Voices Saturday, July 18, 2015 - 05:30
Early in May this year, a curious thing happened. A 49-year-old man was declared guilty of running over multiple persons, causing one death in the process. He was later released on bail following an appeal in a higher court, but in the meantime, bhai lost none of his backers. If this was the wild-west though, things could have turned out differently for Salman Khan. Corporations take pride in who endorse their products and the celebrity or sportsperson who is the face of a brand has their own share of responsibilities. In 2009, golfer Tiger Woods was hit by an avalanche of bad PR. His home was wrecked following his involvement in a sex scandal and while Nike and video game developer Electronic Arts stuck by him, Accenture, AT&T, Gillette and Gatorade dropped Woods’ face from the shiny billboards. Woods case is the most prominent one in a host of other celebrities being dropped as faces of brands following transgressions. When Olympian and champion swimmer Michael Phelps’ pictures which showed the American taking a hit of marijuana from a bong surfaced, Kelloggs dropped him, (the unhealthy bugger) and AT&T refused to renew his contract. In the 2014 Football World Cup, Uruguayan Luis Suarez got the munchies and bit Italian Georgio Chiellini. Online poker company 888.com dropped him and Adidas did not use him for promotional activities during the tournament. And finally, American basketball player Kobe Bryant was accused of rape in 2003. The case was later dropped but McDonald’s, Nutella and Coca-Cola were not taking any chances and Bryant lost quite the many bottles of free coke.    Contrast all of the above instances with Khan’s, and bhai makes Bryant and Co. look like wimps. Bhai is the face of Thums Up, owned by Coca-Cola, and a report in the Mint mentions a contract in place between Khan and Thums Up until 2016. “We hold the court verdict in the highest regard. We are evaluating the next steps,” an official with the company told the newspaper at the time of the verdict. The next step never came, and Khan is currently lapping up attention with his new movie out on Friday. Reports mention that the movie has raked in close to Rs 30 crore in a single day’s collection, and this seems to be one reason why no one questions Bhai. There is a hit around the corner. No one can doubt the fact that Salman Khan is a massive draw. His movies command full-houses on the first day of their release, and throes of fans wait expectantly to just catch a glimpse of him shaking a leg, a hip, or even a hand. A Forbes report mentions that Khan was the richest Indian celebrity for 2014. Close to Rs 244 crore came his way, and he left names like Amitabh Bachchan and MS Dhoni in his wake. The Mint report states that Khan had close to Rs 45 crore riding on him in terms of endorsement deals. Aside from Thums Up, bhai lends his face to Wheel, P.N. Gadgil Jewellers and Astral Pipes too. All of those brands have undoubtedly been steadfast to him, as reports would have indicated otherwise. Khan remains a headline act, and testimony to the fact is the media-circus around the hearing of his case in May. Close to a week of English news on TV was booked, and you felt blitzed with it. Again, the debates perennially seemed to have one person who would always throw in arguments like ‘Khan has changed’, ‘Does philanthropic work’, ‘Such a misunderstood guy’. The fact remains though that Khan has been declared guilty of murder. He had run over five people, injuring four in the process, and he was inebriated while it all happened. If Khan was a celebrity in most countries in the west, he would have had a torrid time managing the dropped endorsement deals, leave aside the bad PR which never really did come his way as most of the nation celebrated the fact that bhai was free, and that he deserves forgiveness and another chance. Sample this Facebook page for context. The fact is though, that Khan is the not the first celebrity to be surrounded by murkiness either. Khan’s bum chum, actor Sanjay Dutt was not dropped by a jewellery brand even when found guilty for possessing illegal weapons and sentenced to a five-year-jail-term in 2013. “Khan has had brushes with the law even earlier and he continued to endorse brands. We, as a country, are quick to forgive and forget. And why not, you have to move on,” says PR biggie Suhel Seth to the Mint. It is the argument that is driving most of the public sentiment surrounding Khan and aside from influencing the general masses that sees a “hero” fight for them on the silver screen, it most certainly has permeated board rooms too.
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