Outside of the sports section, cricketer Virat Kohli was in the news most recently for a tweet - a short video of his wife, actor Anushka Sharma, reprimanding a luxury car owner for littering the streets. The backlash is underway on Twitter. Dramatic as this episode is, it's not what this article is about, however. Instead, we're wondering whether Virat's suddenly booming brand endorsement career is threatening to leave 'brand Virat' over-exposed, diluted and hard to differentiate as the ads roll by.
What got us thinking about this was a press note about Virat's recent appointment as ambassador for online money transfer brand, Remit2India. This came right after we watched a monologue for Philips trimmers, in which he references rumours about his 'beard insurance'. This ad film was the big reveal after a black-and-white teaser film, made to look like he was getting his beard insured, was released online. This effort at generating pre-campaign buzz is similar to Too Yumm's 'open letter' (read: long copy ad) defending Virat's love for chips, something out of sync with his stringent fitness regimen.
Just last week we wrote about an Uber advert in which Virat likens using the taxi hailing brand to forging ahead in life; the marketing head of Uber India told us that Virat uses the app when abroad. The subject came up for discussion because the player himself swore never to endorse products he doesn't use (read: Pepsi). And Manyavar's ad that coincided with his wedding is still quite fresh in public memory.
Brand Virat has taken off. But surely, the rules of engagement, when it comes to brands and their celebrity partners, are very different today, as opposed to say, a few years back. An ad is no longer the only window into a celeb's world. So while brands with deep pockets make a blind bee-line for Virat Kohli, some experts feel the consumer is seeing his face in too many places, outside the cricket field and his own fitness-related social media communication. In such a scenario, what are the dos and don'ts brands and their custodians ought to keep in mind while crafting their Kohli-flavoured communication? Or is his brand value still some way from getting 'diluted' due to over-exposure?
One school of thought opines brands that get him on board will have to now work doubly hard to differentiate, because the clutter is starting to set in. Also, because a single ad is sliced across media platforms - the announcement of his appointment and accompanying images, Instagram photos of the behind-the-scenes/ ad-making experience, interviews around the association, his own tweets about the product, the pre-ad teasers, and oh, yes, the actual ad - what would otherwise have been a single piece of communication is now released in bits, over time. This adds to some sort of illusory over-exposure.
We spoke to a few brand and communication experts about Virat's advertising equity, which, though clearly strong, is getting complicated as the brands in his bag get populous. In the days ahead, which product segments are most likely to take his brand career ahead? After all, there are only these many fitness-related categories out there and Puma has stamped its logo all over him already. Ought he to spread himself thin across the large category pie, like celebs such as Amitabh Bachchan have done and continue to do? Or is niche and relevant the new game?
We also take a look at some of the brands he's endorsed so far.
Prabhakar Mundkur, brand strategy advisor
I think today when you look at celebrity endorsers, a key question that consumers are likely to ask themselves is 'Would Virat really use this brand?' This is the first question that came to mind when Virat appeared in the Uber ad. Why would he use Uber? After all, he must have a fleet cars and chauffeurs. Uber later clarifies that Virat uses Uber when he is overseas.
Recently, a celebrity tweeted for a One Plus device from an Apple device. Social media has exposed the likes and dislikes of celebrities like no other. In the old days, no one knew many personal details about celebrities. So, the question to ask is really: 'Would Virat use a Celkon mobile, Shyam's Steels, Royal Challenge or drink Boost every morning?' If he doesn't, all the brand is likely to get is a little more awareness by seeing Virat's face. Celebrities and their relationships with brands need to feel real.
Dip Sengupta, senior advertising professional
I agree that seeing your favourite celebrity (multi-branding) can be a little disconcerting for the consumer at times because perhaps the consumer does not expect all of these things from Virat. So, authenticity and steering close to the key values that the celeb brings to the table, as per of his persona, is key.
A proliferation of imagery and stories across all kinds of brands take away from the seriousness of the endorsement in the long run. The line between a variety of endorsements and being seen as frivolous is a thin one and neither the brand nor the celebrity should be burdened with that.
Having said that, it would be good to explore the celeb (in this case Virat) to the full extent of his narrative and then seek a fitment with the brand that needs to be endorsed. Virat is not just about fitness and sports alone - that would be too narrow an explanation - he is also about hunger in the belly, a passion to excel, sheer drive, ambition, and world-class achievement. So the nuances of the celeb need to be juiced as well as long as it's done in a credible and authentic manner.
Lastly, I think that more important than all rules of celeb engagement is the absolute need to enter into a dialogue with the consumer with an authentic and engaging narrative and tone.
Ashok Lalla, independent digital business advisor
I do not think brands think about the dilution of their celebrity endorser's brand value, but focus on how they can get the maximum bang-for-buck from them. Clearly, the reason so many brands are chasing and using Virat Kohli is that he is arguably the hottest celebrity brand in India and it helps grab eyeballs for advertisers when he is used in their campaigns. Lazy brands may sign him up blindly without first determining whether the brand's values and positioning are aligned with Virat's personality and his expressed and perceived values.
Fitness related categories may be an intuitive fit for sports personalities, but by no means does a sportsperson's endorsement basket need to be limited to only fitness-related brands. That is because the sports celebrity has a fan following for what they stand for as well as their occupation (sports in the case of Virat Kohli) and this wider appeal is what can make them endorsing other brands both believable to consumers and attractive to advertisers.
Virat is also a fashion icon (not all sportspersons are) so naturally, fashion and clothing is an intuitive fit. He may also support several causes and so brands that also align with similar causes may pick him as their ambassador. The career of a sportsperson is short and so, both Virat and brands cannot really be blamed for trying to cash in while he is still hot property.
In fact, social media is not just a window to a celebrity's life but a means for them to reach and interact with their fans and for fans to come closer to the celebrity through a 'peep' into their lives and the interactions afforded by social media. The bigger a celeb's social media following and frenzy, the bigger an advertising property they become for advertisers.
Brands also are seeking activation opportunities and these are best delivered by celeb endorsers with a strong digital presence and following, so they can help drive the activation through their presence on social media. Virat clearly is a top choice here too.
Today, the behaviour and actions of a celebrity have a far greater bearing on the brand endorsed and the controls with the brand have become diluted through the growth of social media and the fandom celebs get through it. The old days of a brand being able to put out a curated image of a celeb as its endorser are over and so brand managers now have a lot more sleepless nights hoping their celeb-endorser does not do anything that can hurt the brand. The cases of this happening are common and are unlikely to go away since, after all, even celebs are human beings with emotions, moods and foibles.
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