It is reminiscent of a phenomenon that used to plague the cigarette market in the Sixties and Seventies. Those were pre-TV days. Information was far less freely available. Rumours used to spread like wildfire. Many popular brands of cigarettes got wiped out from their strongholds because everyone believed the rumour that smoking so and so brand would make you impotent. The damage is far less these days, in the age of the media. Yet, even today, every time the pesticide controversy resurfaces, the cola market shrinks.
This, however, is an expected consumer response. After all, the source of the scare is not a mere rumour but a newspaper headline that quotes a scientific experiment. Undoubtedly, this is an unusual marketing challenge for the cola majors. What do the giants do' Pepsi skirts the issue. Coke does better. The response, expectedly, took some time coming. Finally, Aamir Khan was persuaded to play the saviour.
What exactly does Aamir bring to the party' Firstly, the usual benefit of higher noticeability is assured by his very presence. But then that benefit could well have been provided by Mallika Sherawat. Maybe she would have done a better job, depending on the angle! So, ensuring higher noticeability through star presence could hardly be the deliverable for Aamir in this ad.
On the other hand, consider this argument. There is this long-standing Aamir and Coke association. Since the last Coke ad by Aamir, much water has flown down the Narmada. Post-Rang De Basanti, Aamir the activist has been born. There lies the catch. Even if Aamir stayed away from the ad because of paucity of dates or disagreement on remuneration, Coke would have been judged guilty without trial. The unequivocal message would have been that even the trusted Aamir Khan has deserted Coke. His absence from the post-pesticide campaign would have been a communication by itself. Aamir’s presence in the ad thus was not a creative choice; it was a marketing imperative.
The flip side of this argument is pretty obvious — Aamir, through his sheer presence, has brought in an element of credibility to the Coke claim that it is safe to drink. Aamir indeed has done much more. Helped by the script, he has excelled. Mind you, Aamir the actor is playing Aamir the activist. He talks to his audience directly. He speaks firmly and convincingly to his fan club. He also takes the onus for everything that he says. He sends a simple message: Coke is safe, I am saying so. This ad indeed is an excellent example of how a single attribute of a star image can be picked and exploited by a brand.
Still, there is likely to be this nagging unease in the mind of a student of marketing. The ad provides no evidence, no data from any scientific experiment to refute the allegation that has been levelled. Yes, Aamir does offer an invitation to the viewer to visit any Coke factory anywhere. That is confidence-building. To some it may leave a nagging doubt — did Aamir have to work overtime with his histrionics because he knew Coke was walking on thin ice' That could be a dangerous aftertaste.