Adstand: The Pan Masala Wars


Sometime in 80s Indian TV saw a commercial featuring Ashok Kumar and Shammi Kapur having a conversation around guests, wedding, welcome and Pan Parag. “Baratiyon Ka Swagat Pan Parag Se Kariye” became more then just a TV commercial baseline.

It became the culture. The brand then signed up Jalal Aga (fresh from his exploits in Sholay) and Kalpana Iyer to further the brand story. World’s largest selling Pan Masala became the toast of town. These two were landmark commercials and in early days of TV advertising in India, they became the most celebrated ads on Indian TV. I think it was Everest that created the campaign and in the process created the category. Today Pan Parag is not the leading brand and has long back passed the crown to Rajanigandha and many more brands.


The category has always struggled with social acceptance

Pan Masala, like beer is a social category. It took wings because it allowed two strangers to bond over a can of Pan Masala, generated conversation and made friends. Yet the stigma of category that has its own health issues never left it. The category bought social acceptance by signing up celebrities and mounting commercials on grand scale. Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpayee, and Saif Ali Khan are not the only ones who have have endorsed a Pan Masala brand. Back in 80s, Vinod Khanna had endorsed Baba Zarda (a category that has since got banned from advertising). The commercial was set in a casino in Nepal, which in those days was a bog lifestyle symbol. Vinod Khanna possible set the tone for the category and celebrity became the part of brand strategy.


Yet, Celebrity can’t be the strategy

Every category creates its own symbology, Pan Masala too has created its own symbols. Alpha Males and a bit of Jingoism became the language of the category. Calssic Maledom (almost like liquor category) was wrapped around in cues of taste and high life. Taste remains the positioning platform for most brands of Pan Masala. The saffron rain of Vimal Pan Masala or the swish friends discovering the “better choice” of Manikchand are all about taste as the brand proposition, but hidden under the packaging of Alpha Male. Though off late Rajanigandha, the leading brand has focused more on success, much like alcohol brands had done in 80s.


Pierce Brosnan is neither good nor bad choice

Pan Bahar’s challenge was mounted using Pierce Brosnan. As the actor who once played James Bond, he is the perfect Alpha Male who the brand could have used. When you sign up an international celebrity for an inherently Indian product, the question of aptness will always remain. Does the core audience know of the actor? Does the core audience see the celeb as a source of extra value? Will the celeb help the consumers switch the brand choice? This is where the task of brand gets tougher. Signing up of celebrity merely is an indicator of resources available with the band and nothing more.


The idea or the lack of it

“Class never goes out of style” screamed the ad from every newspaper and outdoor and TVC. For once it looked as if the ex James Bond is referring to his own screen persona and may be why he should be the Bond again. This message was completely lost in the meltdown that the brand faced on social media. Yes the brand got attention, heaps of it, but the attention was signing up the celebrity and not for the message the brand wanted to convey. In the entire firestorm on social media was the TVC noticed? Was it discussed? Did it have an idea?

Was the brand able to mount a challenge to the other brands in the category? Was it seen as worthy challenger to the crown? Or was this the shooting star that every body looked and wondered and moved on?


Celebrities will always get you noticed. The saffron shower or the flying can of Pan Bahar will be remembered more because of large amount of media monies and not because of the brand idea.

Pan Masala is an interesting category, trapped in its own culture and lingo. It has over a period of time created a very similar imagery. That imagery can be broken and a interesting narrative can be created by demonstrated by Tansen, a small player in the category.


Its good to get a celebrity, but no celebrity can save the brand from lack of coherent creative strategy. Sometimes the celebrity can put the brand in a very hard spot for this very reason.

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