I wasn’t terribly shocked to see Pierce Brosnan endorsing Pan Bahar on my newspaper.
If you’ve been following the Indian Premier League, you’d find a number of international cricketers selling local products like Lux Cozi, Paragon Chappal, and Karbonn Mobile. The idea isn’t completely new.
Look at most of our fashion brands, and you’ll find anglicised names and models selling products that are designed, produced and sold in India. Even established organisations like Madurai Garments and Aditya Birla Group have had to buy foreign brands like Allen Solly, Peter England, Van Huesen and Reid & Taylor to position themselves as up-market brands.
What surprised me however, was the trolling that the campaign was subjected to. Jokes on the same lines, memes with the same image, all mocking the fact that Pierce Brosnan was peddling Pan Bahar. But does the campaign deserve so much criticism?
If Pierce Brosnan was signed on to sell a product that was more in tune with rich Indians, the campaign would have been hailed. If he was selling ‘Only Vimal’, it would have been a matter of pride.
But alas, Pierce Brosnan was selling paan masala. A product that is relegated to the middle and poor class in India. A product that has been facing the wrath of state governments and administrations across the country. With the ban on gutkha, paan masala and supari, it makes sense that a paan masala brand would focus on the lack of unhealthy particles in the product.
But Pan Bahaar thought big. They positioned their product not on taste, but class. Something that was never associated with a pan masala brand.
I choose to look at the campaign through two prisms – a smoker, and an advertising professional.
As a smoker, I am on top of the food chain. I find it amusing how the government is constantly trying to put barriers for smokers. There are the silly disclaimers on television and film screens. Then there are the pretentious friends and relatives who’d rather stuff themselves with ghee and butter, but preach on about the harm caused by cigarettes. Then there are the cigarette packets, with pictures of a throat so badly affected by carcinogenic substances, that it looks shiny blue. Like Neelkanth gone through a mutant experiment.
And yet, ask smokers if it has deterred them from smoking, and the answer will be a resounding NO. That is because every smoker knows that they’re not the worst off. Below them, there are the dudes with the unfiltered cigarettes, followed by beedi, gutkha, supari and khaini. Pan masala doesn’t even figure in my spectrum of options, it isn’t even considered.
From the prism of an advertising professional, the campaign gets a few things right, and a few things wrong.
Signing Pierce Brosnan was a masterstroke. Brosnan enjoys a huge following in India, probably because he was 007 when our economy opened up to the world. Also, he is not a beefy Bond like Daniel Craig or Sean Connery. Pierce Brosnan is more like Rajesh Khanna – a suave, dialogue-spewing man who is better at charming the women that stabbing the men.
But how far the campaign will go in establishing the brand among its competitors is another matter. Gutkha brands have run a number of campaigns for years to establish brand recall. Manikchand hosted the Filmfare awards for the longest time. Baba Gutkha had Ajay Devgan winking into the screen, now having shifted to Vimal Paan Masala. Rajnigandha has positioned themselves as the secret behind Silicon Valley giants. Pan Parag has immortalised itself with lines such as ‘Baraatiyon ka swagat Pan Parag se kiya jaata hai’.
The positioning is dicey too, because the target audience might not really know Pierce Brosnan, or understand his suaveness. And it is highly unlikely that an urban, yuppie youth would buy Pan Bahar after seeing Brosnan on a hoarding.
In such circumstances, it was important for the brand to establish that they were Pan Bahaar and not Pan Parag. This was even more pertinent as the two brands have the same brand colours, and similar sounding names. You can see it in the memes too. Most people are referring to it as Pan Parag.
Having said that, it is a big gigantic deal for India Inc. To get a British icon to endorse an indigenous brand is reverse colonisation made possible by a resurgent economy that is on a juggernaut.
The fact that it is pan masala, considered cheap and tacky by urban, upper class India doesn’t change the fact that it is a huge endorsement deal by an Indian brand. If we can celebrate Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra when they put on hoaxy accents to act in Hollywood projects, what is wrong with Pierce Brosnan in a Sooryavamsham beard endorsing paan masala?
So, good job Pan
Parag Bahaar. I might not pick up your product any time soon, but I appreciate the balls.