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Brands & Celebrities – Part 1: Of easy, instant solutions and a shift from just endorsers

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Brands & Celebrities – Part 1: Of easy, instant solutions and a shift from just endorsers

Celebrity endorsement is nothing new. But the last few years have seen brands becoming more watchful of the way in which they approach their relation with celebrities. While on the one hand people remember memorable associations such as Aamir Khan and Titan or Amitabh Bachchan and Cadbury (quite a few others in his case) and Shah Rukh Khan and Nokia, on the other hand, we have also seen brands dropping big celeb names – Sachin Tendulkar from Airtel in 2006, Pepsi surprised many when Shah Rukh Khan was dropped out of the ‘Youngistaan’ campaign in 2009, or even when Katrina Kaif replaced Sushmita Sen for Pantene in 2009.

Meanwhile, the debate on how celebrities contribute to the stature of a brand continues...

For Attracting Attention, Brand Building & Influencing Consumers

Most advertisers agree that celebrities continue to be the easiest way for a brand to attract attention. Elaborating more on that, Ajay Kakar, CMO, Aditya Birla Financial Group, said, “More often than not, if a brand is a late entrant or wishes to stand out in a cluttered category, a celebrity is seen as the easy and instant solution.” Alok Bhardwaj, Senior VP, Marketing, Canon, explained that celebrities established high aspirational value. He said, “In any brand’s life, there comes a time when it needs to widen the spectrum and become more popular. They are able to leverage on the celeb’s popularity.”

Even creative heads of advertising agencies feel that celebrities have a major role to play in brand building and grabbing eyeballs. But in addition to that, celebrities contribute to brand building, create a certain brand character and influence consumer’s buying decisions.

Elaborating on the brand-building aspect, Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer, Taproot India, noted, “In a country like ours, where celebs are next only to gods, they help in brand building in various categories.”

Emmanuel Upputuru, National Creative Director, Publicis Ambience, explained more on creating the brand character, “Marketers use celebrities when they want to appropriate the properties of the celebrity to their brand. For instance, if you are a bank, show Dravid and not Yuvraj, and if you are a hair gel brand, do the reverse. It’s easier to explain to the consumer the properties of the brand by using a celebrity. In a way, the celebrity is not only portrayed as an aspiration for the target audience, the celebrity becomes in itself an aspiration for the brand. To own the same space the celebrity owns.”

According to Rajiv Rao, National Creative Director, Ogilvy, “World over celebrities have had their influence on consumers, from cars to computers and everything in between. They have been used in various stages of a brand’s life cycle. To launch a new product, put some fizz into a brand that’s hit a plateau, assure the consuming public of a brand’s integrity. So, they will continue to be a part of a marketer’s arsenal.”

For him, to use the celebs successfully, a brand needs a strong idea at the heart of its communication, the execution has to be flawless and the celeb should be right for the brand.

From Just TVCs to Everything and More

Advertising sees multiple endorsements today, unlike earlier where one would associate MAK Pataudi with Gwalior Suitings and Kapil Dev with “Palmolive da jawaab nahin”. That said, today, there also are brand ambassadors that go a step further to endorse the brand rather than just appearing in the commercial.

Kakar highlighted a recent Birla Sun Life campaign to elucidate on the changing roles of celebrities. He said, “More recently, Sehwag and Yuvraj came across as real people with real fears while sharing their highs and lows in a campaign for Birla Sun Life Insurance. The campaign resisted from using the cricketers as mere brand ambassadors. They came across as humane and, in fact, ‘philosophy ambassadors’ for the brand, while provoking the audiences to learn from their felt vulnerabilities.”

Bhardawaj felt that celebrities had gone beyond being mere glamour quotient as there were some celebrities who understood that they had a role to play, and that role was clearly to deliver on the brand. “These days, they have an integrated approach where celebrities are used to do a leadership role, which is far beyond just the brand commercial,” he added.

According to Marshan, “On the good side, many celebrities are being used as actors, rather than as endorsers, which is a welcome shift. The onus of lending credibility to the message is thus distanced without losing the eye-candy quotient. Further, especially when the celebrity actors are professional actors, the end result is very convincing because their craft is being leveraged, rather than just their celebrity status. Saif and Kareena for Airtel’s “record your programme from your mobile” comes to mind. As do Aamir Khan’s various ads for Tata Sky.”

Clearly, the leaders believe that celebrities play a vital role in building brands and that there has been a welcome shift in the role that they play, which is from mere endorsements to a more integrated approach, where celebrities are utilised for the actors or role models they are. But working with celebrities today brings a whole new range of challenges. For views on that and the future of celebrity endorsements in India, read the second part of the report on August 5, 2010 on


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