The Fault In Their Stars
IMPACT|December 23, 2019

Some celebrities endorse as many as 25 different brands – do they manage to make every product stand out as brand ambassador, or is there a sense of celebrity fatigue?

Christina Moniz

Every time you’re surfing the channels on television, and making sense of the flurry of advertisements, chances are that the one thing that will register is how often a familiar, famous face shows up. Be it Virat Kohli, Alia Bhatt or Ranveer Singh, you definitely notice the celebs even as the ads fly by thick and fast, making it difficult to tell one from the other. There was a time when Sachin Tendulkar was almost synonymous with an MRF or Boost, a time when consumers could actually recall which popular face endorsed a brand or product line. Today, most A-list stars lend their image to an average of 15 brands each, which begs the question – are celebrity-led advertisements becoming more about the celebrity than the product? Also, are celebrities diluting their own brand value by endorsing everything - from toothpaste and soap to mobile phones?

According to a report released earlier this year by corporate advisers Duff & Phelps, the overall brand value of the top 15 Indian celebrities was $712 million in 2017. Actor Ranveer Singh today endorses 25 brands across categories, while Virat Kohli, Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan are ambassadors for more than 20 brands each. What can brands do, then, to stand out? And how do the stars keep their credibility intact?

BREAKING CLUTTER, OR ADDING TO IT?

Brands work with celebrities for two main reasons – to create aspiration or to break clutter. However, in the scenario we are seeing today with so many celebrities vying for attention, they have in fact become part of the clutter. And that, in turn, will have an impact on their aspiration quotient. Brands will, therefore, soon need to start putting the filter of believability into their choices, says Rahul Mathew, National Creative Director, DDB Mudra Group. “If Sachin starts endorsing Maruti, would I believe he drives one? Maybe if they start making Ferraris,” he quips. He has a word of caution for brands and celebrities, who in India have achieved God-like status. “With these ‘Gods’ or personalities becoming the face of so many brands, either brands will have to burn many media dollars to make their association the strongest, or they will have to live with their endorser for a long period of time to cement the association through consistent repetition. Much like we associate the colour yellow with Govinda,” he says.

For an association like this to work, brand values must be in sync with the endorser’s core belief system. For example, it would not make sense for a company to enlist an older star for a brand whose target audience is the young. Too Yumm! is one of the brands that recently roped in cricket star Virat Kohli as brand ambassador. Anupam Bokey, VP Marketing (CMO) of RP Sanjiv Goenka Group’s FMCG Business, points out that the association is a strategic move since Kohli’s core values match those of Too Yumm!. He explains, “There is no harm in one endorser being the face of several other brands, but the trick lies in how effectively one can use the endorser, aligned to his own brand and personality. Virat Kohli has been welcomed as the first celebrity endorser for Too Yumm! since he truly represents the health values of the brand. Kohli’s followers have always looked up to him not only for his fitness regime, but also for the healthy choices he makes.”

Authenticity is another important element in ensuring that a brand breaks through the clutter even if the endorsers are the face of other products and companies. As long as the brand core values and the celebrity core values match, both the brand and the celebrity can leverage from the association, says Sachin Killawala, Marketing Director, Nivea India. The brand works with popular stars like Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh, who Killawala believes add huge value to the brand propositions. “Our brand ambassador choice is based on shared values, rather than the popularity of the respective celebrities. Their participation in other brands has no bearing on our engagement,” he maintains. Likewise, matrimonial site Matrimony.com has also partnered with MS Dhoni to create a stronger connect with young consumers. Murugavel Janakiraman, CEO, Matrimony.com, explains, “In the case of MS Dhoni, the brand fit is a good one as he is an inspiration for millions of youth because of what he’s achieved for the country through his leadership qualities. Dhoni also inspires through his happy marriage, and his image as caring dad and loving husband.”

Ultimately, everything comes down to brand fit and credibility. Consumers can see through inauthentic messaging and force fits, points out Harish Bijoor, brand expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. “When I recommend a celebrity for a brand, for me the ultimate issue in focus is, does the celebrity fit the brand and is there an umbilical connect for a start. I hate force-fits and dissuade force-fits altogether. Does the brand look comfortable with the celebrity in question, and is the celebrity looking hunky dory in its company?” asks Bijoor.

As a practice, celebrity endorsement is signed based on a particular brand category. Therefore, it is exclusive to that particular category. Vinit Karnik, Business Head, ESP Properties, the Entertainment & Sports division of GroupM, notes that this exclusivity plays a critical role as a differentiator in the marketplace and in the minds of consumers. “The challenge advertisers have is to design a creative campaign for multimedia. Creative treatment for the digital media needs to be different than traditional media and the celebrity can add value to the role he/she plays in the creative by breaking the clutter,” Karnik explains.

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