Celebrity Endorsers: Do modern-day Indian brands really need them?

June 29, 2021 8:00 AM

As Digital AdEx has become a close second to TV media spends, the need to create personalised content for consumers continues to boom

A Kantar study that took place for over 10 years revealed that regular ads with and without celebrities are in fact on par in terms of effectivenessA Kantar study that took place for over 10 years revealed that regular ads with and without celebrities are in fact on par in terms of effectiveness

By Disha Bhattacharya

Be it tea, toilet cleaners or technology; celebrity endorsements have always been a rage in India.

But, as Digital AdEx has become a close second to TV media spends, the need to create personalised content for consumers continues to boom. This new development has put a lot of my clients in distress, almost always resulting in the same question: “Does my brand really need a celebrity endorser?”

My answer is a firm NO until and unless you’re operating in the following buckets:

  • You’re a rapidly growing mass brand with low trust credentials that is catering to several different demographics and don’t have a targeted audience.
  • You’re a brand in the luxury space that wants to get consumers to live vicariously through the celebrity endorser.
  • You’re a brand that needs a major imagery makeover.

If you fall into a bucket that’s not one of the above, it is most likely that you don’t need a celebrity endorser. And especially, if you’re trying to talk to millennial or GenZ consumers in the top tier cities, it’s probably time to start reallocating your budgets to other things that are more important.

And here’s why:


Most celebrities are heavily overexposed – especially the A-listers. At one point, celebrities were used to drive distinctiveness, but when a public figure endorses multiple brands and some prominent ones averaging up to 14 brands, the novelty they bring slowly starts diminishing. Furthermore, consumers see A LOT more of celebrities now through social media and other content- thereby decreasing the instant ‘pull’ they used to command because of their limited facetime with the masses.

A lack of shared values:

65% of India is below the age of 35 and 50% of the Indian population is below 18. Naturally, young consumers are the favourite target group for a majority of brands out there. Furthermore, studies say that younger consumers are more purpose-led than previous generations and like to associate with brands that share the same values and belief system as them. This has become a sore spot for celebrities in India – because their lack of taking a stance and tone-deaf actions have recently put them under a lot of fire. For instance, during the recent second Covid-19 wave, celebrities were condemned for either being silent or for posting pictures of their holidays. This created further outrage as it followed the Black Lives Matter/fairness cream hypocrisy controversy. As these instances keep recurring and get reinforced through public dialogue it becomes difficult for consumers to associate value sets with prominent celebrities. This could even have a negative rub off on the brand.

The personality game:

Another way brands zero down on endorsers is by first identifying their own key personality traits and then mapping these personality traits with celebrities to find a good match. Celebrity endorsers, if used correctly can help sharpen a particular personality trait a brand wants to be known for, eg. a ‘rebellious’ personality, a ‘caring’ personality, a ‘saviour’ personality, among others. But, this is a double-edged sword – because if this match is done incorrectly, it could completely dilute the identity of a brand. My favourite example to showcase this is through Parineeti Chopra’s endorsements. She endorsed Lyra- a leggings brand that’s about being carefree and also The Derma Co. – A skincare brand that has an extremely scientific and almost medical personality. While I can associate Parineeti playing the ditsy damsel in a dreamland role with Lyra, the Derma Co. association seems to be an absolute miss for me if the intention was to establish ‘expert credentials’ for their high efficacy product range.

A lack of trust:

Studies suggest that a majority of audiences don’t trust brands and in today’s hyper aware world, this isn’t even surprising. From a trust-building via endorser standpoint, the opposite sometimes takes place when the celebrity is used incorrectly; for instance, the age-old ‘Celebrity’s secret’ trope. In 2021, consumers can see through the fact that a celebrity with a net worth of several million isn’t baking on a regular shampoo or a budget smartphone for their lustrous hair or great selfies. Furthermore, as the consumer journey continues to get messier – especially in the exploration and evaluation loop, consumers are constantly looking out for ideas, comparisons and reviews and sources that they can trust. And it’s in this important phase that celebrities lose steam and influencers play a massive role in swaying consideration. That’s because consumer trust extends very easily to content creators and influencers because of the inherent nature of a content creator’s role/job. Their claim to fame is helping and educating people- be it about health, beauty, travel, fashion, tech or even by being relatable and normalising anxieties that all of us have. In comparison, the social media interaction consumers have with celebrities is either through brands (branded content, ads that could even be about calling out key life-stage anxieties) or through inorganic, professional grade content uploaded by them. This lack of relationship and community building prevents brands from leveraging trust credentials they often wish to derive from a big celebrity.

A Kantar study that took place for over 10 years revealed that regular ads with and without celebrities are in fact on par in terms of effectiveness. This clearly goes to show that no celebrity trumps creativity. An insightful, creatively fresh piece of communication (devoid of a famous face) has the capability of pulling in as many or even more people than piggybacking on the same faces that have been selling the same products to the same consumer for years. Hence, brands must focus on investing in the overall customer experience (CX) as a priority. According to Bain & Co., companies that excel at CX grow revenues 4-8% above the market. That’s why organisations like Dentsu Impact are geared towards optimising CX in a way that directly impacts marketing and business KPIs. Developing a creatively potent trigger, an omnichannel, consumer-centric approach to address the evaluation and exploration loop, honing a strong loyalty and CRM approach to form a holistic CX strategy is crucial when it comes to influencing consumers in a post-pandemic world.

The author is group head- brand strategy, Dentsu Impact

(The column is a part of Dentsu Impact’s New Thought Leadership Series exclusive to FE BrandWagon Online)

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