Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Alia Bhatt, who endorsed Gionee's handsets last year, now poses for Nokia. Too similar, too soon? Who's keeping track, anyway?

It's not uncommon for celebrities to switch brands after a contract ends; it is how the game is played. However, an endorser hopping brands in the same category, i.e. a competitor, over a short span, is actually a thing in recent times. Among the latest examples is Alia Bhatt who endorsed smartphone brand Gionee last year and is with Nokia this year. While Bhatt sang praises for Gionee's wide-angle selfie-enabled smartphone in 2017, this year she's all about Nokia's offerings. The phenomenon is not limited to smartphones and is quite evident in other segments/categories as well.

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Gionee's campaign with Alia Bhatt from 2017

Moreover, endorsers and ambassadors are supposed to be an integral part of the brand's identity, built over time and to last long.

In light of this prevailing scenario, we asked these questions:-

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Nokia campaign with Alia Bhatt from 2018

Does this matter to the consumer? Or is today's consumer too aware to bother? And, is the consumer equally receptive to both endorsements (new and the old)? Keeping in mind that roping in celebs is a costly affair, we were curious to know the answers from experts in the field.

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Manish Porwal

Manish Porwal, MD, Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions says, "Previously, ambassadors stayed with brands for long periods. But as consumer interest, behaviour and creatives started changing and wearing out fast, it required a faster change in brand ambassadors too. Today, 90 per cent of associations last one to two years only."

He continues, "In busy categories like smartphones, skincare etc., there are fewer endorsers in comparison to the large number of brands. One brand ambassador is soon approached by another, larger brand offering a higher fee. It's the demand-supply ratio. Consumers today are also used to this phenomenon. There surely is some fractured retention when consumers remember the endorser and the segment but cannot connect it to the right brand, but that's not all."

"Endorsers undergo a 'cool-off' period ranging from three to six months between associations and according to an agreement, they can't be involved in fresh endorsements during this time. However, after one contract ends, the endorser is immediately hooked on to another brand and the work for the next campaign begins informally. The campaign for the next brand is rolled out just as the cool-off period ends. Previously, a different brand wouldn't approach an endorser during the cool-off period. Today, they do it happily," Porwal adds.

"Most big brands retain their endorsers and only change in case it doesn't work. Also, association models are changing. What used to be three-year associations have become one year and it's heading towards quarterly brackets as well," he states.

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Anamika Sirohi

Anamika Sirohi, a marketer who heads marketing for a sanitary-ware brand, says, "Using a celebrity for a brand is like being in a relationship. Different strokes for different folks sums it up. Ideally, the personalities match and it's for keeps. Think of the Hyundai Santro and Shah Rukh Khan association. But sometimes, you just want a quick lift-me-up and the flavour of the season can do that. Eternity or loyalty is not expected by either side."

"Today, socially aware people joke about it; they know that it's all paid endorsement. There are jokes doing the rounds on how the recent wedding of Ranvir (Singh) and Deepika (Padukone) was actually two rival phone companies (OPPO and Vivo) getting together. This shows how today's social media-savvy consumer takes it all with a pinch of salt. There are no pat answers and as in real life relationships, the only thing one can say with any certainty is - it depends," Sirohi adds.

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Darshana Bhalla

Darshana Bhalla, CEO and founder, Do IT Talent Ventures, a talent management company, says, "In an ideal world, brand and celebrity relationships have to be long-term. Endorsements are used to build brands via means like communication breakthroughs etc. And a brand's growth target can be varied - financially or psychographically. Thus, it helps to have a long-term relationship."

"However, today, the larger long-term marketing objectives are broken into smaller goals. If a brand uses a celebrity for a short period, it means that the smaller marketing objective has been served and it can continue on its own. It could be a micro objective like populating the brand without any credibility building or sustenance. Again, there are also cases where the brand's management has changed several times but the endorser hasn't and that's because the brand is building itself on the endorser's vanity," she adds.

Bhalla further states, "Consumer memory is also short because there is too much to remember. There are lots of ads and celebs all around and the memory depends on recency unless, of course, the story is really strong. With Alyke's passing, we still remember the 'Lalita ji' ad which told a wholesome brand story and went on for years. Today, even if the creative is good, the long duration of publishing cannot be justified. There is no time when marketers are under so much pressure to deliver and the world changes so fast. Thus, short and quick endorsements are not a problem."

Brands and Celebs: Have the rules of engagement changed?

Rohan Padhye

Rohan Padhye, vice president, Marketing - Axis Mutual Fund, says, "If the ad campaigns are intense, with a huge media spend, it would create some confusion, but this also depends on the gap between each.

"To be frank, I don't remember any communication from Gionee having Alia Bhatt in it. So, unless a brand intensively utilises its endorser, it wouldn't create much impact and would be very temporary. There is no clear-cut perspective to this and it depends on factors like the brand, the category, the intensity of advertising, the time the endorser has spent with the brand etc. Today, even if Shah Rukh Khan, who has been associated with Hyundai for long, is seen in a Maruti Suzuki ad, I don't think it would create much of a difference. Today's smart consumer knows that Khan never used a Santro and would never use a Maruti Suzuki small car either," Padhye adds.

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