Love him or hate him, you can’t escape or deny the power of Shah Rukh “King” Khan. Over the last two decades, he has slowly morphed into a superstar and a magician of a marketer. As an actor and a brand, he has penetrated the lives of billions of people in South Asia and all over the world; sometimes as Raj, sometimes as Rahul, and more recently as Raees. Perhaps that is why, in spite of embodying more than 80 different avatars, he has become the most recognisable actor in the world, says Tanya Sheikh in Aurora.
Khan is an actor, but many would opine that he is a better marketer. It’s like a cricketer who joins the team because he was is an average bowler, but turns out to be a stellar batsman. However, with great popularity comes great criticism and Khan is indeed one of the most polarising celebrities to come out of Bollywood. People either love him or hate him; there is little room for anything else. However, while the naysayers may have a lot to say about his films, his acting, or his signature dialogue delivery, even his biggest critics admit that, as things stand, Khan’s monstrous success and popularity have little to do with acting. You need to be not only lucky, but also incredibly smart to be that successful for that long.
Even before he became the undisputed king of marketing in Bollywood, Khan knew what worked for him and what didn’t. This could be because he briefly studied Mass Communication or because of his enterprising personality. Yet, Khan has always known where his strengths lie. True that he experimented here and there, but he is mostly stuck to what works for him. His personality and his chocolate hero image have solidified his status as a sweetheart for the young and old alike. He knows his art is not as refined as Amir Khan’s; that he will never have Hrithik Roshan’s looks, Salman Khan’s body or the novelty that any new face has on offer. However, perhaps the smartest thing Khan has done over the years is build a deep-rooted relationship with his audience. At a time when celebrities were considered ‘stars’ the common man could only look at from the other side of the screen, Khan became relatable to every man. One of the biggest reasons for his astounding success is the fact that he resonates with the public. And it’s not just about the dimples; since the beginning, his self-deprecating sense of humour, friendly relationship with the press and ability to take criticism have all made him ‘likeable’ and marketable. He is neither as unapproachable as Amir Khan, nor as controversial as Salman Khan and his passion to sell himself well makes him a dream to market.
When Khan decides to sell something, he does it unapologetically, no holds barred. Whether it is a film he is promoting, a show or a watch, when he gets behind something, he pulls out all the stops. He doesn’t sell the product, he sells his image.
Marketing pundits suggest that Khan has the Midas touch; everything he touches, turns into gold – be it a below-average film or a basic pan masala. However, while his persona is flamboyant and entertaining, there is method to his madness. It is normal for production houses to be conservative and spend money on distributing a film to more screens, rather than on marketing. This is perhaps why, more recently, Khan has mostly worked with his own money or generated it through partnerships. In an interview with Mint, he expressed his discomfort about working with someone else’s money. “You have to put your money where your mouth is. There is a huge amount of money in the market. I don’t work with that money. I work with my own money; I don’t borrow from the banks.” In 2002, he and wife, Gauri Khan, co-founded Red Chillies Entertainment, a company that has backed most of the films he has recently starred in. When it comes to marketing, most production houses prefer engaging in sure-shot marketing strategies, rather than taking risks on innovative marketing strategies. However, with his money in play, and his passion for trying something new, all bets are off. And looking at how consistently his brand power is growing, all his risks are paying off.