A Dummy's Guide to Celebrity Endorsement

By Rashmi Menon , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 06, 2014
Should a brand invest in a celebrity endorser? How does a brand manager know whether it is worth the investment? This article, clearly not aimed at the experts, aims to answer such questions.

Given the hero worship of Bollywood and cricket personalities in India, celebrity endorsements are but logical. The recent appointment of Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman as ambassador of Indian handset brand Micromax, showcases both, the extent of this trend and the lengths brands are willing to go to with it... all in an effort to stand out.

Dummies guide

In the meanwhile, the digital medium has quietly emerged as a leveler of sorts, in that it empowers celebrity-less brands to create the desired recall value without the pressure of exorbitant spends.

Given this twin reality, afaqs! explores the intangible value celebrities bring to a brand's communication.

Does my brand need a celebrity at all? Why?

The answer lies bang in the middle of the ever-notorious 'grey area'. While there is no absolute 'need' for a celebrity association, brands splurge on this avenue anyway. A few years back, only 25 per cent of brands used a celebrity in their TVCs; now over 60 per cent do so.

So, what motivates brands to get these unfairly good looking, high achievers on board? Celebrities, both movie and sports stars, enable brands to break clutter and stand out visually. At a time when brands in most commodity categories are jostling for space even in non-urban, semi-literate regions, celebrities help sharpen/change a given brand's positioning. Besides, the association helps brands gain fresh equity, credibility or interest in the market. Considering Indians' obsession with celebrities, consumer preferences can very well swing due to sentimental reasons alone.

Is there a difference between 'brand ambassador' and 'celebrity endorser' or are they synonyms?

Although the two terms are commonly used interchangeably, there is a difference between them: A celebrity endorser promotes the brand on media channels as a job; the endorser's role is to advocate the brand in return for monetary compensation. Getting an ambassador, though, serves a larger strategic purpose; almost like going to a 'higher level' in a video game - it's difficult to achieve, not everyone gets there and the ones who do earn bragging rights and enjoy a good position.

Unlike endorsers, ambassadors believe in the brand and go beyond merely persuading people to use it; they themselves use the brand in their own personal lives and not simply because they are paid for it. So in that sense, every loyal consumer of a given brand is, by default, an ambassador or 'evangelist'.

Interestingly, the concept of brand ambassador was popularised by luxury brands especially in the liquor and wristwatch categories. A penny for each time we saw pictures of Shah Rukh Khan sporting a TAG Heuer at a party...

But note that a brand ambassador need not be a celebrity; a company spokesperson, a customer or domain expert may well an ambassador. For instance, outdoor enthusiasts, inadvertently acting as ambassadors for Woodland shoes while trekking. Or the personal stories shared by consumers in Maggi's 'Me and Meri Maggi' initiative. An endorser,on the other hand, is always a known face, who has been hired to be the 'face of the brand' for a fixed period of time.

Should I focus only on actors and cricketers to promote my brand or are there other options out there, say, 'category specific celebrities'?

In order to engage with a specific section of society, some brands are taking on category specific celebrities, that is, faces that are known within a certain niche circle comprising people with common interests. These endorsers are perceived as experts by people who value their specialised skills. They are celebrities but only in the eyes of a small section of the population. They don't command mass appeal like actors and cricketers do. Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor who is associated with various kitchen-related brands is the perfect example of this kind of endorser. Taking a non-mass celebrity like him helps when brand promise is very sharply defined.

Are there any disadvantages to having a celebrity on board?

Yes. One of the most obvious disadvantages is: since the brand rides on the 'image' portrayed by the celebrity, if that individual is caught in an embarrassing situation in his/her personal life, the brand stands to bear part of the brunt. Who can forget how Accenture dropped golfer Tiger Woods like a hot potato after news about his philandering went public?

Secondly, there's the risk of media wastage as well as wastage of funds; a brand needn't use its celebrity endorser across all media platforms for each campaign. Then there's the risk of landing up with the wrong celebrity. He/she may, in hindsight, prove to be a less-than-perfect fit for your brand. Or worse, the celebrity may overshadow your brand to an extent that the very purpose of having him/her on board is lost.

In some cases, even after a brand has ended its association with one celebrity and hired a new one, consumers are unable to shake the mental image of the previous association. This can also be a problem - an ironic case of getting caught in one's own success.

'Celebrity overuse' is another potential hazard; when one celebrity is associated with multiple brands, there's the risk of each brand's respective message getting 'diluted'. Think about it - just how many brands does Amitabh Bachchan endorse presently? That's right - too many. Some call this 'The Fractured Franchise Syndrome'.

A prolonged association with a celebrity can also cause the brand to 'age' fast. Mindful of this eventuality, Pepsi replaced Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar with youngsters John Abraham and Ranbir Kapoor, in a move to make good on its promise of being a 'youth' brand.

And lastly (and perhaps most importantly), celebrities don't come cheap. Add to the dent in your marketing budget other issues like 'stars tantrums' or 'date issues' (filmy parlance for lack of availability of a celeb). Often the entire script has to be modified to accommodate the limited time a celebrity has to spare for the campaign shoot.

How do I choose a celebrity who will suit my brand?

Zeroing in on a celebrity is more of an art than an exact science. The eligibility criteria includes: budget, the celebrity's career graph, the extent to which the celebrity's persona matches that of your brand (values and core promises), etc. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, trial and error and experimentation still dominate.

After appointing a celebrity, is there a way to measure my ROI? After all, it's a huge 'I'...

There is no standard practice to measure ROI or gauge the direct effect of celebrity endorsement on the brand's sales. However, some brands have a few parameters in place that help them judge consumers' response to a celebrity. For example, the number of times consumers mention/tag the celebrity's name along with the brand name on social media, etc. Some brands also conduct audits from time to time to justify the celebrity usage. At the end of the day, a brand manager has to pool in his/her experience and gut instinct to get this one right.

What part of my marketing budget must I put aside for a celebrity?

Super stars, for obvious reasons, charge exorbitant endorsement fees. Sports stars, especially high performing cricketers, are no exception. The budget allotment depends on the kind of celebrity the brand wants on board and the media channels across which this association will be displayed. Some brands deliberately appoint 'fading stars' or celebs looking to make a desperate comeback. Why, basking in yesterday's glory also has its benefits! This way, marketers can afford a known face for less money and can also avail some benefit of having a famous face on board, albeit not as much as having a top rung star.

Of course, brands could always do without a celebrity by compensating with ground-breaking creativity and clever insights. In fact, 40 per cent of brands that currently advertise on TV do not use celebrities. Take for instance, Amul, Flipkart or Fastrack. None of these brands has a celebrity. Yet, they consistently churn out memorable communication.

In that case, should I consider getting a 'surrogate rub-off effect' by connecting with a celebrity-based TV show?

Certainly. This is an excellent option for brands that have serious budget constraints. Through this technique, brands get the benefits of celebrity endorsement without actually appointing (read: paying) the celebrity. It is like 'endorsement by proxy'. Axis Bank's cheques were displayed prominently in Kaun Banega Crorepati. Although Amitabh Bachchan wasn't the bank's official endorser, the brand benefited heaps each time the camera zoomed in on Bachchan waving an Axis Bank cheque on national television.

(Based on interviews with Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Talent Solutions, Rachanah Roy, national creative director, Concept Communication and Emmaneul Upputuru, founder, ITSA)

Search Tags