Suspending association with SRK is a tactical move by Byju’s
By Shivaji Dasgupta
Following Aryan Khan’s arrest in a drug-related scandal, ed-tech start-up Byju’s inadvertently found itself in the line of fire — for the ‘sin’ of having Shah Rukh Khan as its endorser. As a result of a ‘social media trial’ demanding the boycotting of Byju’s, the company was forced to temporarily pull ads featuring Khan down. This may come across as an epitome of corporate governance. Truthfully, it may simply be a smart move to deflect certain emerging perceptions about Byju’s, an inverse but valid case of moment marketing.
The role of a celebrity
To decipher this thinking, it is necessary to revisit why brands choose to enlist celebrity endorsers. The first reason is awareness acceleration — the primary driver for ambitious start-ups like Cred to engage an entire bunch creatively. The second cause is credibility establishment — why chef Sanjeev Kapoor endorses multiple brands of spices. The third factor is imagery association which is truly valid for youth brands like Pepsi or entities like Tata CLiQ Luxury. The fourth driver, although rare, is a higher order purpose connect — what Nike has practised over the years by engaging folks like Colin Kaepernick.
Now, it is amply clear that Byju’s hired Khan for the first objective. Quite naturally, he would not add relevant credibility or imagery in an education set-up, and the inspirational purpose is a function of influence over time. Thus, an alleged misdeed by a member of the family, which he has clearly not supported, cannot work against the brand’s reputation or potential to attract franchise. This is unlike the case of Salman Khan, where the stated culprit was clearly the celebrity himself, and the role of endorsement was an infusion of imagery/ credibility largely to youth audiences.
Real talk and influence
An irreversible development in recent years is the decreasing role of paid communication in securing user franchise. From technology to holidays to automobiles and, indeed, education, the opinion of the real user as amplified digitally defines our purchase decisions, aided by the hands-on micro-celebrity, better known as influencer. The credibility and purpose of brands are being derived entirely by ground-level performance and policies, which are demonstrated consistently and successfully, and customers are less impressed by lusty promises.
So, it does appear that Byju’s was indeed being smartly tactical, and not fiercely noble, in temporarily suspending their celebrity association. Like every other modern controversy, this too will perish very shortly; and not seeing Khan in the short term will avoid any heated drawing room conversations. The brand itself has been suffering from some poor publicity of late, with several unsubstantiated customer claims suggesting provocative hard sell doing the rounds on social media. As established earlier, the reputation of any education business depends entirely on brand conduct and customer satisfaction, and it makes sense to project a moral high ground, however opportunistic, to hopefully overshadow the bad press.
The role of celebrities promises to evolve even further as brands seek to establish meaningful conversations with real customers, as the erstwhile platforms for perception building become less believable. Thus, superstars will remain largely valid for awareness generation leading to trial, and then the engagement culture of brands will take over across the entire customer journey. Even imagery is becoming user-generated largely with a little help from the value-for-money influencer brigade which is remunerated on performance and not projection basis. Smarter celebrities like Deepika Padukone have already moved to the next level, incubating brands which they later endorse, truly with skin in the game.
On Byju’s though, the dramatic self-sacrifice is clearly a disruptive version of moment marketing, where celebrity withdrawal fulfills short-term brand objectives, as opposed to a stoic adherence to high-class values.
The author is MD, Inexgro Brand Advisory