Celebrities lend personality and high aspirational value to brands, but working with them has a whole set of challenges. In the second part of this special report, exchange4media finds out how brands steer away from controversial celebs and whether the industry can look beyond movie stars and cricketers as brand endorsers.
Mere presence is not adequate
Talking about how mixing celebrities and brand building was like a dangerous experiment in a chemistry lab, Karthi Marshan, Marketing Head, Kotak Mahindra Group, said, “If you are thoughtful and careful, you may well stumble on something powerful, but it can equally well blow up in your face. Obviously, brands get queasy when their celebrity ambassadors do something human and stupid, which we have seen many examples of recently, but the quiet brand killers that no one notices are those that do damage to the credibility of the brand’s message, because it does not come across as authentic from the celebrity in question.”
According to Ajay Kakar, CMO, Aditya Birla Financial Group, “The fact remains that the mere presence of a celebrity is not adequate to create brand awareness and salience. What really helps is the selection of a relevant celebrity – and more importantly – an idea that warrants the celebrity. And then using him more as part of the idea, rather than merely for his celebrity status. Else, you may have the celebrity overshadowing the brand and audiences remembering the celebrity – even the ad – but not the brand. Imagine what credibility an entry level car brand will have, for example, just because a rich and famous celebrity endorses it. More likely than not, it will beg the question: ‘He obviously does not own or drive this car in real life. So what does he know about such a car?’.”
He further said, “So, as a marketer, we should always remember that we are not in the business of furthering the popularity of a celebrity. But, as and when appropriate, have a celebrity bring credibility to our brand.”
Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer, Taproot India, commented, “Compared to a decade ago, the market today is very aggressive. Nobody really has long term plans, everything is wanted yesterday, advertisers want celebrities who are currently doing well, they are paid more, as even they have to encash till they are in form, very few are loyal to brands. We have seen big stars moving to the competition in the past. Today, the celebrities are very conscious about their social life as that is equal to the contract that they have signed with the brand, celebs do tons of PR, which in return get more business from the advertisers.”
Bollywood and cricket stars will continue to rule
While some of advertisers think that future of celeb endorsements is in jeopardy, the creative heads feel that celeb endorsements are here to stay.
Kotak Mahindra Group’s Marshan explained, “In my view, the future is bleak for celebrities to earn from endorsements. Thanks to the fact that we are now in an over-connected world with social media, mobile phones, email and so on, authenticity, transparency and direct communication will win over puffery, superficial glamour and the like. I believe, tomorrow’s brand ambassadors will be real consumers. We have already seen some evidence of that in campaigns like the ones done by Dove. We are thankfully moving into a world where what is real will score over what is not.”
On the contrary, Taproot India’s Padhi said, “In past few years, celebrity endorsement has grown big and will certainly continue for another five years for sure, as our masses do treat the celebs next to god, and the bottom of the pyramid is still passionate about the two big religions of this country – Bollywood and cricket.”
On similar lines, Emmanuel Upputuru, National Creative Director, Publicis Ambience, said, “Celebrities will always be around. But they will keep coming from more and more different backgrounds. Having said that, in India a real celebrity has to be either a cricketer or an actor.”
Rajiv Rao, National Creative Director, Ogilvy, too, felt that celebrities would continue to be a part of the marketing warfare, but added that the flip side was that there were only a handful of celebrities that were truly pan Indian and marketers were in a race to snap them up. “The result is celeb fatigue and blurring of the brand’s distinctiveness. Plus, a celeb doesn’t always guarantee success and hence, cannot be the sole roadmap for the brand,” he pointed out.
Brands & Celebrities – Part 1: Of easy, instant solutions and a shift from just endorsers