1. The case of the fickle endorser

The case of the fickle endorser

Celebrity endorsement is a tricky business with the personality’s association with a brand extending informally even after the contract end date has passed by. When an endorser with strong imagery of being associated with one brand is seen endorsing/using/speaking for a rival brand, it could mean an instant PR crisis. BrandWagon finds out more.

By: | Published: July 4, 2017 2:36 AM
Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Celebrity is not the creative idea: While celebrity endorsements are a tried and tested formula for enhancing brand impact, they are by no means a guarantee of success. Success depends a great deal on the relevance of the context — category, brand personality, creative idea — and not necessarily on the status or popularity of the celebrity. In most cases the celebrity is not the creative idea and therefore should not be used to substitute it. There are a few instances where the use of celebrity is directly linked to the brand’s creative theme. Lux soaps, Louis Vuitton luggage and Longines watches are a few such examples.

In most other cases, the use of celebrities works more to increase the noticeability of the brand’s advertising and in the case of less established brands, to lend stature, rather than becoming central to the brand’s image. Therefore when a celebrity endorser switches to a competing brand, the ramifications depend entirely on how closely associated the celebrity was with the erstwhile brand to begin with.

In today’s informed world, most people understand, at least at a rational level, that celebrities are paid to endorse a brand and that they are doing it for the money rather than as a sign of genuine affinity towards the brand that they are endorsing. So if and when a celebrity moves on to endorse another brand it usually has negligible impact on the celebrity’s credibility. However, there is a greater likelihood of it having an impact on the endorsed brand’s image.

If the brand-celeb association was strong, then there is a great risk for the new brand to inadvertently end up promoting the former brand by using the same celebrity. The time for transition from one brand to another competing brand should be based on the length of time the celebrity was associated with the previous brand. The longer the association, the greater the time gap should be before another competing brand begins using the same celebrity.

One example of a celebrity who switched from brand to another competing brand is Sachin Tendulkar who began with Pepsi before switching to Coke. It is difficult to judge whether that had a positive or negative effect on either brand, but one would venture to say that Tendulkar’s image had perhaps a closer fit with the more conventional and wholesome brand image of Coca-Cola than the cheeky and irreverent brand image of Pepsi.

Bindu Sethi chief strategy officer, J. Walter Thompson India.

The star has more to lose than the brand: Brands need to use celebrities strategically. When celebrities are used as eye-candy or just for their star presence, the celebrity may feel that it is okay to jump ship. In many jewellery store brand advertising, stars are used as models. Then how does it matter if one model moves on? A serious big brand has a long term strategy in mind when it ropes in a celebrity. In such a case, the celebrity stays with the brand and certainly does not move to another competitive brand, especially a high-end celebrity. Take a brand like Lux; its proposition is — The beauty bar of film stars. Here, more than one star makes Lux, and stars come and go. There was a time when Lux the brand was bigger than the star and it was considered a privilege to be invited to be a Lux star.

Blatant moving by a celebrity from one brand to another within the same or competing categories does not work for the celebrity or the brand. When a young star is cast, it is because a young star is relevant for the brand’s target audience. But as the star grows up, the brand must continue to be relevant to a younger audience, else the brand then moves on, and the star too must move on to brands/products that work best with his/her image at that point of time. This then cannot be construed as moving on to a competitor brand.

The star has more to lose than the brand if he/she chooses to move to a competitor. A good solid brand that has used the star strategically does not have much to lose. Take Hema Malini for example; if she moves from Kent RO to any other water purifier brand, it is the star’s credibility that will suffer and not the brand’s. Consumer memory does not go that way back to keep track which celebrity has endorsed which brand in the past; younger consumers are constantly opting into brands.

Anirban Das Blah managing director, KWAN Entertainment.

Brands engage more tactically now: The business of celebrity endorsements has changed a lot over the years. Today, brands engage with celebrities a lot more tactically than in the past. Earlier brands had much more long term associations in mind. Today’s business could demand an association, a tactical one, to be anything from six months to say a year or two. Long term endorsements, such as the ones with Aamir Khan, are very rare today. When it is tactical, it doesn’t really matter because of the way they are structured and the duration of the association. No other competitor brand is going to touch a star celebrity for at least a year after they have endorsed a particular brand.

But if you look at serious associations that have lasted for a long time, you need to have a two to three year gap. For example, even today, after all this time, it would be hard to imagine Aamir Khan going back to doing a Pepsi ad. That said, I don’t think these cases could be treated as an exception and which is why these celebrities are brought in at a premium. A celebrity randomly moving from one brand to another would adversely impact his/her image negatively. But such instances are rare and even if they do happen, no celebrity would risk doing it twice.

Musical Chair:

Hrithik Roshan: From Coca-Cola to Mountain Dew

Sachin Tendulkar: From Pepsi to Coca-Cola

Aamir Khan: From Pepsi to Coca-Cola

Shahrukh Khan: From Airtel to jio

Kareena Kapoor: From Lux to Vivel

Deepika Padukone: From Pepsi to Coca-Cola

Virat Kohli: From Adidas to Puma

Shinmin.Bali@expressindia.com @shinminbali

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