Marketers use celebrity endorsement to enhance recognition, recall, and reputation of their brands
By Harsh Pamnani
Nike is inarguably one of the most recognizable brands globally and the world’s largest manufacturer of sporting goods. Interestingly, Nike is also the king of endorsement marketing. Over time, many great athletes, including basketball star Michael Jordan, golf star Tiger Woods and tennis star Serena Williams have signed endorsement deals with Nike. When Forbes compiled a list of the world’s highest-paid athletes in 2020, they found that out of the top 100, Nike represented 51. Undoubtedly, the brand’s endorsement engagements with renowned athletes have immensely contributed to its commercial success.
By looking at Nike’s success and stature, you may think that a celebrity (a famous personality) endorsement is a great way to increase brand exposure. Perhaps, you are right. Research has shown that brands that use a celebrity, grab people’s attention more quickly than a brand without a star. Thus, marketers use celebrity endorsement to enhance recognition, recall, and reputation of their brands.
Celebrities help brands to communicate with the masses. They extend their personality and popularity to the brand and give consumers a reason to believe in a brand. Though celebrity endorsement sounds lucrative, it is an expensive proposition. Many brands are not able to afford celebrities and the ones who can afford, want to achieve maximum gain out of the partnership. So, while engaging celebrities, brands should keep multiple things in mind. A few of them are as follows:
Celebrity’s attributes should match with the brand
Choice of a celebrity can make or break your campaign. The face and figure of the endorser will represent the face and figure of your brand. So there should be similarity in at least a few attributes. For example, celebrities like Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan, and John Abraham are fitness enthusiasts and have endorsed brands like GOQii (fitness start-up), Cult. Fit (fitness chain) and GNC (a nutrition and wellness supplements brand), respectively. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan endorses luxury brands such as Longines and De Beers (attribute of elegance) and mass brands, including Lux and Lakme Cosmetics (attribute of beauty).
Celebrity should be relatable with the brand’s audience
Celebrities have name and fame. Usually, they seem perfect, and it is hard for regular people to connect with them. Having said that, the general public relates to celebrities who exhibit down-to-earth personality. Let me share with you an example. Insurance is a complex subject, and people get bored while reading about insurance topics. Given the industry’s unattractiveness, it’s not easy to connect with the consumers. Humour makes consumers laugh and can help them understand even serious topics with positivity. Akshay Kumar is known to every Indian household and can deliver important messages with humor. Also, he represents traits like positive social change, reliability, trust, self-made, etc. He is a celebrity with whom the common man resonates with. PolicyBazaar roped Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador, who explained the importance of insurance in complicated life situations in a humorous way.
Celebrity and brand association should not mislead people
Celebrities have a responsibility towards society, as many people follow them. Their endorsement of restricted products can mislead people. Let me explain this with an example of surrogate advertising. It is a form of advertising which indirectly promotes banned products, in the disguise of another product. All kinds of advertising of tobacco products (direct and indirect) are prohibited under section 5 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. Gutka contains tobacco, but most brands of pan masala do not. Advertising for pan masala is surrogate for gutka. The former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan’s appearance in the advertisement of Pan Bahar had shocked many Indians who questioned his endorsement of a product associated with cancer. According to the actor, he had agreed to advertise breath freshener and not a product containing tobacco. The actor later demanded the company to remove his image from all their products.
Celebrity should not overshadow a brand
For the lesser-known brands, getting a well-known face to endorse them could be a quick status elevation. However, if an advertisement storyline focuses on a celebrity more than a brand and its message, then celebrity often ends up overshadowing the brand. As celebrities endorse multiple brands, small brands’ messages may get lost in the glamour of big celebrities. Hence, marketers should focus on keeping a proper balance between celebrity and brand through creativity and storytelling. Here, I would like to share a quote from Piyush Pandey, “When you work with a celebrity, the viewer must find the celebrity, the script, the idea memorable, not just the celebrity.”
Celebrity should be able to show a brand in positive light
Sometimes brands need to rebuild their image. In such scenarios, celebrities could play an important role. For example, in 2003, some customers complained about finding worms in Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolates. The news spread gave a blow to the image of the brand Cadbury. As a quick response, Cadbury improved the packaging of Dairy Milk. Along with improving the packaging, it was important for the brand to communicate the improvement to people. So, the brand roped in Amitabh Bachchan as its brand ambassador. He has an appeal across cities, segments and age groups. He represents traits like trustworthiness, hard work, commitment, and fairness. His endorsement helped the brand in regaining the trust of people.
Celebrities should not be associated with competition
A category would have multiple competing brands with a similar target audience. If competing brands use the same celebrity, then they may contribute to category recall rather than brand recall. Also, the audience may get confused about the celebrity association and brand personality, and might consider the brand unreal and superficial. David Ogilvy said, “There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey or cigarettes or beer. They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents and the margarines . . . The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.”
While having a celebrity as an endorser has upside, the downside risk is substantial too. Once people start associating a brand with a celebrity, negative news about the celebrity may also impact the endorsed brand negatively. Because of his athletic success and clean public image, until 2009, Tiger Woods was widely acknowledged to have the most valuable brand of any athlete in the world. But then a scandal involving his extramarital affairs emerged. According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, in the wake of the scandal, shareholders of Nike, Gatorade, and other Tiger Woods sponsors lost a collective $5 to $12 billion.
The writer is author of the book ‘Booming Brands’. (Views expressed are personal and don’t necessarily represent any company’s opinions)