Imagine this scene. The Sun is still down. There is a closed gate. Outside, people are thronging the street in thousands, waiting to barge inside the building with the same fury as a raging bull seeing the matador waving a red flag. The frenzy is around a launch.
Ask a college goer in USA to guess what it was, and he would say: “That’s the line for getting the first pieces of Apple iPhone 5”. Ask the same question to a college goer in Chennai, and he would not only say that it’s Enthiran first day first show we are talking about, but would go on to brag about how he was there, right at the front of that line. Not only Enthiran, this is a ritual that is followed during release of all the movies of India’s biggest matinee idol, Superstar Rajinikanth. Sky high cut outs, meters and meters of garlands, tons of flowers, gallons of milk poured on his banners and ear-deafening crackers are common during the release of a Rajinikanth starrer, and would go on for a week.
If there is any brand in India that can give even Apple a run for its money on its day, it’s Brand Rajini. And we have thousands of reasons for our argument. Results of a nationwide poll conducted by Headlines Today on who is India’s biggest Superstar revealed that Rajinikanth won the poll hands down. (Yes, beating the likes of King Khan, Aamir Khan, Big B and others). Rajinikanth has more than 150,000 fan clubs across the country (of course, few in Japan too), which is more than any other star. And when he was taken ill a year back, the whole of Tamil Nadu offered prayers and special poojas for his quick recovery (including the three of us). During the time of elections, politicians from all major parties would be wary of his statement, which has the potential to decide the fortunes of the election. Believe us, the list will go on.
At least in South India, ‘Rajini’ signifies a huge, admired, tested, loved and even worshipped concept; it is consumed and cherished by consumers of all age groups, genders, communities and religions.
Rajinikanth quantum-leaped to super-stardom through wholesome and original entertainment and then evolved and acquired cult status through friendliness, humility and down-to-earth characteristics that every brand dreams of. Brand Rajini is analogous to the much talked about global corporate brands. The only difference is that corporate brands are more prominent, well researched and talked about, while brand Rajini has remained out of the limelight.
We now take a look at the launch of ‘Brand Rajini’, 38 years ago.
Brand Rajini: the launch
Not all brand launches end up being a success. In particular, failures outweigh success stories in the film industry. In the 1970s, the odds were against Shivaji Rao Gaekwad (later, Rajinikanth) ever becoming a Tamil star, let alone becoming a Superstar. It was an era of two matinee idols, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, holding strong foothold in the industry. Alongside, Kamal Haasan was already grabbing headlines with his versatility and great dancing skills. Finding space between them was not going to be easy for Shivaji Rao, who hardly knew the language. The first ever movie frame he appeared in, carried an ominous subtitle ‘Abaswaram’ (off-key). No one ever imagined that the dark horse who slipped unassumingly into the celluloid world, would later go on to rule the box office while creating his own niche.
The launch of Brand Rajini dispels many branding perceptions. Brands are usually conceived for a target audience in mind, but Rajini had none. Brand Rajini did not have the luxury of a big launch, or even a launch for that matter. It did not use its own name but an adopted one (that of an upright lawyer Rajinikanth, portrayed brilliantly by Sivaji Ganesan in 1973 Magnum Opus, Gauravam)
Why did Brand Rajini stand out?
Establishing individuality was at the nucleus of Rajini’s work and speed was the name of his game. Armed with these traits and his exquisite dialogue delivery, Rajini pronounced differentiation loudly to the people around.
A comparable differentiated global brand launch would be the launch of transparent soap as early as 1789, by Pears.
After attracting consumers through its brand differentiation and characteristic traits, Brand Rajini realized that style and substance were the core strengths that needed to be kept in focus. A Brand signifies trust and hence has the duty to live up to expectations. Brand Rajini did so, sometimes even exceeding expectations. Soon, Brand Rajini’s focused style became the talk of the town. Fans tried to emulate elements of his style: twist of the glasses, chucking of the cigarette to the lips, lighting of matchstick using only one hand. Most failed, but those who succeeded presented them in front of their friends with Rajini’s characteristic punch line: ‘How is it?’ (‘Ithu Epdi Iruku?’).
Starbucks is a comparable global brand that narrowed its focus to brewed coffee which helped them to establish themselves strongly. Subway, focusing only on submarine sandwiches, while initially offering almost anything for the customer on the go, is another example.
Rajinikanth played a character role in “Aarilirunthu Arubadhu Varai” – there were no histrionics. His Hunter’s role in “Thaai Meethu Sathiyam” won him the hearts of MGR fans. In him, the fans of Sivaji and MGR saw a common friend. Brand Rajini won the war but without a battle. With acceptance from both sides of the coin, there was no need for a toss. From then on, there was no stopping Brand Rajini. Apple does not sell products; it sells the brand, evoking in people’s minds a mix of hopes, dreams and aspirations. Similarly, Rajini’s admirers don’t go to watch just movies; they go to watch Rajini himself. Brand Rajini sells itself – the products are secondary to the brand.
