Celebrity endorsement in times of social media: Will we see brands shying away from stars?

Industry experts feel brands don’t really need celebrity endorsements but they can still choose to ride on a star’s popularity

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Updated: Apr 19, 2021 6:17 PM

Celebrities endorsing brands isn’t a new phenomenon. If history is to be believed, the first dated record of celebrity endorsement goes back to the late 1700s when the royals in the UK promoted products. In India, the 1950s to 1980s can be considered the pioneering phase for celeb endorsements, with brands like Lux banking on Bollywood beauties for promotions. However, over the decades, celebrity endorsements have evolved massively, especially after the big takeover of social media. Given the intense scrutiny of users on these platforms, not only celebrities are trying to act in a more responsible manner while picking up endorsements, but they and the brands are being held accountable by the consumers for false claims and misleading ads. Recently brands like Saffola Health and Dabur Chyawanprash attracted a lot of flak when their endorsers Saurav Ganguly and Akshay Kumar suffered from a heart condition and Covid-2019, respectively. But does it really matter to the brand image in the long run? Can we expect brands shying away from celebrities as their faces? Industry opines.


Do brands still need celebrities?

According to the industry, the answer is not really!

Wunderman Thompson India National Planning Director Shaziya Khan highlights, “Data by Kantar over 10 years reveals that ads with and without celebrities are actually on par in terms of effectiveness.”

Taproot Dentsu Creative Head Titus Upputuru agrees, “Brands don’t necessarily need celebs. But they do add an extra spotlight, a little fillip to the campaign. If we solely depend on a celeb to help rescue a dying brand or launch a new brand, then what happened with ‘Thugs of Hindustan’ will happen to our brands. You must have a great idea in place. You can add a good actor or a fit cricketer as icing on the already yum cake.”

Brand-Nomics MD Viren Razdan adds that celebrities are no longer just brand endorsers but have now assumed the role of strong influencers. “Digital gives the proximity to this association and brings consumers closer to their lives.”


Do celeb controversies really impact brand image?

Razdan feels that certainly is the case. “Tiger Woods is a great example to take in recent times. Most brands dissociated with the star golfer, barring Nike which stood by him throughout and reaped the benefit when he did make that comeback. Brands and companies connect with stars for certain associated values - they create an image and follow piggy riding their popular base. When controversies cloud that and companies fear a backlash that could jeopardise their equity. Very often dissociating with celebs in the face of controversy gets acknowledged by the consumer base.”

On the other hand, Khan opines that there could be a “tactical short-term impact” but more often than not the brand and the brand idea is much bigger than the celebrity.

Upputuru adds a unique perspective when he says while controversies around celebrities have had some impact on some brand images, the reverse has also been the case. “Brands used celebs too if you know what I mean. Remember Andre Agassi’s campaign for a camera brand way back? Agassi was worried about his personal image as we read in his autobiography ‘Open.’ The brand cleverly used this vulnerable side of his with the tagline ‘Image is Everything.’  I also, sadly, remember the way a fan brand had used Rajesh Khanna in his last years.”


Will celeb endorsements lose steam in the coming days?

Well, that’s not going to happen any time soon. Razdan notes, “Maybe the form of endorsements might change but associative advertising will always be a strong way for brands to connect with relevance with their consumers.”

According to Upputuru, as long as we have cinema and cricket attracting the love of the audience, there will be celeb endorsements in India. “The formats can change. Today people may be more glued into Netflix than lining up into theatres, or T20 may be trending more than one day and test matches, but the love for storytelling and the game continues and so will the aura of the achievers in these two fields.”

Khan says, “Celebrities are used in advertising around the world. The right celebrity, used in the right way, can undoubtedly be a powerful brand asset. Conventional wisdom dictates that celebrities are among the best ways for brands to build awareness, influence and persuasion.  Data (from Kantar & Edelman) is shedding fresh light on how consumers respond to celebrities, being mindful of these findings, matters to brand custodians.”


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