with little galore around his ambassadorship.

We get talking to a few brand consultants to know what lies beneath the association and are mainstream brands being opportunistic, its shelflife, and more.

Mainstream brand riding the ‘Sood’ popularity wave

With three traditional brands already signing on the actor as the face of their respective campaigns, will it be right to call the phase as ‘Brand Sonu Sood in the making?’

Karthik Srinivasan, Communications Consultant doubts the notion. He further observed that it is ironic that after so many films, Sonu is finally getting big-ticket backing from an MNC for something he did beyond films, his primary ticket to stardom and popularity! In a way, he was an incidental presence in his films, with the hero and heroine taking the limelight. But in his own life, he has scripted his own hero-dom and that has led to his Pepsi deal.

But brands tend to look at visible brand icons from time to time. Right now, given the absence of new films and the heightened visibility and interest around all-things COVID-19, select personalities are gaining attention. Brands are opportunistic like that and there is nothing wrong with it,” feels Srinivasan.

Films offer a longer runway to sustained visibility, while Sonu’s charitable, humanitarian efforts are not his primary ticket to fame (he is an actor by profession). “I see this as a temporary phase for Sonu where brands are making hay while the sun shines on Sonu (due to his own activities).”

“For comparison, look at Prakashraj, another ‘villain’ who has done a lot of ads down South and even in the Hindi region. His visibility and brand recognition was purely powered due to his films and acting as he had become the most-visible villain on a pan-India level,” he adds.

Anirudh Lamba, Senior Consultant & Practice Head (Automotive, Retail & Consumer Products), Delna Avari & Consultants believes that public memory is short. “Though he has done well and marketed himself well, until and unless he consistently remains in popular culture, this spurt of buzz may fizz out. After all, he is an actor and till the time he remains an actor and doesn’t cross the line of entering into politics, it will be difficult to maintain the media talk!” he exclaims.

Further commenting on mainstream brands just being opportunistic or not, Lamba states that universally, people like heroes in times of distress. “We are seeing a phase where the good work done by him is picked on by media and people alike. In his industry, it is tough to be in such limelight continuously until you are a really really popular star or a great actor. This crisis brought on a different And unique side to him which singled him out in the industry and brands love to capitalize on the popular uniqueness. Though, till when remains to be seen,” he opines.

This is Sood’s time to reinvent and reposition his brand. Recently, while working on a brand positioning project for a South Indian superstar, WolfzHowl Strategic Instigations’ focus was on building the actor’s overall imagery – both personally and professionally.  

Kalyan Ram Challapalli, Chief Strategist and Founder of WolfzHowl Strategic Instigations shares that throughout the process, the two key questions they answered were – ‘What does your audience expect from you – and how can you stay true to brand?’. He thinks that is something even Sonu Sood should try to answer as he plans his next steps with his PR team.” 

The actor is constantly seen interacting with his followers on Twitter by conversing with them mostly in Hindi language and something that they can relate to closer home.

Nowadays, actors’ successes are no longer solely hinged on the Friday release box office numbers. It is dependent on a variety of acts and actions he/she takes to build credibility as an actor and as a human being. With tough competition at the box office and OTT platforms as well, the one who has the better public ‘image’ and positioning has the edge.

Challapalli elucidates that Sood needs to leverage this opportunity to pivot into a more favorable public image. “For most of his career, he has been slotted in antagonistic roles. This is his chance to dawn the role of a hero or the much-fabled ‘anti-hero’ savior. And not just screens but across avenues, as far as Brand ‘SonuSood’ can go.”

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Good deeds building the brand value

Sood’s genuine act of kindness and generosity during Covid-19 has won millions of hearts across the country. By helping migrant workers, Sood has opened up a bigger fan base i.e semi-urban and rural audiences across economic strata. Challapalli quips that for as long as Sood is active in public life and continues to do social good, these fans will remember him as the knight in shining armor who came to save thousands in need during bleak times.

“The entire episode showed his humanitarian side to the common folks. People love when someone from the haloed industry speaks directly to common folk and is on the ground amongst them. He definitely has earned his right of popularity in these times but what happens post this is still a mystery and going by countless examples in past if you think you have done enough to remain popular for the lifetime, you are wrong,” points out Lamba.

You have to be consistently good and remain in news to maintain that brand value! One outlet to do that consistently gets into politics or some other popular career!

Meanwhile, Srinivasan lists down two factors that could help the actor be interesting to brands. Firstly, the kind of roles Sood gets and chooses that can take his acting-based popularity to the next level… which means more visibility to capitalize on this current brand name.

Secondly, more active charitable and humanitarian work from Sood that establishes his efforts as a sustained behavior in the minds of people, making him famous for a reason other than films.

Associating CSR with Brand endorsements

Celebrities have always tried to capitalize on their charitable associations. Srinivasan notes that it has been joked as being superficial, but Sood has shown that it need not be and it can be genuinely timely and helpful, inspiring many others. So now the pressure on other celebrities would be the questions on their fans’ minds – if Sood can do such impressive work, what is my idol doing? And are they really doing something, or doing for PR’s sake?

Sood’s social media also boasts of his positive messages for the COVID 19 warriors in association with the government of India and music labels like T-series.

Echoing similar views as Srinivasan, Lamba too feels that charity and CSR go hand in hand with your brand endorsements. Exemplifying his thoughts he shares that all the top TV/film stars come on Kaun Banega Crorepati to play on TV and give all their prize money to a charity of their choice.

“Sometimes it’s directly proportional to screen time they get and sometimes a way to make it to the papers and tabloids. Really charity is done behind the camera!” he firms.

Apart from the usual product categories that have jumped the ‘Sood-wagon’, other categories that he can endorse (considering his imagery and fan base) are micro-finance, health care, 2-wheelers and agricultural product, opines Challapalli.

What is crucial to consider though, is that building a brand imagery games for celebrities is a long-term game. A public perception takes years to embed into the collective conscience of audiences.

“Look at Aamir Khan, for example, he has carefully crafted his brand around his core tenets of progressiveness and social activism. Over the years, he has done films that have echoed this public persona he has created, and that authenticity has undeniably helped him go beyond superstardom. For Sood, this can be a great start to a terrific second-innings in his career”, adds Challapalli.

Celebrities are moving towards crafting their own ‘Brand Purpose’ and there’s no downside we see. He further shares that as long as mutual profitability is maintained it’s a win-win! “It would be interesting to see how brand CSR mandates get plugged into this new formula for social good,” he concludes.

While we can keep lauding Sood’s selfless acts and his endeavors, it clearly imposes that the dark horse needs to keep doing the good work to maintain his position in the limelight.  Meanwhile, the shelflife of brand associations with Sonu Sood is a wait and watch game as it may take a turn once the crisis fades away.