Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Plea to Rahul Dravid: Please Endorse 'Maddur Vada'

(Appeared in in May, 2005)

The idea occurred to me during one of those commercial breaks when you simply can't escape ads by switching channels. They synchronise their breaks, these TV channels. With some skilful channel-surfing you can dodge some disagreeable ads for some time. Having to put up with a silly commercial once in a while can be trying enough, but some channels are at their annoying worst when they repeat selected ads during the same commercial break. This happens usually during the telecast of a blockbuster. That is when a 'maha movie' gets to be a 'maha bore.'

Anyway, while watching a pizza commercial, I got the idea that our maddur vada could do with a celebrity endorsement. Paresh Ravel, my favourite actor, is seen taking a big bite of pizza and then muttering through a mouthful, 'Hungry, kya'. It was a class act.I shared my idea with a friend, who visualised Mandya Ramesh endorsing the maddur vada. The snag was that the product was already more widely known than the celebrity. Ambrish was another name that popped up. He is a popular Kannada cinema figure who has turned a politician. But admen prefer a sportsman, preferably a cricketer. The idea is to promote maddur vada globally. Rahul Dravid could be our best bet!

As an endorser, Rahul would be a perfect fit for the product we want to flog. Maddur vada, like cricket, is a great leveller. Few of us who have travelled on the Bangalore-Mysore train have failed to taste it. It's a classless food item, the maddur vada. It's in demand right through the length of the train, in the second class coaches as well as the AC chair car. It's relished by peasants and company presidents alike. Maddur vada and Rahul Dravid will be a creative director's dream match. All that someone needs to do is cash in on this creative kink.

Sometime back in a Zine5 column I suggested to our 'swadeshi' activists an agenda : 'globalise maddur vada'. That was the time when the 'Swadeshi Jagran Manch' (SJM) was hot and bothered over the opening of a KFC outlet in Bangalore. My point was that, instead of fighting foreign chicken-peddlers here in India, SJM ought to take the battle to the KFC home ground. Open a maddur vada joint at Louisville, Kentucky, and make Col. Harland Sanders turn in his grave.

Much water has since flown down the canal from the KRS reservoir to the cane fields of Maddur. And the transnational culinary imperialists having stabilised in Bangalore, have even made inroads into the districts. They have opened a Pizza Corner and a US Pizza joint in Mysore. Isn't it time we hit back, with maddur vada? Make a global brand of it? Bipin Patel, a Uganda restaurant owner in the US, could tell us a thing or two about brand building. He was instrumental in creating a brand image for chaat & samosa in Montana.

Patel opened an all-veg restaurant at Missoula and named it Tipu's Tiger. That was an exotic name. Patel so named his eatery, in homage to the 18th century Tiger of Mysore. He perceived Tipu Sultan as an enlightened ruler who backed diversity and religious freedom. Tipu's Tiger has been written about in every Montana travel guide. Patel made Tipu a brand name in Montana for his chaat & samosa.

Meanwhile multinational culinary imperialists have roped in Preity Zinta to endorse noodles. She now has corporate credentials as a 'brand ambassador'. Imagine Preity on a promotional 'tour in a desert island where they haven't heard of Bollywood. She can introduce herself, 'Hi, I'm Preity, the brand ambassador for Maggi-2-minute noodles'. There is good money for celebrities in product endorsement. What is pertinent, however, is whether celeb endorsements necessarily push sales.

I am a Shah Rukh Khan fan, but that doesn't make me fancy Pepsi. I used to enjoy my occasional pizza even before Paresh Ravel started showing up on the idiot-box muttering, Hungry, kya? Some otherwise sensible actors are not always sensible when it comes to choosing products to endorse. We see Amitabh Bachchan promoting a wide/wild assortment of products. You see him in the Pepsi commercial, the Nerolac paints and Parker pen ads. He also endorses Cadbury's, Reid & Taylor, Emami, and endorses Maruthi Versa and Dabur's Chywanprash. Amitabh is all over TV during commercial breaks.

But then the Big B appears to have his compulsions. His entertainment company crashed, leaving him with the kind of debt that he couldn't meet with his film commitments alone. It was reported that the Amitabh Bachchan Corporation owed Doordarshan a lot of money, which left him with no option but to endorse 10 campaigns for the DD channels, in lieu of a settlement of the outstanding dues. Ad agencies would have us believe that celebs help a brand name with, what is called, top-of-mind recall that translates into sales. I recall Sunny Deol's cryptic one-liner Yeh andar ki bath hai, but can't remember the brand name of the under-garment the actor endorsed. To add to my confusion, Salman Khan has joined in the under-garment endorsement act. We see him in a vest as he says, simply, Asli hero. That must have been the most expensive two words Salman has spoken on camera. That it is the consumer who eventually pays for such crap is not a comforting thought.