Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2016

Celebrity restraint

How Fawad Khan's carefully chosen brand endorsements result in greater appreciation and a sense of credibility.

The beginning of an article about a celebrity sets the tone straightaway. The writer either extols the subject’s virtues from start to finish, or wields a hatchet with merciless glee. It’s rather rare to find a balanced piece that treats a star as an actual human being. Therefore (and in perfect tune with my contrary nature), I shall attempt to do just that.

So, Fawad Khan. Let’s begin with the thought that people act as though he is an overnight star, but stalwarts know better. Specifically, they harbour fond/cringe-worthy memories of a lad belting out angsty, rage-filled lyrics under the banner of EP or (if you are feeling especially pretentious) Entity Paradigm (even back then as a genuine fan, I couldn’t bring myself to defend this marriage of two completely unrelated words masquerading as a band name). Given their penchant for heavy metal songs that sound like covers, EP was not a particularly gifted or famous band. Yet, the band had a following and I suspect the lead vocalist was largely responsible.

EP sort of drifted away, and the next we heard of Fawad was in a Pakistani film marketed as being of superior quality to the standard guns-and-girls fare our industry put out with depressing regularity. The film (Khuda Kay Liye) had a theme and a message tackling, as it did, religious extremism, indoctrination, prejudice and a host of other subjects. Fawad, who played a young man who succumbs to fundamentalist brainwashing, acquitted himself reasonably well, without standing out or stealing the limelight from the veteran Shaan. Nothing major in other words, but respectable enough.

Flash forward to TV and the revival of sorts of Pakistani drama. This is where things changed dramatically for Fawad. I won’t gush about Humsafar; I doubt there is anyone reading this that has not seen, laughed, cried over and discussed it ad nauseam.

I will just point out that this series catapulted both its stars into the big time. Fawad became a heartthrob, with the sort of intensity and drama that strikes a chord among audiences of all ages, not just in Pakistan, but elsewhere as well.

What happened next is the blueprint of A Star is Born and every rip-off made of it. Fawad was lauded, praised, and eventually (inevitably) noticed by Bollywood. (A quick aside regarding Bollywood. Once Hollywood’s garish stepbrother – loud and frantic, endlessly churning out a single formula with different actors – Bollywood is now stylish, authentic and exploratory while still being nearly as prolific as ever. Indian cinema has matured and with it, the scope for actors). So back to Fawad.

He was invited in and he delivered. His debut seemed tailor-made, capitalising on his personal strengths as well as his roots (by roots I mean the Indian fantasy wherein all Pakistanis wear sherwanis, perform salaams and say “aray mian” before the start of every sentence). More than the film, it was the enthusiastic reception he received from the Indian media and fans that sealed the deal. They adored him. Fawad Khan had made it.

We all know what happens once a star has ‘arrived’. They are suddenly everywhere – juicy tabloids, stylish spreads, unsubstantiated rumours and adverts for sparkly shiny lifestyles. Fame is fickle and forgetful, so one must strike straightaway.

Here is where it gets tricky (yes, even more than playing a gay man in a film while being Muslim and Pakistani). Endorsements are enticing beyond doubt, and who would say no to a pile of money for just standing around and looking pretty? So rather than shun the opportunity to make a killing, the key here is discernment and balance.

Fawad Khan endorsed the Oye Hoye chips brand with humour and a degree of self-deprecation, while the Silk Bank campaign stood out because of his distinctive voice and style.
Fawad Khan endorsed the Oye Hoye chips brand with humour and a degree of self-deprecation, while the Silk Bank campaign stood out because of his distinctive voice and style.

Discernment because even if they are offering you a million bucks, it doesn’t mean you jump onto any bandwagon without a thought. Think of your image! What is a stylish, sexy celebrity doing chewing Shahi Supari?

Well, Fawad has done well in this regard, displaying a level of mature circumspection that more experienced celebrities have not. He has chosen a small number of big brands in key categories, all of which allow him to display different sides of his personality fit with his image and retain an element of believability (compared to Shah Rukh Khan driving a hatchback: yep, I bet he picks the kids up from school every afternoon in that nifty little car!).

He picked tech and did Samsung, which is rapidly edging out Apple to be the best phone brand around (notwithstanding its recent explosive troubles). He picked snacks with Oye Hoye, a campaign that garnered much buzz for its hilarious treatment of the star. Fawad endorsed the brand with humour and a degree of self-deprecation (no one can look good in that curly wig – no one). He picked finance – a prestigious sector and here too he did things slightly differently by opting neither for a multinational bank nor a local giant, but for the mid-range Silk Bank. The campaign, while typical of what the financial sector goes in for (glossy, tinges of blue, smooth accents and polished looks), stood out because of Fawad with his distinctive voice and style. Overall, therefore, he has picked them right.

On the whole, Fawad Khan seems to have a winning strategy; one that other celebrities should consider. Whether he sticks to this or not remains to be seen.

Balance because money can be an Achilles heel. Some celebrities are literally everywhere, staring at you from TV screens, popping up on your monitor, peering at you from pole signs... it gets annoying and tiresome and eventually dull. In fact, dull to the point where the mere hint of a particular celebrity makes you change channels, close the window or even change your route. Wasim Akram is a prime example, endorsing everything from batteries to banks to beverages (how thrilling to watch him fling a bit of Ariel into the washing machine at an angle designed to confound it!) so that eventually even the most diehard fan gets a bit sick of his face.

Fawad has avoided this trap. He picks brands carefully and sticks to a few. The result is greater appreciation and the perception of credibility. You can almost believe the guy uses a Samsung, eats Oye Hoye and maintains an account with Silk Bank (compared to Wasim Akram doing Ariel-inspired laundry while gulping Pepsi and Facebooking on his brand new Dany phone).

On the whole, Fawad seems to have a winning strategy; one that other celebrities should consider. Whether he sticks to this or not remains to be seen. Given the aura of quiet dignity he has, I don’t think he would do anything drastically different (famous last words?).

Let me take this last bit further in concluding. We are all aware of the current... issues... between Pakistan and India. Fawad has been the target of some controversy, along with fellow Pakistanis working across the border. There is even talk in India of a ban and other such steps. It is a mark of Fawad’s self-respect and poise (along with other Pakistani performers) that, despite some incendiary Indian media attacks of late, he maintained his silence for a time (he seems to believe in letting his work speak for itself) and only recently came out with a diplomatic statement that focuses on thanking people for their support, instead of pointing fingers.

Sara Qureshi is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.