Celebrities deploying deceptive marketing tactics may risk backlash, long-term credibility, and erosion of consumer trust
Advertising industry experts warn that frequent gimmicks may lead to audience fatigue
The trend raises questions about celebrities' awareness of risks involved with AI and potential consequences
Lack of inventive thinking and originality hampers overall brand appeal in such collaborations
Forget X factor, brands and celebrities are banking on shock factor for promotional collabs.
Recently, Bollywood celebrity Nora Fatehi called out a brand named ‘Lulumelon’ for utilising her deepfake in a promotional advertisement. However, it was later revealed that the entire episode was a pre-planned gimmick between Fatehi and HDFC Bank, aiming to raise awareness about the perils of deepfakes and fraudulent offers on social media.
Last year, actress Anushka Sharma expressed anger when Puma seemingly used her pictures without permission, only for it to be part of a planned marketing campaign that ultimately announced her new brand collaboration. Similarly, a video of actor Ranbir Kapoor purportedly throwing a fan's phone went viral, only to be revealed later as an advertisement for Oppo. There was also an instant where veteran actress Kajol took down all her Instagram posts with a puzzling Instagram story that read 'Facing toughest trial of my life'.
After leaving fans and well-wishers worried for some time, she clarified that the post was in reference to her new OTT series, The Trial.
This deceptive marketing tactic is not new, with several instances of celebrities duping their audiences for promotional purposes, albeit playfully. Internationally, remember the whole schtick of Snoop Dogg giving up ‘smoke’ in a viral post, which later turned out to be a promo for a smokeless fire pit brand called Solo Stove? The CEO of the brand got fired soon after the campaign, by the way.
But what is with brands employing deceit and trickery for promotions? More importantly, do such gimmicks have a larger impact on the brand and celebrity’s consumer perception?
As per Manisha Kapoor, CEO, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the trend poses potential harm to the entire ecosystem. She points out that while these tactics may garner short-term attention, repeated instances can drive a wedge between consumers and brands.
She says, “When such tactics become frequent, they end up eroding the trust that consumers have in celebrities and brands. While there may be a short-term gain in terms of attention in a cluttered market, the credibility of the entire ecosystem gets compromised by repeated instances. Consumers start looking at advertising and brands with scepticism, not knowing what to believe. Any reduction in trust for brands and advertising eventually increases business costs.”
While the trend itself has been largely playful, there have been occurrences of mild consumer backlash. But what is more concerning is that the brands and said celebrities could jeopardise their credibility over time with such exercises.
Rohit Ohri, who is the global partner at FCB Global, an advertising agency, states that the frequency of such gimmicks determines the response they garner from the audiences. “If a brand consistently tries to trick customers with their campaigns, there is going to be a point where consumers are fed up. You can’t keep taking them for a ride,” he says.
If these exercises aren’t monitored and self-regulated there are always people who will cross the lines and take it a little too far.Rohit Ohri, who is the global partner at FCB Global
Beyond having repercussions in terms of brand appeal, there is also a risk of normalising or standardising such practices. In this case, there is always someone out there who is willing to take it too far.
“If these exercises aren’t monitored and self-regulated there are always people who will cross the lines and take it a little too far.”
For Nisha Sampath, managing partner at Bright Angels Consulting, a business consulting firm, the trend is experimental but the importance of considering the category, consumers, and context in which these gimmicks are used is still paramount.
She says, “In the case of Nora Fatehi x HDFC bank, in a category like banking or finance, deepfakes should be avoided. But the context in which HDFC did it was valid, as they’re making consumers aware of fraudulent activities. Here, HDFC was not synced with the category but was synced with context.”
Ultimately more than a brand, celebrities and their management teams should study this kind of campaign carefully. The brand is not doing the deepfake, the celeb is.Nisha Sampath, managing partner at Bright Angels Consulting
However, Sampath also relays much of the responsibility on celebrities in how they engage with brands and the kind of campaigns they approve. She says, “Ultimately more than a brand, celebrities and their management teams should study this kind of campaign carefully. The brand is not doing the deepfake, the celeb is. This kind of action can hurt the personal credibility and authenticity of a celeb with their audience.”
These kinds of collaborations reek of creative lethargy. For once, it was quirky at borderline otherwise consumers don’t like to be made fun of. Other than creating unnecessary sensualism, there are many other ways to create a buzz.Ambika Sharma, founder and managing director of Pulp Strategy Communications
Ambika Sharma, founder and managing director of Pulp Strategy Communications, a creative digital agency, deems these collaborations as desperate and indicative of a lack of creativity. She highlights the potential negative impact on consumer perception, stating that consumers do not appreciate being made fun of.
She says, “These kinds of collaborations reek of creative lethargy. For once, it was quirky at borderline otherwise consumers don’t like to be made fun of. Other than creating unnecessary sensualism, there are many other ways to create a buzz.”
But for Sharma, instead of regulatory bodies or the government, such practices should be avoided based on common sense alone.
“Rather than ministries or ASCI regulating this course of action, I believe that there should be common sense from the brand’s side as well. This kind of move looks desperate and highlights that the brand doesn't have any ethos.”
From a media standpoint, Sharma opines that the brand’s future activities will be looked at with a vision of suspicion by the publishers. “I would never recommend it to a financial brand, and transparency should be at the top.”