May 11, 2010


One moment she is flying high after downing a soft drink. The next minute, she is singing praises of a fairness lotion. Then again, she is conspiring with John Abraham to auction off Abhay Deol’s belongings over a particular mobile phone. Walk out of the house and the ‘Sweet No More’ girl stares down from a billboard hawking sunglasses, and then she makes an about-turn to feature on a handout for hair oil, her face barely visible from behind shining tresses.

The ultimate product-pusher of the moment is not Shah Rukh Khan or Kareena Kapoor. It is Genelia D’Souza. Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na’s Meow, the golden girl who made the nation (and Imran Khan’s Jai) fall in love with her in 2008’s most refreshing romance, is perched pretty on top of the brandwagon.

Fanta to Fastrack, Perk to Garnier, Virgin Mobile to LG mobile phones, it’s Genelia’s face and voice gently coaxing the audience to try out no less than nine brands — and counting.

But the 23-year-old Mumbai girl isn’t the prettiest actress in Bollywood. Nor is she the sexiest. And with only one hit in Jaane Tu… and a string of flops to her name, she isn’t exactly hot box-office property. So what is it that makes Genelia D’Souza tick so loud and clear in the advertising world?

Magic mix

“Genelia is relatable, likeable and her brand values are personality-oriented rather than looks-oriented. She is vivacious and friendly and yet an achiever,” says Anirban Das Blah, CEO, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions and the man responsible for clinching brand deals for Genelia.

The girl who did her first ad with Amitabh Bachchan more than half a decade ago — for Parker pens with Bachchan describing her as “spontaneous” — seems to be the right mix for advertisers at the moment. At a time when almost all her Bolly peers are taking the sexy route — in films and endorsements — Genelia’s girl-next-door persona has struck a chord with audience and advertiser alike. Think Preity Zinta. Now fast forward to Genelia.
“Genelia’s magic charm lies in the fact that she is neither too sexy, nor too pretty and never intimidating. She is clean, lovely, laughing all the time. Everyone seems to like the kind of image she projects,” says adman Prahlad Kakkar.

Alyque Padamsee agrees. “Father, mother, kids, they all want to eat her up — and I don’t mean that in a sexy way. Genelia doesn’t alienate any part of the audience. Even when she is endorsing a bar of soap, she isn’t looked upon as a sex object.”

The relatability factor has played a key role in clinching deals for Genelia. “She has this certain cutesy appeal that works very well with the viewer. She can be your best friend, a really good daughter or the sister you never had. She looks like just another college girl battling love problems and pimples,” says Santosh Desai, ad veteran and CEO of Future Brands.

So at a time when everyone, from politicians to advertisers, is targeting GenY, Genelia’s trump card in the brand market is her undeniable youth connect. Little wonder then that all the brands she endorses have decided to play up the youth card, rather than bother about her not-too-impressive box-office record.

“Fastrack doesn’t look at top-of-the-line actresses as endorsers. The filter that we look through is brand fit. Our endorsers are those who would fit the bill as our brand customers. And Genelia is a fabulous fit with Fastrack. She is vivacious and vibrant and is, most importantly, open to experimentation — all qualities that Fastrack itself stands for,” says Simeran Bhasin, marketing head, Fastrack.

Spinz perfumes, one of the first brands to sign on the Masti girl, also hopes to cash in on the ‘youth icon’ factor. “The young women of urban India find a strong connect with the Spinz values of being trendy, zesty and edgy. Genelia is a perfect fit for the portrayal of these brand values as she comes across as young, hip and full of life,” says Ramesh Vishwanathan, executive director, CavinKare. The Genelia association has “improved brand ratings on imagery parameters across diverse markets”, he admits.

“Genelia strengthens the brand’s imagery of fun, youthfulness and free spirit,” adds Sudhin Mathur, business head, mobile communications, LG.

Fanta believes that Genelia’s “fun-loving, playful attitude” is a perfect rub-off on the youth-centric brand while for Dabur Vatika hair oil, the values of “youth and modernity” make the collaboration work.

Hot and cold

But unlike other stars, why isn’t Genelia’s poor film run and lack of offers — she currently has only two medium-budget films in hand — affecting her saleability in the ad market? “Genelia’s dry run in films has become subservient to her fresh appeal. Only once in a while does the advertising world get a unique and refreshingly honest brand like Genelia,” says Kakkar.

“The brand value of a person is sometimes bigger than her Friday release or the runs that he has scored in his last match when their personalities become a perfect fit with the brand they are endorsing,” says Desai. “Anna Kournikova never won a tournament and yet she has been one of the biggest endorsers of all time,” points out Das Blah.

The ad world is aware that Genelia has filled the space that once belonged to bubbly and zingy Preity. “They represent almost the same kind of brand values and advertisers are looking at Genelia as a natural extension of Preity,” says Padamsee.

Her interest in the brands she endorses has helped, too. “Genelia is a bundle of energy during the shoots. Her ideas and thoughts play a key role in the brand,” says Bhasin of Fastrack. “She sits across the table and discusses strategy, story concepts and gives valuable inputs,” adds Mathur of LG.


While the party has just started for Genelia, too much is often not too good. “The general tendency among advertisers is that if a particular celeb works for one brand, then she will work for a lot of others, which may not be necessarily true,” says Desai.

“Advertisers are just being lazy when it comes to looking for endorsers. This kind of overexposure is detrimental both for the brand as well as for Genelia. The brands in question stand to lose their uniqueness and credibility while Genelia’s brand longevity will be reduced dramatically,” cautions ad guru Piyush Pandey.

Too many ads and too few films leaves Genelia running a long-term risk of becoming nothing more than a pretty picture on wallpaper.

Well, perhaps she could start endorsing wallpaper then!

In an email chat, Genelia tells t2 about being branded

Why this sudden rush to endorse so many brands?
Well I don’t think it’s a rush at all. Things have fallen well into place and I have signed nine brands in a span of over a year. Brands opened up their celebrity requirements and their budgets once the market began recovering. I think things have worked out in a timely fashion for the market in totality across segments.

What are the factors that you keep in mind while signing for a brand?
For me the most important factor is the authenticity and the honesty with which a brand would promote their product. The product can’t be harmful and can’t be one that will adversely affect society. The brand and I should share a common ground with regard to our age, appeal and positioning. I feel deeply honoured that brands from the house of Coca Cola, L’Oreal and so on think that I can represent their proposition and promise. I believe that once you form an alliance with brands, they become a part of who you are and the relationship with the brand becomes a very strong part of the person you are.

Which brand have you enjoyed shooting for most?
All of them communicate a different facet of my personality and have also added to the person I am. I have enjoyed shooting a lot for all of them. Fanta’s latest commercials are so different that the execution of the concept was just a complete blast. Perk too was an absolute delight to shoot because my brief was to go crazy, which comes naturally!
Co-stars like Ranbir (Kapoor) in Virgin and John and Abhay in LG just made the entire shooting process more fun!

Which brand endorsed by you do you personally use?
Well, I try and use as many as possible. The reason I have aligned with them is because they appeal to me and agree with my sensibilities.

The advertising world is looking at you as the next Preity Zinta…
Being compared to Preity Zinta is truly an honour. I mean, who wouldn’t like being in her shoes? Having said that, I believe that each person has a unique offering which may appeal to some. I can understand where the comparison comes from since she is also fun and energetic but I think that as people we are different.