Sunny days welcome this Leone in brandland

24 Mar,2014


By Ishani Duttagupta


Sunny Leone, to her throng of fans, conjures up images that are mostly too vicarious to describe. But once you hear her out, you would wonder whether it’s a former porn star – adult entertainer if you will – or a marketing guru doing the talking.


“I think I offer a unique brand of worldwide traffic and fans that is different from what is offered by other celebrities in India,” says the Indo-Canadian actress who was born Karenjit Kaur Vohra to Sikh parents in Ontario, Canada. There’s more: she also lets on that she’s “specialized in social media marketing” and companies that tie up with the Sunny Leone brand “see the potential and value” in it.


Meet Sunny Leone, porn star turned digital entrepreneur cum brand endorser. And if you aren’t still convinced here’s some more: “This year we launched our own Sunny Leone app and platform that integrates all social networks with our own marketing team [her business interests are run under her banner company Leone LLC]. We now reach the end consumer in a way that companies hope to in an everchanging world market,” she said in an email interview.


Perhaps it’s time to take the Bollywood actor who was most searched online in 2013, the Penthouse Pet of the year a decade before that, and one of Maxim’s 12 top porn stars of 2010 a bit more seriously, and with more respect. A clutch of marketers is doing exactly that by signing her up to endorse their brands. Those labels of course are not of soaps, detergents or toothpaste but tend to be on the edgier side – think energy drinks, liquor, and inevitably condoms and adult entertainment websites.


“Products such as energy drinks, alcohol and – more obviously – adult entertainment websites have sexual attraction built in either as subtext or as an overt promise. In that context, Sunny Leone becomes the perfect choice as brand ambassador. She’s a porn actress who has now become a Bollywood star – hence known and fantasized about by millions. Who better to be the face of an A-rated brand,” explains Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Mumbai.


A True Entrepreneur

Raw sexuality, however, may not be the only reason marketers are making a beeline for Leone. Consider, for instance, why Mydala, an online discount coupon platform, signed her recently for a promotional contest partnering with Balaji Motion Pictures for the release of Ragini MMS-2, a ‘horror-thriller’ film in 3D.


“That she’s the most searched Indian celebrity on Google, with 80% of the traffic coming from India, is obviously proof of her popularity. However, I personally connected with her as a woman entrepreneur who is practical, down-to-earth and unapologetic about providing a service, for which there’s obviously a big market in India,” says Anisha Singh, CEO and founder of Mydala, which is targeting 200 million consumers across 152 cities in India.


Ms Singh points out that the contest, which offers an opportunity to the winner to “meet and greet” Leone, has registered over 7,000 participants so far. “The promo has also created a big buzz in the mobile space, from where a large number of our users are coming,” says Singh, who founded Mydala in 2009.


The acceptance of Leone as a brand ambassador in India also signals an awakening of the Indian consumer, especially younger women, feels Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, an author who made her literary debut in the genre of erotic fiction with Faraway Music, published by Hachette.


“Be it Sunny Leone or Katrina Kaif in the Aamsutra ad [for beverage brand Slice], what they are representing is already replete in our own cultural consciousness – desire, desirability and carnal cravings. Leone selling porn, under a commercial garb, still remains questionable but then so do certain vulgar sex comedies and item songs with double meanings – but even us talking about it is a coming out of sorts,” says Ms Kundu, adding that it’s high time we learn to talk about sex and a woman’s right to physical pleasure in the same tonality as we would lend to a man.


Leone and Kaif may have their similarities – both grew up overseas and look more foreign than Indian – but it may still be early days to talk about them in the same breath. “Katrina Kaif is not only a popular Bollywood celebrity with fan following globally, but she also embodies the values of beauty and self-confidence,” says Chander Mohan Sethi, senior vice-president, Southeast Asia, Reckitt Benckiser Group. The company signed up Kaif as early as 2004, when it launched Veet, a hair removal cream brand, in India.


It’s the “beauty” Sethi talks about that makes Kaif more acceptable in the mainstream; that trait, however, isn’t quite top of mind when brand Leone is recalled.


Connecting with Desis

Leone’s connect is more palpable with brands like IMbesharam, India’s first online store for adult entertainment products. “The most difficult challenge we faced when setting up the whole business concept in India was the misconception about the brand. Signing up Leone as brand ambassador was our best decision and she helped us get instant recognition and present the brand concept as an international store for Indian customers,” says Raj Armani, the US-based COO of Besharam Co. IMbesharam, which stocks everything from ‘adult’ toys and ‘energy and performance’ products to massage oils and aphrodisiacs, claims that Leone has played a key role in helping the web store reach out to 1.3 billion Indians worldwide.


Armani explains that Leone comes across as an independent woman with an edgy and global lifestyle, who lives on her own terms. These are values, he insists, that appeal to both men and women customers of IMbesharam’s products. “Sunny connects well with both men, who look up to her and desire her, and women, who look up to her either with curiosity or in appreciation,” Armani says, adding that the store’s sales have tripled in the past six months, with traffic steady at roughly 120,000 monthly visitors from India.


Manforce, a condom brand from Mankind Pharma, is another brand that would seem to have an obvious fit with Leone. “With Leone, Mankind has succeeded in positioning the brand clearly and establishing a strong connect between the celebrity endorser and the product Manforce,” says RC Juneja, CEO and chairman of Mankind Pharma who claims that the association is working wonders for sales of the condom label.


A growing acceptance of the adult entertainment genre among younger Indians is translating into endorsements for Leone, along with the freshness and unpredictability she lends to the brand, feel brand experts. “In an era in which pornography is not looked down upon by the young at heart in India, Sunny Leone brings a lot to the brand endorsement party,” says Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.


Mr Bijoor expects Leone to gradually move into the mainstream as she gets accepted by more and more Indian consumers. “As of now Sunny Leone is all about the condom, the whisky, the energy drink, possibly an energy capsule and of course an adult website on the prowl, but expect her to move on from here to more solid categories of household consumption at large. From being a bedroom brand endorser to moving across to still broader categories is not going to be impossible for Leone,” adds the brand guru


Wild Wonders

Not everybody thinks that way. Ogilvy’s Mr Chattopadhyay reckons that brands targeted at family audiences would do well to stay away from Leone. “The housewife would certainly disapprove of her and try to keep brands associated with Leone away from her husband and kids,” he cautions.


For the time being, clearly, it’s brands associated with libidinal pursuits that are riding on the Leone wagon. An example is XXX energy drink from Viiking Ventures, a Mumbai-based hospitality, beverages and FMCG firm that signed up Leone when it launched the drink in mid-2013. Market information suggests that the contract is worth Rs 1.5 crore, a figure the company rubbishes. A company spokesperson says Leone’s focus on “her body and fitness” was the key consideration when signing her up and “we decided to leverage those strengths. She was also a fresh face in the industry when we signed her up”.


Leone signed her first endorsement contract with a mobile handset maker called Chaze almost two years ago. At that time Leone had expressed her excitement over being associated with a “young and vibrant” product. She could, however, do little to make that vibrancy endure; Chaze seems to have sunk without a trace.


Today, however, the market may be more ready for Leone – or so would those banking on her like to believe. Says Tanuj Garg, CEO of Balaji Motion Pictures: “Young people in India today are far more exposed to global trends and are open to adult entertainment genres. In that context, it is a coup of sorts that we cast Leone in Ragini MMS-2.” How that flick does at the box office will provide clues to the durability of the Leone school of brand endorsements.


Source:The Economic Times

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3 responses to “Sunny days welcome this Leone in brandland”

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    Great post. I love Sunny Leone.

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