Every successful brand has an awesome tagline. Indeed some brands have taglines which are more famous than the brand name itself. You know which brand we are talking about when I say ‘Just do it’, or ‘I’m lovin’ it’, or ‘Connecting people’.
In the case of the superstar, the tagline is replaced by his punch dialogues. ‘Yen vazhi, thani vazhi’ (‘my path, is a unique path’), ‘Naan oru dhadava sonna, nooru dhadavai sonna maathiri’ (‘If I say it once, it’s as good as saying it hundred times’), and other such punch dialogues became such a rage as they were deeply associated with the character as such. Also, unlike normal dialogues which are fleeting in nature, these dialogues consistently appear during milestone moments in the movie.
Consistency of Communication
Excellent brands have a positioning in the market which they are always aware of. Coke ads have always been about ‘Enjoying’. For years together now, Amul has been following a template of doing a parody on anything which is making news through its cartoon strip like ads and people love it.
The Superstar has been the epitome of consistency and reinforcement. Most of his movies fall into a template of good-vs.-evil, with an introduction song, a fun-filled first half, trouble and pain followed by a climax where the good finally triumphs. Right from the first instant, the audience know that the hero is going to win, but they still stay glued on to see how. Even the trademark way in which his name is displayed, right at the beginning of the movie is an example of this consistency.
Delivering an experience
People know that the coffee in Cafe Coffee Day is over-priced, but still go there because they cherish that experience. The silencer technology which mutes the engine sound in bikes is ages old, but still Royal Enfield retains the classic thud-thud sound in its engine as its part of the experience of driving a Bullet.
What Rajini offers you is not just a movie, but rather a movie watching experience. The very fact that it is so hard getting a First Day First Show ticket makes it all the more exciting for everyone involved to try and get one. And it almost feels like a mini-victory when the ticket is in hand.
Brand Rajini’s Point of Difference (POD) was that it was desirable, it differentiated and it delivered.
What does Brand Rajini offer for different target groups?
||Inimitable style and idiosyncrasies
||Punch lines, style, gravity defying stunts
||Simple real-life demeanor as opposed to on-screen presence
||Philanthropic deeds and down-to-earth character
BRAND RAJINI’s VALUE
The latest Forbes India’s top 100 celebrity list was topped by Shahrukh Khan and even featured Sunny Leone at number 71 but did not have a place for THALAIVAR (that’s how his fans refer to him as, which means leader). So does it mean that Brand Rajini is not worth it? No! The simple reason can be explained by taking the example of Apple Inc. There is not much frenzy around Apple products throughout the year but before the release of any new Apple product, there is a big hullabaloo surrounding it and the brand speaks volumes for itself. But that does not mean that at other times of the year the brand recall is poor. There is always an awe for the Apple products. Similar is the case with Brand Rajini. The craze amongst the media and audience before a movie launch is unparalleled, but during other times of the year too, there is always the admiration for this man. Even though Forbes India knows the value of this brand, it cannot quantify it, as one of the basic parameters – “Revenues from endorsements” is N/A for Rajinikanth. This makes one wonder more about how he is still able to sustain the BRAND that he is. Read on.
It’s his other face behind the humongous on-screen ones that makes Brand Rajini a sustainable and inimitable brand – SIMPLICITY! The man does not like to wear glamorous clothes or use costly phones for that matter. He is content with wearing rubber slippers and dhoti — that’s the real him. Yet another reason why he is the most celebrated brand is his impeccable success record at the box office. This may bring the question of “What about his failure movies then?” But only his ardent fans know that what this man has done to shield his producers from financial troubles at such times.
Every brand tries to target the domestic market initially and then gradually moves towards capturing the global market. But for Rajini, in spite of a not so great nationwide brand presence (read courtesy Rajinikanth jokes circulating throughout North India) the case is different. He has a strong and unbelievable fan base in Japan. The 1996 release “Muthu” started the way for the brand. The movie ran for a record 23 weeks with a 90% occupancy throughout and also made it to the coveted broadcast list of NHK. It was also publicly broadcasted in 2002 in Japan which was something very new to the otherwise conservative Japanese public broadcaster. Since then, Rajini is a name known to every household in Japan. The irony is that the movie was never publicized as a Rajinikanth movie in Japan but after the release of the movie, Brand Rajini grew all by itself.
