Guest Column: Has celebrity obsessed culture overtaken traditional mktg?

It's important to ensure that we have the right mktg idea to make best use of the celebrity endorsing our brand, says Ashish Morone of Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance

e4m by Ashish Morone
Updated: Aug 23, 2013 7:43 AM
Guest Column: Has celebrity obsessed culture overtaken traditional mktg?

Movies and cricket are the two biggest religions in India! Culturally, our minds are coded to put celebrities on a pedestal. Star worship and fan followings provide for interesting statistics. No wonder then that marketers find it an opportunity which is tough to ignore in a country like India. There is very little data on this, but according to estimates, the celebrity endorsement market is worth about INR 1,000 crore. Research conducted by leading Indian research agency IMRB a few years ago indicated that 86 per cent of the respondents recalled an ad which featured a celebrity as the most prominent advertisement (The Economic Times, March 28, 2008). Yes, it has indeed become an inseparable and large part of the Indian marketing landscape.

The questions are many – Has celebrity-endorsed marketing really overtaken traditional marketing? Maybe, it has. What does it really do for the brand? Is it the easy or the lazy way out in a highly cluttered space? Is it really effective or the best answer to manage a cluttered ad space or to build a brand? Maybe, it is not. While there have been a lot of successes in the Indian context, there have been enough examples of campaigns where celebrity endorsements have failed. Celebrities and their endorsements do seem to overshadow common marketing and advertising efforts nowadays, but I believe that the more pertinent question to ask is whether it is really effective for all and can one take a more prudent call on whether celebrity endorsement can really add value to your brand.

There can be no single right answer that suits all or a very clearly articulated model to help us arrive at an answer to the question – Is it the right strategy for me to use a celebrity endorsement?

The must-dos of celebrity endorsement
To my mind, if you are a new brand in a crowded category and want to quickly move up the awareness curve, for example, when ICICI Bank was started and it wanted to enter the mass retail space, celebrity endorsement can definitely go a long way. If you are a brand facing a crisis, for example, the lizard in Cadbury or the quality of water used in Coke story, a celebrity (especially one with a lot of credibility or a clean reputation) can quickly help one avert a major negative impact. There are a few certain must-dos in this case, that is, the celebrity and his persona should be aligned with the product category as well as messaging to ensure the right fit and endorsement credibility. There are also a few pitfalls that you need to guard against. A celebrity could very easily overshadow your brand and leave the customer with good memories of the brand and nothing more. Also, if the celebrity goes rogue, most recent examples being Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong, the backlash could be substantial.

However, if you are an established brand and want to carve out a higher market share or take on a key competitor or build new brand personality traits, can a celebrity really drive this objective? In a low-involvement, high impulse category, it may impact immediate purchase behavior, but only over the short term. In a high involvement category or over the long term, can a celebrity really change consumer attitude and behaviour towards a brand? A celebrity may help you break clutter and get noticed. Yet with multiple endorsements by a celebrity, we are seeing an increasing number of wrong associations or inability to recollect the brand even though the ad was recalled correctly. At a certain point in time, Amitabh Bachchan was said to be endorsing 50 brands. In recent times, Shah Rukh Khan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are said to be leading the pack with about 20 endorsements each.

In addition, popular belief is that a celebrity can help build certain positive brand associations. Yes, a celebrity’s persona could impact your brand persona. However, as mentioned earlier, with each celebrity endorsing several brands, does it really give me a distinctive advantage? With the endorsement space itself becoming highly cluttered, can it really help a brand break the category clutter effectively?

Set clear expectations
It is imperative to set very clear expectations from your celebrity endorsements and weigh the costs of using a celebrity against these expectations before making your choice. We can continue to debate on the effectiveness of using a celebrity and ultimately decide to use one. Ultimately, it is extremely important that we ensure that we have the right marketing idea to make best use of the celebrity endorsing our brand. A Vinay Pathak used by a Kotak Bank may have been far more effective that a Salman Khan endorsing Relaxo slippers just on the basis of the idea and its connect with the celebrity personality.

“Setting Expectations” Grid

The author is Head of Marketing at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance


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