Rashmi Menon & Satrajit Sen

Rise of the Social Media Star

Salman Khan for Thums Up; Sachin Tendulkar for Aviva. afaqs! looks at an emerging trend in social media and predicts that it will explode over the next 12 months.

Celebrity power works everywhere in the world but it seems to have a special aura in India because of a combination of factors: intense competition in markets, little differentiation between brands, media clutter and that India-specific something: a plethora of filmstars that consumers dote on. Social media emphasises, in a unique way, the special place celebrities enjoy in consumer minds.

Rise of the Social Media Star
When Thums Up launched its new TV commercial featuring Salman Khan, it put the ad on its facebook page where it has a reasonable following - 4.5 lakh fans. As has become standard practice, it uploaded its TVC on facebook on February 23 this year but the response was tepid: it received eight comments, 168 likes and 91 fans shared it with their friends. (The commercial was subsequently re-posted.)

On the following day the TVC went up on facebook/beingsalmankhan. The same TVC has been liked so far by 106,447 lakh people, with 7,930 fans posting comments - and another 7,792 of them sharing it with their friends. Consider that the typical Indian on facebook has 234 friends and imagine the kind of buzz and views that this would have created. This is - to use a popular expression - awesome but understandable since this Khan has 7.7 million fans on facebook.

Seen as a first of its kind initiative on social media for a major brand, this was meant to help the brand use the social reach and clout of Salman Khan. Anupama Ahluwalia, vice president, marketing, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, is very happy with the outcome. In addition to the massive facebook response, the campaign has also received nearly 1.5 Lakh YouTube visits. "It served as a perfect platform for us to convey Thums Up's message of 'Aaj Kuch Toofani Kartey Hain' to a large consumer base," she says. Ahluwalia points out that it marks the star and the soft drink brand renewing their ties after a decade - in recent years, Salman was associated with PepsiCo's Mountain Dew.

Facebook apart, Salman has 3.6 million followers on twitter where he has tweeted all of about 1,200 times times. "Salman's appeal cuts across economic and demographic profiles. With such a large and diverse following, we felt that his facebook page would offer the perfect medium to connect with our consumers as well as provide them with a unique experience to connect with the brand," says Ahluwalia.

Soon after, when insurance brand Aviva teamed up with its brand endorser Sachin Tendulkar to launch its recent digital campaign titled 'Padding up with Sachin', it used Tendulkar's facebook presence to spread the word about the campaign. When Tendulkar promoted the campaign on his facebook page, the post garnered more than 1,723 shares, 11,991 likes and 924 comments in five days flat. However, when Aviva promoted the same on its facebook page, it got just 22 shares, 375 likes and nine comments.

An Aviva spokesperson says that there is a large number of people who are likely to make purchase decisions based on which brand their idol endorses. In such a case, says she, the brand endorser's social properties can prove extremely powerful. "The key is to understand the audience's mindset that one deals with and weigh the pros and cons of using the social properties of the brand ambassador," the spokesperson adds.

Meanwhile, Cinthol used its brand endorser cricketer Virat Kohli to create a teaser for its 'Alive is Awesome' campaign on Twitter. The brand launched a film that ended with a question posed by Kohli, "Do you know what's going on in my head?" The campaign was extended on Twitter with the hashtag #InViratsHead, where Kohli, personally, responded to interesting comments. Sunil Kataria, executive vice president, sales and new business development, Godrej Consumer Products Limited (GCPL), says that Kohli's popularity helped the brand create a strong impact.

Considering options

These examples illustrate how marketers have been able to not only leverage their brand endorser's appeal on social media but also forge a stronger tie between the brand and the star in the public eye. Why then is this device used so sparingly?

Rise of the Social Media Star
For Nikon India, its advertising has focused on Tier 1, 2 and 3 markets and its association with Priyanka Chopra has enabled it to find acceptance here. "Using our brand ambassador's social media presence is still one avenue which remains untouched. But we do have some plans with regards to this," says Sajjan Kumar, vice president, Imaging Division, Nikon India.

Similarly, Hyundai Motors India's group head, marketing, Nalin Kapoor, is open to the idea of using longstanding endorser Shahrukh Khan's social media clout. "We will evaluate the possibilities of this factor. The social media helps to engage with our customers in real time. Sales is not the first thing you push for on social media. Rather it is to build a positive disposition towards the brand," he says.

It is an opportunity waiting to be tapped, especially for brands associated with endorsers who command a massive following. There have been only a couple of instances but here is an afaqs! prediction: over the next 12 months this phenomenon will explode on the Indian marketing landscape.

Case of the missing stars

There is a problem, though, which we became aware of when we put together a list of the top celebrities. The list is based on TAM data and has those celebrities who appeared most on television between January-September 2012. While some have a huge following that is growing daily, many others are absent entirely.

Five of them have a big following: Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Salman Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan. On facebook, their fans range from a low of 3.5 million for Shahrukh to 9.3 million for Sachin. The same lot is available on twitter where the range of followers is less skewed than on facebook: here, Bachchan leads with 4.5 million while Sachin has the fewest, 3 million followers.

Among the big stars, five are invisible on either social media platform: Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol and Anushka Sharma. The last of them, Anushka, marks an erratic presence on twitter with 4.4 lakh fans which is small for someone of her popularity - moreover, she is absent on facebook. There are impersonators who try to pass off as the stars' official pages or accounts but that's it.

There is a pattern to this. Four of the five men have a social media presence but only one of the five women does. That could be because, as Katrina explained in a recent interview, she sees social media as an invasion of her personal space - or words to that effect. Women celebrities are more sensitive about being open to comments from strangers but even that might gradually change.

Both stars and marketers will wisen up to the power of social media. Today, the fb posts and tweets of these stars range from the sublime to the ridiculous. This does lend to the whole thing a certain charming authenticity but may not be that great from an advertising standpoint.

The next question is figuring out the rules of engaging with consumers through their idols. Aparna Sopory, marketing and strategy manager, Decorative Paints, Akzo Nobel India, thinks that the idea of engaging through celebs is a great idea but "it needs to be done in a specific context, which adds back to the brand proposition." Dulux's brand ambassador is the multi-faceted Farhan Akhtar.

Kataria of Godrej points out that there is a need to innovate and creatively engage with consumers without sounding too promotional or being brand centric. The social media appeal of the endorser allows the brand to do that on the digital media.

Aviva believes that more than using social media, it is important to develop intriguing campaigns using the brand ambassador smartly. For instance, Aviva is using Sachin Tendulkar to drive engagement on its social platform where Sachin is giving cricketing lessons.

Lloyd Mathias, director, GreenBean Ventures, a consultancy, points out that brand managers will now need to ensure that the endorser agrees in the contract to promote the brand across all media: "It's a logical extension when signing on a brand ambassador." As for the fact that many big celebrities are still missing on social media, Lloyd says that it is just a matter of time.

We couldn't agree more.

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