THE CONSOLIDATORS

How Amitabh Bachchan helped a south Indian jewellery chain become a national success

Quartz india
Quartz india

In 2012, Kalyanaraman (TS Kalyanaraman, chairman of Kalyan Jewellers) readied a war chest of Rs90 crore ($14.1 million) to launch a marketing campaign that would take the company beyond the southern markets.

It was not an easy decision.

His cousin Anantharaman recounts his conversation with Kalyanaraman about this. “We were in Kenya for my nephew’s wedding. The whole family, including Kalyanaraman and his two sons, were there. One day, while the others were out on a safari, Ramani and I got talking. That’s when he told me, ‘I have signed on Amitabh Bachchan and am spending so much money.’ I asked him how he had the strength and the guts to do what he had. He looked this way and that, and said, ‘I think it is the blessings from above.'”

It was a big bet. All of Kalyan’s 35 outlets until that time were in the southern region, and now with the marketing campaign featuring the Big B, Kalyan was set to make a splash in the western and northern markets. The superstar, among the A-listers in Bollywood, commanded a fee that exceeded the value of stock at the Kalyan outlet in Ahmedabad, the first outside south India.

“…for a national player who has a strong message to communicate to prospective gold buyers, what better ambassador could be there than brand Bachchan? We expect the association to give us instant brand identification and recall, and clear differentiation from day one,” the entrepreneur told a news publication.

Kalyanaraman knew that a lot of money was involved. “But he was not bothered about the monetary aspects. He wouldn’t even ask when you could break even. There was a long-term goal. If you are confident, let’s do it, he would say,” recalls Ramesh (Kalyanaraman’s younger son, who is an executive director at Kalyan Jewellers).

The marketing campaign helped Kalyan Jewellers get noticed. The pitch—My Gold, My Right—was that customers were currently being cheated by jewellers, as there was no guarantee that the gold they sold was standardised and unadulterated. Kalyan Jewellers, on the other hand, was selling jewellery with the stamp of BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards), which certifies product quality.

A superstar vouching for the purity of gold, one of the biggest assets held by middle and lower-middle class homes, had the desired effect.

Today Kalyan continues to have Amitabh Bachchan as its brand ambassador. In fact, Bachchan is not the only endorser of the brand. There is a long list of endorsers, including his daughter-in-law, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.

 For each of the southern states, Kalyan has a different brand ambassador. For each of the southern states, Kalyan has a different brand ambassador—Manju Warrier in Kerala, Prabhu in Tamil Nadu, Shivarajkumar in Karnataka, and Nagarjuna in Andhra Pradesh (AP). Kalyan’s was one of the most detailed, expensive, and comprehensive marketing campaigns for any jewellery brand, and perhaps for any brand in the country.

“Jewellery is a different kind of product. An item like bread, or even a piece of clothing, is standardised, and the same thing is available in markets everywhere. Sure, in a place like Punjab, a clothes retailer might stock more of the bigger sizes than his peer in Kerala, but the product is largely the same. But not in jewellery,” says Ramesh, who heads marketing at Kalyan.

A jeweller faces a unique challenge. He sells traditional products. Jewellery designs in India keep varying according to the tradition of a state or a region. “Designs that move in Tamil Nadu may not move in Kerala. In fact, even the designs that move in Thrissur (a district in Kerala) may not sell in Palakkad (another district in the same state),” says Ramesh.

Kalyan is one of the few jewellery stores to recognise this, and aspired to be both a regional brand in each state, and also a national brand of appeal in the Hindi belt. In fact, Kalyanaraman learnt this early. When he opened his second outlet in Palakkad, he realised his mistake in stocking almost the same kind of designs that were displayed in his first store in Thrissur. “Now we know that every market is different and that we can’t stock the same item everywhere. So now, before entering a market, we find out what moves, what stock size, budget, and other components are required in the region where we are opening a showroom,” says Ramesh.

While the marketing campaign of educating customers had begun in Kerala, it was soon taken to other states. “It was education. And we needed a superstar who could convince people. Or someone whom people could believe. All the campaigns were about purity.”

The message had to be same in every market—Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and north India. “For each market, we wanted someone who was a legend and had the backing of tradition. Prabhu was Sivaji Ganesan’s son, and he was endorsing a product for the first time. It was the same with Shivarajkumar, who was the son of Kannada movie legend Rajkumar. Then we went to AP. There we got Nagarjuna, Akkineni’s son.” Signing up Amitabh Bachchan was a coup of sorts. 

Nationally, Sushmita Sen endorsed the brand in 2011.

And in 2013, Bachchan. Signing up Amitabh Bachchan was a coup of sorts, and Kalyan’s association with him continues.

With these stars as endorsers, the launch of a new Kalyan outlet turns out to be a grand affair. Be it the inaugural outlet in Chennai that was opened in April 2015, or the launch of stores in Dubai in 2013, Kalyan now makes sure to fly down all its stars for an opening. The presence of these stars ensures huge media coverage, resulting in hype that stokes people’s curiosity to visit the outlets.

In recent years, the social media has been abuzz with photographs of Kalyan Jewellers’ events. After the Chennai opening, there was much sharing of photos of Kalyanaraman, his sons, Bachchan, and others dining at Prabhu’s house in the city.

Last year, during Diwali, Kalyanaraman hosted a party at his house in Thrissur. Apart from the star endorsers, other celebrities such as Sachin Tendulkar and big names from the local film industry were present. Photographs from this do again made the rounds of the social media showing Kalyanaraman busy attending to his guests.

The stars from outside Kerala were flown down in Kalyanaraman’s private jets. It is also said that Bachchan and his wife Jaya Bachchan stayed back for a night at the Kalyan home.

Excerpted with permission from Prince Mathews Thomas’s book The Consolidators, published by Penguin Random House. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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