Irfanvertising: Brandamania!

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This year is the 25th anniversary of several of my favourite things…

The secondary-section building of St Xavier's School, KolkataIt’s been two decades and a half since I left school, actually, schools. I was in two schools from the first to the 10th across two cities (and in a third for my KG) – from class 1 to a bit of 9 in St Xavier’s, Calcutta / Kolkata and 9 through 10 in Don Bosco, Bombay / Mumbai. I had great joys in Xavier’s – the greatest being winning the inter-class football tournament in classes 7 and 8 – and my two best friends come from Bosco. I don’t know if the Bosco folks are organizing a 25th year reunion, but I know the Xavier’s folks are, and I plan to go.

A still from 'Lamhe' featuring the younger Anil Kapoor and older Sridevi charactersIt will also be the silver anniversary, come November, of one of my favourite films of all time. Lamhe released, I believe I remember correctly, on November 21, 1991, along with Ajay Devgan / Devgn (man, people’s names have changed along with those of cities in this period) debuting in Phool aur Kaante. And promptly flopped. (Phool aur Kaante became a roaring hit.) The story of first a younger man (Anil Kapoor brave enough to play this character and take off his moustache) falling in unrequited love with an older woman (Sridevi) and then the woman’s daughter (Sridevi again, doing very well to look and project an 18-year old) falling for this now-older man (Kapoor) was considered too “advanced” for its time. Most aspects of the movie (music, acting, cast) were appreciated by the masses and the movie itself by the folks who could see beyond society-instilled taboo and of course by romantics such as myself. But the movie, due to that big mental block of a storyline, could not last beyond some lamhe at the box office. Thus clipping Anil Kapoor’s contention for the numero uno position, after big hits the previous few years (Tezaab, Ram Lakhan, Parinda). Whenever I’ve watched the movie, though, I still feel good and warm in all the right places.

The older logo of the earlier-name World Wrestling FederationAnd it will be also be 25 years since WWF / WWE (here we went with the name changes again) came to India. WWF caught the imagination of a nation of testosterone-charged and adrenaline-pumping teen boys (I was then) and also some grown-up men like perhaps IPL in its early seasons. Guys quickly became familiar with moves like clotheslines, power-bombs and DDTs, and with wrestler names, or rather nicknames, like Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and the star of this piece, Hulk Hogan.

Hulk Hogan in heavily graphicized version of his T-shirt ripping gimmick

In my opinion, for the longest time, Hulk Hogan was WWE and WWE was Hulk Hogan. With his blonde hair (what was left of it), moustache (which has come to signify him as much as Anil Kapoor’s) and trunks, his pythons (his bulky arms, not serpents; Jake the Snake Roberts was the actual snake guy), his ripping of his T-shirt before the match, the ear-tipping to the fans on the four sides of the squared circle at the end of the encounter (of course, only on winning); in short, his brand of Hulkamania and therefore his legion of Hulkamaniacs, fans who loved and mimicked him.

While I continue to feel fond for Xavier’s and Calcutta (I can’t ever call it ‘Kolkata’) and football and Bombay (I can’t ever call it ‘Mumbai’) and Lamhe and Anil Kapoor (after losing out in the Bollywood war to the Khans, Kapoor seems to have come back with a bang as a senior actor), I think I lost my craze for WWE a long time back. Like with most other folks / guys back then. Many lost interest on realizing it’s staged, I on finding the new age of WWE pro wrestlers to be very assembly line, and almost everyone on just growing up.

I wasn’t so hot about Hogan either. In fact, I think I actually preferred Ric Flair to the Hulk – I dare say he had more charisma (with his ‘Wooooooooo’ and post-win strut) and he kept himself enough fit to last a long time, going on to fights with sons of wrestlers he had fought in his heydays (Randy Orton, I believe; s/o Cowboy Bob Orton).

The text 'Hulkamania' in red against a yellow backgroundBut where I dig Hogan, and this is the point of the piece (what, you thought this was me on a nostalgia trip, after a reference to advertising in the piece’s title?), was that he was a… brand. At a time when terms like ‘personal branding’ and ‘celebrity branding’ hadn’t even come to the minds of the people marketing Bombay Times.

Here’s a stellar example of what I mean. In college, a few years after WWF had entered and become a craze, I had gone for one of those inter-college fests. I would go only for the quizzes, but for this one, for some reason, I think because we had time to kill, we decided to also go for one of those word games, like Taboo and such. One of the members in another team, on getting the word on his chit of paper, just uttered the clue-word ‘canary’ to his partner sitting on my side. And his partner went pat: ‘Hulk Hogan’. Killer. I don’t think if the personality was some other wrestler, anyone else would have got it. Even Macho Man would have required two words (you could use only one at a time): Crazy Glares.

A graphic of Hulk Hogan's face, with moustache, red bandanna and yello T-shirtAnd I got thinking of all this not because, like my school days and Lamhe, I was fondly reminiscing about Hogan, but because in someone’s post on FB a few days back, I saw an image that someone had shared that reminded me of what the Hulk would look like in / as an icon. And I commented as much, attaching a graphic of the Hulk as an icon. On doing a Google Image search to get this image, I realised what an instantly recognizable brand the Hulk is: through just a graphic. (Why, if he decided to come up with an app, this is what its logo would look like.) After all, didn’t you too, if you are 30+, recognize the guy in the cover pic by just the moush? Go, on, say, “Yes, brother!”

BTW, I didn’t pen this piece solely out of some admiration for the Hulk or due to my love for branding, but because I was approached for a personal branding exercise of sorts for someone. (It may or may not happen, though.) Plus, I’ve been fascinated by how celebs use Twitter (and Instagram) to promote themselves. Yes, call me a… brandamaniac!

 Anyway, you can check out this slightly oldish interview of the Hulk on his site, talking of personal branding, among other things: Hulk on Personal Branding

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