Drug abuse is bad news for celebdom. Very bad news, indeed. As high as 82% youngsters in the 18-30 year age cohort said drug abuse by a celebrity made them ‘untrustworthy’, and they would not buy a brand endorsed by such a celebrity.
After Rhea Chakraborty’s sensational disclosures on drug abuse in the Sushant Singh Rajput related investigation by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), and the release of the names of Sara Ali Khan and Rakul Preet Singh in the public domain, the Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) conducted a telephonic research over the September 12-13, 2020 weekend reaching 487 respondents (M 251, F 236) across India to gauge reactions to the continued use such of celebrities for brand endorsement. The results were unambiguous: near zero tolerance for the drug tainted.
1. Some celebrities have been recently named for drug usage. Are you aware?
92% of those called were aware that there have been sensational drug abuse disclosures in the past week with famous Bollywood names being revealed.
2. Any names you recall out of those mentioned in media?
48% spontaneously recalled Sara Ali Khan’s name.
42% spontaneously recalled Rakul Preet Singh’s name.
Names of Rhea Chakaborty and Simone Khambatta were mentioned too.
Interestingly names of many other Bollywood, cricket and television celebrities were also mentioned. When told that these names are not in media, respondents said they knew those names from their social media groups (62%), friends (44%), ‘informed’ sources (21%).
3. How would you describe the usage of drugs by these celebrities?
- Acceptable / Unacceptable
- Personal matter / Of public importance
- Ethical / Unethical
- Disturbing / Does not matter
- Has brought them down in my esteem / Does not concern me
Usage of drugs is seen to be seriously unacceptable across the country. As many as 89% respondents felt that drug abuse was negative and not acceptable in Indian society.
Everything that celebrities do is in the public domain (87%), and drug usage done in the privacy of their homes, with friends, is still a public matter.
Unanimity on drug use being unethical (96%).
68% respondents said they found such behaviour by celebrities ‘disturbing’. Equally, however, 54% also said they were not surprised that celebrities use drugs.
4. Will you continue to buy a brand endorsed by such a celebrity?
The response was along expected lines. 85% said no, they would not buy a brand endorsed by a celebrity tainted by drugs. But most mentioned that they believe that most celebrities do drugs. However, till their drug usage is not known, they cannot be singled out for blame or boycott.
5. Is such a celebrity guilty just because of being named in media?
For 58% respondents, there is no smoke without fire. Atleast 22% mentioned that there has been no rebuttal or denial by Sara or Rakul which is an affirmation of usage.
6. Do you think other celebrities too could be involved with drugs?
As mentioned before, general belief is that celebrities and drugs are synonymous. 86% believe celebrities do drugs. Just that not everyone has been exposed.
7. Does that make them untrustworthy as brand ambassadors?
As high as 82% youngsters in the 18-30 year age cohort said drug abuse by a celebrity made them ‘untrustworthy’. When asked that if drug abuse is supposedly so rampant, would celebrities cease to be trusted for brand endorsements? An overwhelming 88% of the sample said that brands that use such celebrities would fall in their esteem, and they may not ‘trust’ such brands.
For Sara Ali Khan, the drug abuse revelations could not have come at a worse time. She has been a favourite amongst advertisers of late. She currently endorses Fanta, Puma, Vivo, JBL, Ceriz, Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ), Veet, ITC’s Fiama, Garnier and others.
For Rakul Preet, the Nannaku Prematho and Rarandoi Veduka Chuddam star, who has been trying to go mainstream in Bollywood, the drug allegations could hurt too. Rakul who at Rs. 1.5 crore per endorsement was charging more than contemporaries Kajal Agarwal, Tamannaah and Shruti Haasan, currently endorses Elleys’ switches, the Telangana Govt.’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign and Vaibhav Jewellers, besides others. In fact, only the previous week, IIHB was charged with checking out her suitability for a home-services brand. The client will now obviously need real guts to choose Rakul.
“The drug abuse allegations could devastate the celebrity landscape,” says Dr. Sandeep Goyal, Chief Mentor, IIHB who holds a PhD from FMS-Delhi in studying celebrities. “Drugs create a halo of negativity, by-and-large not condoned by society. What would be interesting is so to see how brand managers react. With 25 celebrities on the NCB list, a lot of reputations may get impacted.”
IIHB is a Mumbai-based think-tank that tracks celebrities as human brands. It has put out research reports on MS Dhoni, the Consumer Protection Act, Tik Tok influencers and many more in past weeks.