“I personally take all my brand endorsement decisions. I am the first point of contact, not the last one. So it goes without saying that I delve into depth and detail about the brand, product, everything. I would never endorse a brand if I didn’t believe in it” – Masterchef Sanjeev Kapoor.
He came, He cooked and He conquered the hearts of women of all ages and kinds. Sanjeev Kapoor mastered the art of Indian cooking and won both domestic adulation as well as international acclaim for his recipes for a perfect gastronomic delight. He is not just an icon for food connoisseurs, but also the marketing world’s favourite chef since his Khaana Khazana days on Indian television. He has been associated with many brands such as Natura Diet Sugar by Sugar Free, edible oil brand, Sweekar, Sapat Tea, and the recently announced association with Tata i-Shakti range of pulses.
The chef special
While all of Kapoor’s endorsements primarily lie within the ambit of food-related and cooking brands, is there a deeper synergy and connect between his personality and that of the brand? What is the brand equity of the chef that brands are looking to leverage and rub off on themselves?
Having been a visible and known face on television all these years, Kapoor enjoys instant recognition and mass appeal. And it is this television presence spanning more than a decade that is the essence behind his popularity factor and the impetus behind his fan following. The cult cookery show on Zee Television, Khana Khazana, launched in 1994 turned him into a household name and helped him earn the distinction of being the only Indian chef to run the longest running cookery show on a general entertainment channel.
Manisha Tripathi, National Director, LiquidThread, Starcom MediaVest Group agrees with the show being his window to the celebrity world. “He has had the unique opportunity to influence the cooking habits of an entire generation or two that was starting to cook or looking for newer options in cooking, through the 90s and early 2000s, not just in India, but also the Indian diaspora overseas. That’s pretty powerful for any media created,” she opines.
According to Himanka Das, Senior Vice-President, West, Carat Media, before this show, master chefs did exist but were never registered in people’s mind, and it was the show’s promotion by one of the oldest broadcasters, Zee that helped in changing that trend and gaining popularity. “The programme became popular across target audience, over a period of time Khaana Khazana and Sanjeev Kapoor became synonymous and slowly entertainment industry acknowledged him as celebrity chef,” he explains.
Moreover, his awareness and recognition is more within a certain consumer profile, which helps brands in attracting its target audience better. Explaining the dynamics at play, Ramanujam Sridhar, Chief Executive Officer Integrated Brand-Comm says that if a food-related or cooking brand has identified its target audience, which would either be a woman homemaker, a cooking enthusiast or someone who is family-oriented, Kapoor is the perfect fit in each of these. “He is at the top of mind recall for the target customers of most of the product categories he endorses and his presence would make a huge difference to the brand’s awareness,” he says.
However, more than anything else it is his credibility factor and his vast expertise, having been in the food industry for years that makes him a relevant brand endorser for food category and other related brands. Sridhar shares the same opinion and feels that such associations send out a strong signal. He candidly points out that such a brand association is different from those by Bollywood celebrities, who are not experts but only add an entertainment value.
According to the chef himself, one of his major strong points is his ability to understand the Indian consumers. “Whether it is content on television or in the kitchen, I am able to create an empathy with the consumer,” says Kapoor.
On the brands that would go well with his personality attributes, Tripathi feels that while the more recent, new age, premium, edgier brands may not be an ideal fit, it is the cookery-related brands, rooted in the ethos of the 90s and 2000s that would work best for him.
Sweekar, the edible oil brand from Cargill Foods signed in Kapoor to endorse the re-launched Sweekar. According to Aseem Soni, Director – Consumer Sales, Cargil India, Kapoor blends in perfectly with the brand’s new proposition of ‘Ghar Ka Restaurant’ because of his connect with homemakers. “He not only imparts the knowledge and skills but makes homemakers confident of the outcome. His ability of making seemingly difficult restaurant dishes easy yet healthy makes him the right brand ambassador,” he says.
