John Abraham: The new dostana for metrosexual marketing

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Metrosexual marketing is on the rise with personal grooming brands launching a bevy of products targeting the male consumer. And there is no better way to connect with this emerging set of consumers other than roping in a brand face, which adds to the aspirational value of the brand. One such celebrity has been model turned actor John Abraham, who has in recent times become the face of brands like Garnier and Philips.

The actor’s endorsement projects are handled by Mates, the entertainment unit of Madison World, and perhaps is one of the highest value association in the industry, pegged at Rs 100 crore.
Other than personal grooming products, the actor has also been endorsing brands that strictly have a macho image like Yamaha and Castrol. He has also endorsed youth brands like VIP bags, Fastrack eye gear, Wrangler jeans and family brands like Haier. Recently, he bagged Ultimate Nutrition and Audi as a brand evangelist, since Audi does not hire brand ambassadors. Traditionally, Abraham has had a biker’s image, who personally too owns a wide range of bikes.

Roy Kurian

Roy Kurian, National Business Head, India, Yamaha Motors

A biker?
According to Roy Kurian, National Business Head, India, Yamaha Motor, a brand that was one of the few to sign the actor as the brand ambassador in early days, says, “John has a macho image. Biking has a direct connect with John. He has the personality with an edge that fits with the technology of Yamaha, so I cannot think of any other actor endorsing our bikes the way John Abraham does.”

Abraham may not be a big star as Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan are, but they according to Kurian do not fit well with the brand.

Abraham has been the brand ambassador for Yamaha since 2004, and also plays an important role on the advisory board of Yamaha. Add to that Castrol, a brand which too is finding a right fit in Abraham being an avid biker.

So entrenched is Abraham’s biker image that when Philips decided to get the actor on board to endorse its personal grooming products, it decided to give away Yamaha RX1 as a winning prize for an online activation. “John is all about doing edgy stuff. He stretches the limits but still is within certain bounds. That is the personality that he has been taking to the every space. He is crazily fond of bikes, therefore, we, in an online activation, gave off a Yamaha RX1 as a winning prize,” says Arushi Agarwal, Director Marketing, Personal Care, Consumer Lifestyle, Philips India.

Abraham co-creates facial styles with Philips grooming products. He is talking to an aspirational youth in the SEC A, B1 and in the age group of 16 – 28 years. According to Agarwal, Philips had conducted a study in eight studies to find out the aspirational youth icon, and Abraham emerged as the No 1 choice.

It’s not with Philips that Abraham got into the grooming space. He has been endorsing Garnier’s men’s range for quite some time now. According to Darshana Bhalla, CEO, Mates, there are two more major brands in the pipeline that are ready to lap up Abraham. With such a wide line-up of brands, is the actor looking at moving beyond his stereotypical image of a biker boy?

Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults

Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults

According to Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, the biker boy image will remain with Abraham and he is not shifting his category from bike person to a personal care product person. “I do believe that he would be fit for personal category brands and auto category. In terms of TG, he could do well in the cosmetics side as it is growth oriented. He is not the guy who would cater to some ‘housewife in Hoshiarpur’ and is not a durables or a refrigerator kind of a guy but a motorbike and personal care kind,” he says.

Anand Halve, Co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy

Anand Halve, Co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy

Even Anand Have, Founder Chlorophyll Brand & Communications Consultancy feels that Abraham has no image to break away from. He goes on to an extend to say that Abraham is a popular face and that is the only connect that he brings in with brands, especially in case of Garnier. “He has no connect with Garnier but Garnier wants someone who is popular as well as has maintained himself.

Piyush Sinha, Professor - IIM Ahmedabad

Piyush Sinha, Professor – IIM Ahmedabad

Shades of grey: A metrosexual man
Piyush Sinha, professor at IIM-Ahmedabad partly agrees with Halve when he says that “Brands have been saying different stories through different people. A brand fit depends more on the storyline than the storyteller or the characters.”

In the same vein, he however, says that Abraham is catering to the metrosexual youth, “who is somebody who appreciates shades and is not just black and white.”

Sinha finds support in Bijoor’s statement, when the latter says that Abraham is a person who has a very global persona and he portrays an idea, that a macho man can fit into different brand categories too. “He has a very ‘unIndian Indian’ image,” he says.

His macho imagery and being a metrosexual man, according to Bijoor, make him a perfect candidate to endorse a product like a fairness cream that has feminine orientation but may not entirely be a feminine product, especially when the model turned actor has a large female following.

“He is not a small town man. He is a big city guy. Someone like Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan or MS Dhoni would cater to the masses, whereas the niche category would like to see John Abraham,” he adds.

Sex symbol?
Meanwhile, Bhalla of Mates adds another dimension to his personality, when she says that Abraham is a sex symbol. “He is the kind of guy who has been comfortable in showing his six pack abs. He has been linked to products that portray a sex symbol or a style icon or a pin up boy. And the recent commercial about men’s grooming and anything to do with looks, comes naturally for John,” she says.

Philips hired Abraham largely for three traits – that he is a style icon; someone who is exceptionally comfortable in his skin and is effortless in his style; and who is a popular among women. “All these three things is what he brings to the table at Philips and helps our brand become aspirational and relevant with the young audience,” says Agarwal.

He is somewhere in between Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, feels Sinha from IIM-A. While the former is a muscleman and the latter lovable, Abraham falls somewhere in between.

So largely it is a mix of all – his biker’s imagery, fitness and style conscious and a metrosexual man that make him perfect for certain brands. Bhalla says, “If we look at the top 200 advertisers, 150 out of them will not hire brand endorsers if they do not have any tangible benefits. Everyone looks for a rise in numbers and recall.”

From the horse’s mouth
In the end, what does Abraham feel about his associations with brands? “Brands have been a part of my DNA since the start of my career,” says Abraham, adding, “I have known how they plan and what do they look for in communication strategies. So my aim is to deliver solutions they are seeking from a celebrity endorsement point of view. I align with their needs and do the best to help them get optimum results.”

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