One may think “Why is brand presence in just one country and especially Japan, celebrated so much and written about?“ The answer is that “Muthu” is the first and the only successful Indian movie released in Japan. This is a territory yet to be conquered even by the likes of Shahrukh or Salman Khan and Bollywood is still hoping to tap the Japanese market.
A brownie point for the readers: The Rajini brand loyalty is so high in Japan but it’s more startling to know that Rajinikanth has not visited Japan even once till now. In marketing terms, we call this “Brand Power”.
Let’s get down to the 4P analysis of “Brand Rajini”
In his early days, Rajini defied conventions and that defined this star. He started having punch dialogues for himself, had his own style for even a simple walk or while flipping cigarettes and these worked wonders for this conductor-turned-superstar. He made everyone feel like a superstar. Also what sets “Rajini – the product” apart is his humble nature, simplicity and the variations in the roles he has portrayed over the years.
Price was never a bothering criteria for this brand. Producers never hesitated to pay him even if it was a huge sum. Why? Because there was always the guarantee of recovering your money from a Rajini movie in spite of it being a box office hit or flop. He was a man of his words and returned money to distributors and producers if his movie failed. So in such a WIN-WIN situation, the minuscule topic of price never cropped up.
So what’s the segmentation and targeting for Brand Rajini? “UNIVERSAL” it is. Only a very few products can be of same utility to all sections and strata of the society. Rajini is one of those elite products. You could be a class A, B, C audience in a movie theatre but the madness is the same across every fan for every Rajini movie. Such a positioning is another reason behind the success of the phenomenon “RAJINI”.
Is there a need for any promotion for this legendary brand? Well we don’t think so and so does Rajini. Unlike the Hollywood and Bollywood heavyweights, he has hardly promoted any of his movies. Brand Rajini is a class apart here as well. He does not seek the audience, the audience seek his divine Darshan and do all the promotion they can. This in turn makes the media do free publicity for his movies.
So with all the marketing Gyaan from Kotler et al., 4P analysis has never been so idealistic for any brand right? Well that’s Brand Rajini for you.
Brand Rajini: Decline and resurgence
Now, it seems as though Brand Rajini is immortal. Hold on. There have been ups and downs even for this brand. Let us have a brief analysis on the decline of the brand. Looking through his career graph spanning 38 years, one can identify three periods in which Brand Rajini was on a decline.
The years 1979 and 1980 were tough for Rajini. Volumes of films, the fan frenzy, non-stop work, new-found wealth and other such circumstances – Brand Rajini was going through a rough patch. Rajinikanth was declared by media to be in a critical mental health situation. There were reports of non-cooperation that disturbed directors. There were reports of violent incidents too. Brand Rajini was in the news for the wrong reasons. With Dharma Yuddam (War for Dharma), Brand Rajini bounced back; Rajini proved that he was not a snuff box and scripted a spectacular recovery.
The second instance of signs of decline of Brand Rajini was around the time of release of Baba (2002). A local political party spread the propaganda that Rajini set a bad example for the youth in the movie; theatre screens were burnt; film reels were snatched. Brand Rajini had failed with Baba. But the brand made an unprecedented move by personally repaying the producers and distributors for their losses. By accepting the truth of failure, Rajini won the hearts of many. But predictions that Baba was Rajini’s last, spread like wildfire. Three years later, Rajini would launch his film Chandramukhi in 2005, which would run for 800 days. Brand Rajini was resurrected, yet again.
Last but not the least, Rajini turned 62 on 12.12.12 (Yes, his fans went berserk that day, needless to say). But the age signifies only one thing. In spite of being treated as God by his fans, this man will also age and will have to retire one day. It is also clear from the number of movies he has been doing off late or the kind of roles he has been choosing. But why is the brand on the decline? In an era where commercials and endorsements makes or breaks a celebrity’s popularity, Rajini has consciously made the decision not to endorse any product or brand. This literally means that he has not told his audience which car to drive or which energy drink is the secret behind his success. But on the other hand, it also means that there is a decline in the Brand Rajini and eventually audience cannot recall the brand. Ten years down the lane, Sachin can still be in touch with the audience by endorsing brands but the way ahead for Rajini is not going to be smooth. Neither can he act in more movies nor does his personal policy of not endorsing brands is going to help him.
So is Rajini bothered about all this? Well we don’t think so. All that he would say is “Aandavan nallavangala sodhippaan, aana kai vidamaatan! (God will test the endurance of good hearted, but will never let them down) “
Will Brand Rajini still survive the test of time? We’ll have to wait and watch.
This was a cover story written by me and two of my friends Savitha and Bhaskar, for Markathon, monthly Marketing Magazine of IIM Shillong. The cover was designed by Ashok.
You could read the magazine version here.
Reference: Grand Brand Rajini