Besides engaging in consumer interactions through BTL activations, the chef has also shared cooking tips and exclusive recipes with Sweekar, and one such recipe is distributed free along with the product.
The recent announcement of Tata Chemicals roping in Kapoor for its unpolished range of dals, i-Shakti is also based on the same premise of putting an expert stamp on its products along with the added recognition. “With the association of Sanjeev Kapoor and Tata i-Shakti unpolished dals, we think that we will enhance our engagement with consumers who seek great tasting food with a healthy dose of nutrients,” says Ashvini Hiran, COO, Consumer Products Division, Tata Chemicals.
The differentiating ingredients
If Kapoor is the preferred choice of advertisers because of his valued expertise, experience and a strong visible presence, then how are the other iconic chefs and industry stalwarts any different?
The celebrity chef has not just beaten the likes of the popular younger generation chefs like Vikas Khanna but has also scored ahead of iconic figures like Jiggs Kalra and Tarla Dalal when it comes to bagging endorsements. While the age factor is clearly ruled out with his brand endorsements being higher than both the younger and the older, experienced lot, what are the other factors that have worked in his favour?
Experts seem to agree that Kapoor enjoys much higher recall value and recognition as opposed to any other Indian chef.
While Tripathi feels that being around continuously for more than a decade and a half on one of the most defining cookery shows has been his greatest advantage, she does not write off the younger chefs. “There is definitely a space for a younger, more exciting food personality to shine through but media has come a long way and for the younger brigade to make an impact will be much more complex and would need to go across a mix of platforms in a way that really catches the fancy of the Indian food lover,” she explains.
Das shares a similar view. According to him, even though Dalal and Kalra are undoubtedly master chefs and probably in the same league in the master chef fraternity, it is Kapoor’s television presence that has increased his popularity. “Considering the cumulative exposure and the investment that has gone behind promotion of Sanjeev Kapoor whether as a host or while he endorsed brands, Sanjeev Kapoor is bound to score much high than these two,” he opines.
Any brand’s marketing strategy and choice of celebrity endorsers is driven by a cost-benefit analysis. With the huge investments associated with having a brand ambassador, companies have to weigh in cost factor as well as the benefits derived from the celebrity presence. In Kapoor’s case also, the perceived benefits of signing him, along with the added expertise and connect that he brings is likely to outweigh the costs incurred.
According to Sridhar, Kapoor is much above all the other celebrity chefs at present and advertisers will pursue the other food personalities only in certain circumstances. “If Kapoor becomes over-exposed and starts endorsing multiple brands, then consumers might start having uncertainties recalling the specific, individual brands he endorses. In that case, a brand may switch over to someone else,” he opines.
Donning many hats
Besides being a known chef, Kapoor’s entrepreneurial ventures have also helped in building his brand image over time. He launched ‘WonderChef’ range of cookware, kitchen tools, and accessories, ventured into the restaurant business, Indian Cookery Pvt Ltd, which now boasts of a slew of successful restaurants such as the flagship brand Khazana, The Yellow Chilli, and Sura Vie, among others. Last year also saw the chef launch his own, 24X7 food television channel ‘Food Food’ amidst much pomp and show. Kapoor has also authored a wide array of cookery books.
While he helps marketers in promoting their products, what is the marketing strategy undertaken by the chef himself for all his ventures?
According to Kapoor, for every business vertical, there is a separate business and marketing plan. So while ‘WonderChef’ would have more point of purchase marketing and internet marketing, a totally different approach would work for the restaurants. “Barring the television channel, we have not looked at aggressive marketing plans for any other ventures because our belief is that first we should be able to create a product or service that has the ability to create a pull,” he explains.
While he seems to be making all the right moves, both in his own ventures as well as his endorsements, there are challenges as well. According to him, his ideas and thoughts are very unique but at the same time, the underlying risk factor is also equally high. “Since there is no one to follow, I have to create my own benchmarks, and that is not an easy thing to do,” he says.