Controversies: Celebrities and their brands

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | June 22, 2006
Experts debate whether a celebrity brand ambassador engulfed in a controversy harms the brand he or she endorses


and brands are inseparable and so are controversies and celebrities. So what happens when a celebrity is involved in a controversy or isn't performing too well in his career? Does it directly affect the brand's image? Or does it alter the perceptions of the consumers? These are some obvious questions that cross our minds. The answer is subjective, say some, while others assert that, of course, it affects the brand and the consumer's perception of the brand.

The Aamir Khan controversy, or the absence of one, is not really perceived as a big issue by the industry. The reason? 'He stood up for what he believed' and that, according to many, is very personal and doesn't hamper the brand in any way. Instead, some feel that it has worked in favour of the brands he endorses.

"The Aamir issue got him very high editorial mileage on national media. He came clean in front of the people and that gave him immense popularity and consolidated his public image," says Francis Xavier, managing director, Francis Kanoi Marketing Planning.

But not so with some of the other celebrities. For instance, the Salman Khan controversy, as the industry says, has done a lot of harm to the actor's image as well as the brands he endorses. His controversies, be it the black buck case, the feud with Aishwarya Rai, or his rash driving, have led to a cease of contract between him and the brands. Khan used to endorse Thums Up, but his involvement in these unsavoury issues led to his image negation.

However, a spokesperson at Coca-Cola denies any controversy and says instead that the contract ended 'amicably'.

It was a different story with actor Fardeen Khan. This Khan was involved in a recreational drugs case, but pulled out of the controversy so fast that the issue got erased from the public's mind.

Xavier says, "The first premise of endorsements is that the brand gets the visibility commensurate with the awareness and visibility of the brand ambassador. The second premise is that the brand will get a rub-off from the status, achievements and admiring following that the brand ambassador has."

Deep down, Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, believes that the difference between a commodity and a brand is the trust the consumer has in the brand name. Anything that disturbs this trust affects the consumer. It could be in the form of a person, the quality of the product or the packaging.

Echoing similar sentiments, Priti Nair Chakravarthy, executive creative director, Lowe, says, "Any celebrity involved in a controversy and carrying bad baggage would certainly affect the brand. After all, the consumer believes the media when celebrities are projected in a certain way. So, their perception of the celeb gets altered."

Ivon Sheikhawat, client servicing director on Lakme, disagrees. She likes to believe that media projections are not necessarily true. The media cannot vandalise a celebrity's image.

Rumour had it that Lakme's earlier brand ambassador, Yana Gupta, was replaced when she started becoming known for her 'item girl' acts in films. And now, the brand's official model, Shivani Kapoor, has been accused of taking recreational drugs. Does all this affect the communication of the brand's values to the consumer?

Sheikhawat says about Kapoor, "We have stood by her even when she was recuperating in London. She is still the face of Lakme and we will continue to do future projects with her." About Gupta, she says the two parties decided to move on since both had different objectives to pursue.

Sheikhawat says that the question of discontinuing with Kapoor will arise only if she becomes incapable of projecting the brand in the desired way or if fatigue, relating to her association with the brand, creeps in.

Kapoor of Samsika supports Sheikhawat's stand. "There are two aspects to the brand from the consumers' perspective. One is credibility and the other is the celebrity. And credibility scores higher than the celebrity most of the time," he says. However, he adds, "When any of these parameters is affected, the credibility diminishes."

Controversies apart, the performance of celebrities, too, can have a negative impact on the brand's delivery. But Xavier feels that this impact is not on a big scale. "When the performance of the person goes down, obviously, the extent to which he/she was lifting up the brand will go down. I doubt if the normal ups and downs in performance will directly affect sales," he says.

Sourav Ganguly's controversy killed his 'hot property' image. The Tiger was no longer able to impress either the advertisers or his fans. He used to be the brand ambassador for Himani, Coca-Cola, etc., but his being dropped as captain of the Indian cricket team and the Chappell controversy backfired on him.

The bottom line, as Kapoor states, is that as long as the celebrity adds to the credibility of the brand, it's great, but if the celeb downgrades the credibility, it's bad.

"The way out, when faced with such a crisis, is to discontinue the contract with the celebrity, again after weighing the intensity of the controversy," says Gullu Sen, vice-chairman of Dentsu India. And, according to Xavier, it would be advisable to pull out of the deal if the issue is at all unsavoury.

Hemant Mishra, senior vice-president, Pepsi, JWT, disagrees. According to him, an impulsive reaction to a crisis would be unjustified. "The media is becoming the judge these days on various issues," he says, pointing out that an understanding of the situation is required more than pulling out of the contract immediately.

Being cautious about hiring a brand ambassador also helps in avoiding unsavoury situations. Lowe conducts consumer research to identify whether the consumers will associate the celebrity with the attributes of the brand. For example, Abhishek Bachchan has the image of being very chilled out, fun-loving, caring, etc., so he should be associated with brands that have similar propositions.

Replacing a celebrity with another one and constantly changing the brand appeal also loosens the communication between the two. On the other hand, doing away with the celebrity is not a good idea since, most of the time; he is the differentiator between a million other brands in the same category.

2006 agencyfaqs!

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