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Brands bigger than stars
- Endorsers can’t afford to do what paymasters do to them

Mumbai, Aug. 7: Coke dropped Salman Khan like a hot brick after his hit-and-run controversy. But stars need their brands more than brands need them, it seems.

Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Bipasha Basu appear ready to stand by the brands of soft drinks that are under a pesticide cloud now. They are not prepared to give them up, at least not for the time being. Some of them are even ready with unstinted sympathy.

Shah Rukh, who has endorsed Pepsi for six years, is abroad, but he is unlikely to take a stand rightaway, said his executive assistant who supervises his assignments.

She said it was the same when the controversy on Home Trade — another brand endorsed by the actor — broke over fraudulent deals. The actor maintained his silence then and he is likely to do so now.

At the time of the cricket match-fixing scandal, Pepsi didn’t show such concern for its star-endorsers. It dropped Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja. Cricket itself became something of a hot potato for some time.

Outside India, too, Pepsi has been pro-active on ethical grounds. The curtain dropped without applause on Michael Jackson after charges of child molestation and Mike Tyson was kayoed after the incident of rape.

It’s the same with Coca-Cola. It pulled Kapil Dev from the Thums Up ads after the match-fixing reports, though he was reinstated after he was cleared of the charges.

But Salman was summarily dismissed from the Taste the Thunder ads and there has been no talk of reinstating him so far.

But now it has Aishwarya Rai, whose recently-renewed contract with Coke extends till 2005, on its side. “The final reports are yet to confirm the presence of pesticides in all the samples. It is too early to take a stand,” said Aishwarya’s secretary.

The actress is shooting in London for Gurinder Chadha’s version of Pride and Prejudice and may not have heard of the controversy, her secretary said.

Vivek Oberoi, who is nursing a broken leg and co-endorses Coke with Aishwarya, is probably not aware of the ruckus, his secretary said.

“Since his accident he has been cut off from the world,” she added. No newspapers, not even television'

Bipasha, another Coke endorser, is also not in a hurry to take a decision. “She is out of town. But, tell me, in what way will there be any negative publicity'” asks her secretary.

Tussi great ho” Aamir, who makes and stars in the Coca-Cola ads that have taken the brand to new heights, is a self-confessed Coke admirer. Though he refused to comment on the controversy, he was quoted in a report as saying that he has been drinking the beverage for years.

Maybe it’s brand loyalty, or maybe it’s the money, which is a great deal more than what actors earn from their films.

Some stars do take their brands seriously, though. Shah Rukh is known to be such a Pepsi loyalist that he has banned all Coke products from his vicinity, said one of his associates.

At home, there is apparently not a single Coke bottle or can to be found. There was fear once at his office of Shah Rukh reacting angrily when someone brought a Thums Up in.

What a pest!

What about pesticides'

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