4 global marketing lessons from Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra on Time magazineIndian actress Priyanka Chopra is a case study in successful global marketing, writes Seema Punwani.

If you are thinking ‘Priyanka Chopra who?’ Then you need to pick up the latest Time where she is both featured on the cover and listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was Ms. World at the age of 18, and is one of the highest paid, award-winning Bollywood stars in the world with more than 50 films under her belt. She recently made a foray into Hollywood, releasing a song with Pitbull and starring in the television thriller series Quantico. She is currently shooting the Baywatch movie with such stars as Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. That is a long list of accolades for a 34-year old from small town India.

Is she the first Indian actor on the cover of Time? No.

Is she the only Indian movie star making waves in Hollywood? Absolutely not.

Is she the first Indian celebrity who has visited the President of USA in the White House? Negative.

Is she the first Indian who has presented at the Oscars? Contrary to popular belief, she is not.

So what then makes her an international brand?

Reason 1: She thinks local but acts global

Priyanka Chopra as a boxer Priyanka Chopra as a boxer Priyanka Chopra as a boxerPriyanka (or Piggy Chops or PC, as she is fondly called) is one of the few Indian movie stars who is comfortable in her own skin. She takes pride in being herself, no pretence and no airs. As a National Award winning actor, she has done commercial Bollywood movies with the classic sing-dance formula, as well unconventional films, like a biopic where she plays a female boxer. She is as confident on the Oscar’s red carpet as she is doing philanthropic work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

Disney HavaianasLocal brands with global ambition often follow this model to achieve success. One example is Havaianas, one of Brazil’s most successful brands. It looks like a basic holiday sandal: a rubber sole, two straps, and bright colours, but it has repositioned itself from a functional commodity product into a global fashion brand. One of the drivers for its success has been the brand’s ability to retain its original identity – everything associated with Brazil: fun, chill vibes, colour – while imbibing global best practices. From a Disney collection for the US market to collaborating with high-end Italian fashion brand Missoni to create a limited edition collection, Havaianas plays fabulously on the global stage.

Reason 2: Substance with style

Priyanka Chopra at the OscarsWhile PC obviously has the talent to justify her international stardom, she has risen to the top with style. Unlike some of her contemporaries whose attire at the world events, like Cannes, can be cringe-worthy (OTT does not even begin to describe the outlandish gold-embroidered gowns), Priyanka opted for an exquisite and elegant white gown designed by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad. Her style is constantly evolving, but is always up to date on current trends.

A brand we can draw a parallel to is Shanghai Tang, one of the first global Chinese luxury brands. It has captured hearts of the fashion industry worldwide with its elegance and fusion of East and West. One of the main reasons for its success outside of China is the marriage between quality (substance) and aesthetics (style). Fabrics and materials with the highest production quality coupled with distinctively Chinese cutting and style have made it possible for this once-local brand to open stores from Hong Kong to Miami.

Reason 3: PR matters (and stand-alone)

Priyanka Chopra on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Priyanka Chopra on Jimmy Kimmel Live

There is style, there is substance and then there is shouting about the two. Priyanka could not have gotten to where she is today in the West without the cranking PR machinery. For example, during the Oscar’s month, she was on the talk shows of both Jimmys (Kimmel and Fallon). Her rise may have been meteoric, but it is by no means magical. It is the choreographed and consolidated effort of a smart and highly networked agent, a styling team who not only knows fashion, but knows Priyanka as well to get it right almost every time, and an astute PR manager.

Today, PR needs to be an integral part of any marketing effort. An Indian brand that is seeking global horizons is Micromax – one the largest companies in the low-cost feature phone segment. To raise its profile and internationalise its image, Micromax recently signed none other than Hugh Jackman as a spokesperson. The new TVC ‘Nuts, Guts, Glory,’ involves a diverse range of talent, including well-known director Mikon van Gastel, Director of Photography, Dan Mindel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and costume designers who worked on the film Blood Diamond among others. When one does not have international cachet, one needs to collaborate with people who do.

Reason 4: Cultural currency

Priyanka attended high school in New York. In a talk show, she once mentioned that she wanted to study in the US because schools did not require uniforms, unlike in India. She admitted it was a frivolous reason that she hid underneath aspirations of an international education when pitching the idea to her parents.

The moral of this story is that she knows how to be relevant to the audience she is speaking to, whether it is in the West, or back in India. Her accent cannot be attributed to any one country, but she sounds posh without being a put-on. She is adaptable, not only in her performances (from her National Award winning role as a super model in Fashion, to playing the second lead as the sweet wife in Bajirao Mastani), but also in the way she presents herself. When the time comes for her to shed her Bollywood skin, she will be all set to conquer the West.

A comparable brand story would be that of Samsung. Their innovation, speed, and marketing swagger has resulted in people accepting Samsung as an international brand, while allowing the company to all but leave behind its Korean origins.

Seema Punwani

Seema Punwani

At R3, we work with several companies, including Samsung, that have Asian origins with global aspirations. It is eye-opening for them to see how celebrities manage the transition. After all, inspiration can truly come for anywhere – even from a simple girl with a modest upbringing who now has the world at her feet.

Seema Punwani is principal consultant at R3


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