Brand Matters by Alpana Parida: Do celeb endorsements work for brands?

02 Nov,2016

By Alpana Parida


With the controversial Pierce Brosnan ads, the ubiquitous Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan and Ranvir Singh, the three Khans, the top male and female actors, the cricketers, the rare winners ofother sports, celebrity endorsements have always been big in India. From underwear to cement, cars to pan masala – no category seems to be without such an endorser.


Brands spend upwards of at least Rs 10-15cr on such ads: fees to celebrities, production costs of ads and media costs together add up to spends frequently as high as Rs 30-40 cr.


So does this work?

Some celebrity endorsers are notoriously promiscuous. They advertise for so many categories, some even jump brands when their contract expires so the same celebrity is now with a different cola or brand of jewellery; that while viewers/ consumers often remember the celebrity and the ad – the brand, very often, has little association. The way celebrity endorsements are supposed to work is by inserting the association of the celebrity with the brand, in our memory system. Associations are how we remember things. And yet, if the association is without relevance or is not unique and is repeated in other contexts as well – it no longer becomes memorable. The chances of the brain remembering this are very low.


The advertising industry still uses scores for ad recall. Top of mind ads are considered to be effective. Unfortunately, the narratives of ads are getting more and more interesting as budding / arrived film makers try this oeuvre to hone their skills – while they are getting further and further from the brands themselves. An interesting memorable ad is not the same as an effective ad – if the narrative or the celebrity does not resonate the brand values, essence or personality, there is little impact on a brand’s salience.


Shah Rukh Khan claiming to be a Big Basket shopper or buying/ choosing Nerolac paints is ludicrous. Farhan Akhtar endorsing two wellness brands – Nutrilite and Nutrichoice is confusing (what were they thinking??). Amitabh Bachchan rapping, dancing and appearing as puppets is memorable, creative – but  heis the face of so many brands that TataSky is appearing at the end of the long ad loses out as a brand. Seeing Deepika Padukone connecting with her father for Tanishq, questioning the colour of her jeans for Asian Pains, dropping by on Renuka Shahane to share Coke; all the while being brand ambassador to Axis Bank, Kellogg’s, Garnier, Vogue, Tissot, Van Heusen, Lifestyle Melange, Parachute, HP, Nescafe, Lux, and more confuses us as to which brand is she endorsing now.


The narrative that engages mores, is more relevant  for the category and is truly reflective of the brand’s values is the one that wins – in this case Tanishq – but the association of the brand is still an uphill battle with so much else attaching to  DeepikaPadukone. Celebrities come swathed with associations already – from their own body of work and success, their relationships and significant others, their awards and accolades,  their other activities such as TV presence, their page 3 appearances and more – that for a brand to try and attach itself to a celebrity particularly at the top of his/ her game is really really hard.


When does it work?

It works when it is unique such as James Bond eating Pan Masala. While it is ludicruous to imagine Pierce Brosnan popping small spoonsfull of Pan Masala in his mouth – the audacity of the brand, the sheer fantasy of James Bond, and the need of the category to reach a younger audience has made this a brilliant move. Whether the brand misled him on the contract or that he was a naïve believer who in face of much money, did not ask enough questions is a moot point. Micromax with Hugh Jackman and Pan Bahar with Pierce Brosnan did a lot to elevate the brand’s image. It also helps that international celebrities are not going to be used and overused across categories in India.


‘Kya Idea sirji’ worked because Abhishek Bachchan was not associated with any other brand. His relative lack of success workedas he was not an overused face.  He became the face of Idea and the fact that he was seen as being great – even though not at the top, helped the brand. The thing is, the strong association of good, but not a winner dogs the brand still as it has always remained a third to Vodafone and Airtel.


Brands can do so much more than riding on celebrities – not just through advertising, but also by leveraging many other brand touchpoints to orchestrate a strong brand experience to create a memorable, distinctive and preferred brand. For far less than the cost of a celebrity ad campaign, experience-based brand creation  can shape preferences and create market impact. It is time we gave celebrities a break!


Alpana Parida is Managing Director, DY Works. A graduate from IIM Ahmedabad and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, she has spent over 30 years across various marketing functions in the United States and India. As part of the steering team at DY Works, she espouses the use semiotics to both decode consumer and category and encode the solutions in design. Brand Matters is a fortnightly column by Alpana Parida for MxMIndia. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of her organisation.


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