Mysore Sandal Soap has a new brand ambassador: It’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni. And it is a bit of a scandal.
First, let’s give the PR devils their due.
Yes, it is a happy coincidence that a brand whose initials are MS has found its mascot whose initials are also MS.
Yes, it is a coup for a small company to have bagged the next big thing in Indian cricket, for a cheap price.
Yes, Dhoni’s is a nationally recognized face, flowing hair and all, that may become even more famous in the years to come.
But, pardon us for sounding so parochial, but was it impossible for Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL) to find a Kannadiga, if not a true-blue Mysorean, to tout and shout the virtues of a decidedly Kannadiga product?
It’s never very comfortable to raise such questions, but churumuri is, if nothing else, the contrarian in these matters.
What is it that a Dhoni will bring to Mysore Sandal that Javagal Srinath cannot?
What is it that a Dhoni will bring to Mysore Sandal that Anil Kumble or Rahul Dravid canot?
Mysore Sandal recently had the privilege of being awarded Geographic Indication (GI). It means the product commands proprietary authority by virtue of its location.
In other words, nobody else can make a sandal soap and pass it off as Mysore Sandal, as they tried to with neem and basmati rice a few years ago.
The simple point we wish to make is this: a GI brand needed a brand ambassador with some GI.
A brand ambassador who has the gandha of the product and its region.
M.S. Dhoni of Jharkhand may yet become as famous a brand as M.S. of Redmond, but he will still not stand, never stand for the Mysore part of M.S..
Because, that is the nature of the beast called celebrity endorsement.
Today, Dhoni endorses Mysore Sandal. Tomorrow, if the price is right, he will endorse Cinthol or Camay. There is no emotional attachment with the product. There is even less empathy for the geography in which it is produced.
It’s a straightforward commercial deal.
Yes, a few young people with long hair may be motivated to try Mysore Sandal, but what after that?
As it is, celebrity endorsements have been reduced to a bit of a farce by the lazy whizkids of marketing who cannot think beyond Amitabh Bachchan (or Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar).
Believe it or not, Bachchan now “endorses” apartments, banks, batteries, cars, chocolates, chyawanprash, hair oils, jewellery, laxatives, paints, pens, resorts, soaps, soft drinks, suitings. And he is ready to endore any product if somebody is strong (or foolish) enough to dangle a cheque before him.
(Indeed, Mr Bachchan had been lined up to do the English commentary for the T.S. Nagabharana’s sound and light show at the Mysore palace. Fortunately, it has been kept on the backburner for the moment.)
Such celebrity endorsements make the agency’s job easier. It makes the already-rich celebrities richer. And it blows a small hole in the pocket of the client.
But does it really help the product?
If a celebrity like Dhoni, whose sole intention is to make the most of a short career, does not convey geographical indication for a product like Mysore Sandal, what use is such advertising or endorsement?
If Dhoni endorses a dozen other products, as he is doing already, what kind of brand-recognition will he bring to an emblematic product like Mysore Sandal?
This does no mean that a product should only be endorsed by those who hail from the region in which it is produced. Far from it. There needs to be a real and alive link especially in the case of generic products.
If only a certain kind of celebrity are going to endorse products across the length and breath of India because they are nationally recognisable, and appeal to men and women, rich and poor, what an intellectually bankrupt country must we be?
And what morons must we be to fall for it?
Sadly, KSDL has done no favours to Mysore or Mysore Sandal by this boring, predictable move.
Dhoni doesn’t wash. You can quote us on this.