Indian cricket team captain, Virat Kohli has emerged as India’s most valued celebrity for the second year in a row with an estimated brand worth of $170 million. According to the fourth edition of India’s Most Powerful Celebrity Brands report, released on Thursday by consulting firm Duff and Phelps, the combined brand value of India’s top 20 celebrities, including icons from Bollywood, cricket, and a badminton player, was $877.4 million.

By all accounts, the brand value of India’s top celebrities and their level of engagement with a plethora of products and brands have been increasing over the years. This is a further testament to the rising clout of celebrities in a country where successful personalities from different walks of life such as cinema and cricket are idolised and worshipped as demi-gods.

“There is a distinct rise in the quantum of engagement between products/ brands and celebrities, the fee that celebrities are charging, the volume of endorsements they are doing and the number of mediums on which these endorsements appear,” says Aviral Jain, managing director at the valuation advisory services practice at Duff and Phelps.

The 2018 edition of the Duff and Phelps report also points to a trend where the growing purchasing power of millennials is leading to a new breed of stars.

In the 2017 edition of the list, Kohli (30) – who endorses products ranging from Puma’s sport shoes to Audi’s luxury cars and Tissot watches – dethroned Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan (53) as India’s most valued celebrity brand for the first time. While SRK, as Khan is popularly known as, ranked second in 2017, his position slipped to the fifth spot in the list, with a brand value of $60.7 million.

The biggest surprise in the list was the ascension of Deepika Padukone to the second spot in the list, after Kohli. With a brand worth of $102.5 million, Padukone (33) is now the most valuable Bollywood celebrity in the country, trumping the likes of her own husband Ranveer Singh (no.3), Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan (no.6) and Amitabh Bachchan (no.7).

“In 2018, Padukone is the undisputed leader among Bollywood celebrity brands and has truly emerged as the queen of Bollywood,” says Jain.

Apart from Kohli, Padukone, Singh, Shah Rukh, Salman and Bachchan, Akshay Kumar (no.3); Alia Bhatt (no.8); Varun Dhawan (no.9) and Hrithik Roshan (no.10) make up India’s top 10 celebrities by brand value. At 23, P.V. Sindhu (no.15) is the youngest celebrity in the top 20 list, with a brand value of $21.6 million. The ace shuttler is also the only celebrity from outside the haloed circles of Bollywood and cricket to feature on the list. The other celebs on the list include Aamir Khan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anushka Sharma, Ranbir Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Priyanka Chopra and Shraddha Kapoor.

The report sheds light on some emerging trends when it comes to celebrity endorsements in India. A significant finding is that celebrity engagements with products and brands have been on the rise over the years, indicating that consumer product and services companies still prefer to rope in a known and admired face to sell everything from shampoos and soaps to banking services and luxury cars. India’s top 20 celebrities endorsed a total of 314 product brands in 2018, compared to 272 in 2017. According to the report, the number of celebrity engagements has risen at a compound annual growth rate of 10% between 2007 and 2017 to stand at 1,660 engagements. While personal care and banking as product categories are dominated by female celebrities (accounting for 67% and 65% of total advertising seconds on TV respectively), male celebrities dominate e-commerce (72%) and automobiles (87%).

Film stars account for a lion’s share (76%) for the endorsements, followed by sportspersons (12%), and television stars (9%). Also, when it comes to ad spend on television, 24% of the total advertising budget, or ₹6,700 crore, was spent on account of celebrity endorsements in 2017. This percentage has risen 500 basis points from a decade ago in 2007, though it has fallen from the peak of 27% in 2013.

The Duff and Phelps report also points to some retired sports personalities like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly still being favoured by brands, owing to their carefully crafted public image, which has outlived their sporting career. Tendulkar, widely considered to be the best Indian batsman ever, commands a brand value of $21.7 million, according to the report and ranked 14 on the list of the top celebrities.

“We have rationalised our brand partnership portfolio (for Tendulkar’s endorsements) based on three criteria comprising brand value, social relevance, and commercial appeal,” Mrinmoy Mukherjee, CEO, SRT Sports Management Company, a company owned by Tendulkar, which handles his engagements, is quoted in the report as saying. “This has resulted in a sharply focused image, which has further fuelled brand endearment and recall.”

Tendulkar’s brand endorsement strategy is also an indication of the evolving nature of engagement between celebrities and the brands they desire to rope them in. The commercial terms of the agreement between these entities don’t involve only a fixed fee and time commitment any longer. These engagements have become more long-term in nature with the celebrities often picking up an equity stake in the company that owns the product. For instance, Tendulkar has an equity stake in a company called Smaaash, a nationwide chain of sports-based entertainment arenas.

Celebrities and brands are also turning increasingly cautious of the strategic fit between them before agreeing on an endorsement deal. For instance, it is well-known that Kohli gives a lot of importance to his personal fitness and also encourages other members of the Indian cricket team to follow a detailed fitness regime. This persona, which often manifests in his social media presence on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, suits sportswear brands like Puma well. Recently, Puma also launched a special line of sportswear products under the brand name of ‘one8’, in association with Kohli. In that sense, Indian celebrities are following a model established by their counterparts in developed countries like the U.S. where a celebrity like Dwayne Johnson has an exclusive range of products that borrow his persona with another sportswear brand, Under Armour.

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