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More innovation, less laziness needed for celebrity endorsements

MUMBAI: With an increasingly cluttered and competitive Indian market many brands make use of celebrities from the world of Bollywood and sports like Aamir Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan to help them break through the clutter. However it is important for marketers to keep in mind the fact that a celebrity is not the idea. He/she is the messenger and not the message.

 

 

Unfortunately a lot of the time when a brand signs up a celebrity the marketers feel that their job is done. There is no need to work hard. The celebrity is often used as a crutch in their absence of a well laid out plan. This point came out at this mornings discussion at the India Brand Summit. The topic was the emergence of Indian Sports and cinema heroes as brand marketing tools. O&M executive chairman and national creative director Piyush Pandey chaired the session. The speakers were actor Rahul Bose, Percept D'Mark MD and CEO Sanjay Lal, Disney India MD Rajat Jain, Keystone Group MD Boman Irani and Leo Burnett Nation creative director K V Shridhar.

 

 

Pandey criticised Indian marketers for being lazy after roping in a celebrity. "90 per cent of celebrity ads are lazy. People often do not connect sports persons with their brands. It is a fact that cricketers are bad actors. Brand managers do not seem to know what their ambassador like a cricketer can do and cannot. Ad scripts that feature actors are often lazy. The actor gets known but because the script is poor the brand gets sidelined and lost in the background." He gave the example of the new Pepsi ad with Shahrukh Khan. For bad advertising with cricketers he used the Saurav Hrithik 'Desh Ke Dadhkan' ad. Ganguly performs the most horrendous dance routine. "Greg Chappell would love to use that ad to enforce a stricter fitness regime for Saurav," added Pandey sarcastically.

 

 

Pandey went on to add that sometimes even a cricketers mother is not enough for a campaign - a jibe at the Reliance ad with Sehwag and his mother. "You cannot make a mockery of a brand by using a cricketer or a filmstar any which way you choose. Sometimes a marketer signs an ambassador because his son wants an autograph. That a couple of crores are going does not seem to bother him. When an ad goes wrong and fails to make an impact there is no point in cursing the cricketer or the film star for ones own laziness. Therefore if you want to make good use of an ambassador the best way is to find a fit with your product." For excellent advertising using a cricketer he gave the example of the Max ad that used Kapil Dev. Here a boy is bowling and Kapil who is taking strike backs off at the last moment due to the sightscreen. "Here Kapil is effective because he does what he normally did throughout his career. You are not asking him to act like Amitabh Bachchan."

Jain who was the head of Max before moving to Disney reinforced this point saying that a brand through advertising can make a celebrity out of someone. That is what has happened in the case of the boy who has gone on to do other shoots after Max discovered him. He said that a brand ambassador can be used to reinforce an image which is what Lux is doing with its new ad that features SRK in a bath tub. "It can also create desire which is what Reid And Taylor did brilliantly with Amitabh Bachchan. Entertainment can also be done for mass appeal and a terrific example here is Aamir Khan and Coke. The word Paanch and the slogan Thandaa Matlab Coca Cola stuck in the minds of the viewer. That is the result of a well conceived idea that has been thought through."

Dangers in celebrity endorsement: Jain though noted that there are dangers in celebrity endorsement. When one celebrity endorses many brands a brands image can be diluted. A negative controversy can also hurt a brand. This readers mind goes back to the time when ads featuring Azhar and Jadeja were promptly yanked off the air after the match fixing allegations broke five years ago. Jain says that a brand can benefit in a big way when it takes a celebrity and makes an unusual connect with him. An example of that is a Nike ad where a boy wearing Nike shoes beats a basketball star.

"This is something that is humane. Also what happened was that it ensured that the brand stayed larger than the endorser. It is also important to know what a celebrity stands for. Bachchan stands for credibility. This is what Cadbury did when it got tangled in the worm controversy." The ad showed Bachchan testing the manufacturing procedures at Cadbury's factory. It wasn't a case of just pasting a celebrity Jain noted.

Irani stressed the importance of doing research to know which audience segment connects best with a celebrity. For instance a survey found that Dravid came across better with women than men. Most women had an unclear image of sports persons. He too dwelt on credibility by giving the example of Titan Watches. Many consumers felt insecure of wearing an Indian watch in front of friends and associates. Aamir Khan was used to lend credibility to the watch. "I would love to see Kartikeyan endorsing cars and not just tyres. He is associated with driving. At the same time I feel that a brand ambassador should be more selective if he wants to continue being one in the future. I have respect for someone like Akshay Kumar who stopped endorsing cigarettes even though the money was great. Akshay basically did not believe in the product."

Shridhar pointed to three brand icons in India- Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan. Research was done to find out what consumers thought of Amitabh Bachchan. Parker signed on the Big B after he became famous through KBC. Leo Burnett who did the creative found that consumers felt that Bachchan was a charmer who liked to pull people's legs without hurting their feelings. The Parker ad therefore had humour in it where Bachchan cannot stop signing autographs with the Parker pen as he likes it so much. "If you cannot afford these three then it is good to look at regional stars. For instance VVS Laxman could be used for a brand looking to establish itself in Hyderabad. Mohammed Kaif in Lucknow can also be effective. The other alternative is to sign on Kartikeyan and watch him finish last or sign on Sania and see her get thrashed by Sharapova."

Research is important: The importance of research was underscored by Bose who spoke about Kate Moss. For those not in the know Moss a famous supermodel was pictured snorting cocaine in the front page of a London newspaper. "Moss' heroine chic looks made her popular. She was used for clothes in a way that evoked the dark side. When the picture came out companies like Chanel that used her were appalled. I wonder if they bothered to check her history? She has had one instance of drug abuse. Did they bother to find out about her views on life, family and whether she fit in with their squeaky clean image? It is imperative that the face reflects the brand. A brand must find out what a star stands for. If it does not then it is difficult for a brand to use the celebrity to catapult into the stratosphere."

"A brand manager must look for more than just talent when signing a celebrity. Otherwise a lot of cricketers can be substituted. Dravid can endorse watch that wants to stress its reliability features. He can also endorse a brand that has spark. Why? Because his cutting shots played off pace bowlers off the back foot is just a sign of genius. That trademark

of his can be integrated with a brand," he added.

Lal said that performance plus fan hysteria makes a celebrity. Without these two things a celebrity does not exist. The challenge is for marketers to figure out how this fan following can be capitalised upon. According to him the Lux ad with SRK was great because it made the customer feel that he/she is special. "It will also help a lot if on ground promotions are used. The Airtel Showdown initiative is a great example. Here fans could chose to be a part of either Shahrukh Khan's team or Sachin Tendulkar's team. A day of games was organised. Unfortunately this is not being done often enough y brands. The toss on the ground promotion is also effective."

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