Now, It’s Shah Rukh Vs Sunny Deol

After The Great Khali and before him Big B put their weight behind it, the Indian cement industry has brought on board two other celebrities to solidify its growth.

Of the top four companies, which collectively hold more than half of India’s market share, two have pitted Shah Rukh Khan and Sunny Deol against each other. One of them, Shree Cement, has also revamped its brand identity, with Bangur as its master brand.

The industry’s renewed emphasis on its reach and image mirrors two trends: The anticipated robust growth in cement demand and the shift in its consumer profile.

India’s cement demand is projected to rise about 8 per cent this financial year over the last. Some leading cement producers even hope to outpace the industry in the same period.

During a recent investor call, top executives from Shree Cement informed analysts about Bollywood actor Sunny Deol being appointed as the brand ambassador as part of the makeover. The executives said that with Deol, they had successfully introduced a disruptive advertising campaign to the market.

Deol is depicted breaking walls in a Shree Cement commercial until he encounters his match in a wall built with ‘Bangur Cement’, Shree’s new brand name.

Shree Cement’s play on Deol’s macho image is a classic manoeuvre in the metaphorical advertising playbook of the cement industry.

Shree Cement’s closest competitor, Adani’s ACC-Ambuja Cements, had reintroduced Wrestler Dalip Singh Rana (The Great Khali) in its commercials last year, emphasising the brand’s core positioning of ‘durability’.

UltraTech Cement, the country’s largest cement manufacturer, has, meanwhile, adopted a less conventional approach.

In January, UltraTech Cement launched its new television commercial with Shah Rukh Khan, focusing on India’s growth story. Khan, known for his romantic hero image, stands in stark contrast to the ‘macho’ choices made by other cement brands.

Business and brand-strategy expert Harish Bijoor views UltraTech and Khan as a fitting pairing.

“Shah Rukh is a wide-spectrum swathe,” he said, highlighting that UltraTech caters to a diverse audience, and Khan appeals across various segments, including cement users, masons, contractors, engineers and end home-buyers.

UltraTech’s messaging, ‘Banega India, toh Badega India’ (If India builds, it will grow), departing from strength and leaning towards India’s growth narrative, reflects the evolving demand trends for cement makers in the country.

While individual home-buyers still constitute the major share, the highest growth is expected to come from India’s infrastructure story.

Industry estimates suggest that as of 2022-2023, rural housing contributed 37 per cent to India’s total cement demand.

However, this share is anticipated to decrease to 33 per cent by the end of the current decade.

In contrast, infrastructure is expected to increase its share to 29 per cent from the current 23 per cent, while the share of urban housing is projected to marginally reduce to 28 per cent from 30 per cent in the same period.

All these indicators point to urbanisation and a shift in the consumption pattern of cement in India, from individual home builders to large contractors.

This is not the first instance of cement makers bringing on board celebrities from the film world.

Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan was earlier associated with Binani Cement, and has endorsed Wonder Cement in the recent past.

For FY23, 13 of India’s listed cement companies collectively spent Rs 3,076 crore on such branding activities.

Among them, UltraTech Cement remained the largest spender at Rs 1,296.09 crore (Rs 12.96 billion). It marked a 16 per cent increase from a year ago, while companies such as Dalmia Cement, Sagar Cement and Prism Johnson each witnessed a surge of 30 per cent or more in promotional and related activity expenditures.

While UltraTech has not disclosed the cost of its latest celebrity endorsement, in a recent analyst call, Atul Daga, its chief financial officer, assured analysts that all payments due to Khan had been met in the quarter ending December 2023.

Meanwhile, auxiliary industries in the building materials sector, such as pipe makers, have long been investing in celebrity endorsements. For instance, celebrities such as Salman Khan, and more recently Ranveer Singh, have endorsed PVC pipe maker Astral.