Commerce, conscience & celebrity endorsements
Big B's recent remark against colas is seen as a belated reaction, which could undermine years of marketing efforts by a brand. It has also raised the crucial point: shouldn't celebrities
Who would have remembered ‘Pappu pass ho gaya’, if mega-star Amitabh Bachchan had not celebrated his results with Cadbury Diary Milk? Very few would have shared the ‘Meri Maggi’ story if Bachchan would not have urged to do so. And the ‘Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola’ falls flat without the desi tadka of Aamir Khan. Celebrity endorsement helps in reaping huge rewards for a brand. It creates awareness and builds greater brand equity. The affinity consumers have with their favourite celebrities can hugely influence their purchases. But what happens when your biggest endorser de-endorses your brand? Should the celebrity return every penny earned through the endorsement?
Recently, The Economic Times reported that Bachchan had told a gathering at IIM-Ahmedabad that he had stopped endorsing Pepsi after he was confronted by a little girl who wondered why he promoted the soft drink that her teacher had branded as poison. He added that he makes a careful judgement before endorsing any product. The actor was also quoted as saying that he doesn’t endorse tobacco or alcohol because he doesn’t consume them. The star doesn’t believe in endorsing products that are harmful for the people.
Is it a sudden dawn of realisation for the actor who knows that cola is harmful for health? The big question is: Wasn’t he aware of the various health problems because of drinking cola?
According to Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner, Bang in the Middle, “Commerce and conscience has to go hand in hand, and as a celebrity, you cannot let one overrule the other. While some categories (like liquor or tobacco) have societal negatives, it is impossible to find a category or a brand that has no negatives. Colas have excess sugar and excess consumption can lead to obesity. Junk foods have no nutritional value, and all these facts are well known. So, why suddenly should an endorser wake up and denounce the brand?”
Nima DT Namchu, Creative Head and ECD, Cheil India remarked, “There is definitely a negative impact on the brand’s image and the consumer’s perception of the brand when its biggest endorser ‘de-endorses’ it. At the same time, there will probably be a sizeable chunk wondering why the celebrity endorsed the brand in the first place.”
The beverage category is over-dependent on the use of celebrities. Right from Pepsi, Coke and Thums Up, almost all beverage brands have used popular stars to drive preferences in the cluttered space. It is considered to be the safest formula to sell a product to the mass market. But, should celebrities stop endorsing products that are harmful to health?
According to Gupta, they should not. “There is no category that is absolutely safe, everything has side effects (including pure water, for instance), what a celebrity has to do is be clear about what should be endorsed and what not. Having done that, stick to it and face the issues that will come with such endorsements. As celebrities they have the power to make the brands appeal more sensitive and responsible,” he added.
However, Namchu said, “Shouldn’t manufacturers stop producing products that are harmful for health? Having said that, perhaps celebrities should do some homework, too, before they sign on the dotted line.”
Undermining the Marketing Efforts
Celebrities have a huge impact on the buying behaviour of people in India. They are aspirational for the consumers and people try to adopt the brands endorsed by their favourite celebrity. After years of spending aggressively on the marketing efforts, if the biggest endorser spreads a negative word, then it certainly affects the brand’s image. So, can such bad PR by a celebrity impact years of marketing efforts?
“I believe brands on which the consumer’s emotional investment has been higher tend to suffer more from such incidents,” added Namchu.
According to Gupta, such bad PR definitely undermines the efforts made in building the brand. It’s not fair on the brand that you worked with commercially. Celebrities have to make informed decisions before endorsing a product. They cannot suddenly wake up and spread a negative word about a brand and adversely affect its image.
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