The Big B of Bollywood seems omnipresent, endorsing & #BANNER1 & # everything from pain balm, detergent, chocolate, Chyawanprash, hair oil, cola and digestive 'churan' to batteries, paint, cars and even a financial institution.
His successor in Bollywood follows close behind. The list of products endorsed by Shah Rukh Khan is just as long, from biscuits and noodles to cars and phone services and, now, a feminine beauty soap, albeit in a teaser campaign.
Celebrity endorsements have a lot going for them, but these two superstars are being overused. And that leads to the question: How much is too much? When does celebrity overkill start working against a brand?
Piyush Pandey, chairman, O&M India, feels that there is certainly a fatigue factor when a celebrity is overused. He says, "The important thing is that people should find a connect between the celebrity and the saleability of a certain product. And the ad should be such that the celebrity must never dominate the brand - the brand should be the central point."
Going by Pandey's opinion, does the celebrity connect with the brand every time? For instance, while an insurance company could well cash in on Amitabh Bachchan's larger-than-life, yet very reliable, image, the superstar's endorsement of a digestive tablet or a hair oil could bring that very larger-than-life image crashing down with the unanimous verdict, "Why is he selling that?"
A few advertising professionals feel that even in the case of celebrity endorsements, the rules are different for Bachchan and Khan.
As Venugopal Chandrashekhar, vice-president and general manager, rmg david, says, "When one uses a celebrity of Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan's stature for a new product launch, it really makes sense. It creates instant brand recall."
However, Chandrashekhar is quick to add that the brand must have a connect with the personality endorsing it.
He cites the example of the Sunfeast Dream Cream biscuits campaign, where Khan tries to make a kid smile by taking him into a wonderful, imaginary world made of cream. Here, there is a connect for anyone who has a kid at home, for in every family, elders do try to amuse kids in similar ways.
"It is where there is a real-life connect (and the audience can see the visual and think, yes, that could be me trying to make my kid smile) that using a celebrity endorser makes sense," says Chandrashekhar of rmg david. "The storyline needs to be relevant."
Then there are those like Abhijit Avasthi, group creative director, O&M, who claim to have employed the right strategy and used Bachchan effectively.
Avasthi says, "The first time we worked with Amitabh Bachchan was for Cadbury's chocolate. We had a massive challenge before us as during those days, the Cadbury's brand was suffering terrible criticism. The entire task then was to cast someone who had a strong public image and could convince people that the product was safe for consumption."
T Kishore, vice-president, client servicing, JWT, offers a different take on celebrity endorsement. He says, "Media spots have become so expensive these days. With a small budget, it is always prudent to cast a Bachchan or a Khan to cut through the clutter. The moment a brand gets endorsed by someone like them, it gets the maximum visibility. So, from a business point of view, casting such celebrities becomes most economical and cost-effective."
Prasoon Joshi, regional creative director for South and South East Asia, McCann-Erickson, offers a measure for the fatigue factor. "Overexposure is a debatable word. The customer might not feel the celebrity is being overused. But if it really is overexposure, a dip in sales despite the star's association with the brand would be an indicator," he says.
However, Joshi sounds a caution bell for those advertisers who think that using SRK or AB for just about everything will turn things to their advantage. "See, people do like to watch ads that have their favourite celebrity in them. But if the celebrity is living only on his past equity, then there is an issue. The star should be investing equally in his equity to remain saleable. Amitabh Bachchan has to keep doing good work in films to retain his saleability. And the advertiser has to use the celebrity in such a manner that the audience should not think that it is a burden to watch the person repeatedly," he says.
An Amitabh Bachchan or a Shah Rukh Khan also sells on the peg of reliability. Joshi of McCann-Erickson says, "Most stars are conscious about the kind of image they portray when they endorse a certain product. If they do not think they can do justice to a product because they don't trust the product or brand themselves, they back out. So, in most cases, they endorse products that they believe in and the consumer buys it because she trusts the star."
While all this can well be called the positive impact of selling a product by riding high on these celebrities' popularity and the trust they enjoy, there seems to be a flip side, too. Switch to a contrasting situation where overexposure can lead to loss of stickiness to a brand, an indifference towards the commercial or, worse, amnesia when it comes to recalling the product. And in a small way, this observation can be corroborated by rmg david's Chandrashekhar's words, "Now what was that pain relief spray brand AB was selling?"
There are three things, says Pandey of O&M India: idea, credibility and uniqueness. "Advertisers keep harping on the fact that it is uniqueness and freshness that stand an ad and a brand apart. If a celebrity is used repeatedly, then it clearly beats that purpose. People will only watch a film if it has a good story. Boredom becomes stronger with repetition and that's when advertisers should watch out."
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