Brands tap regional celebrities to go hyperlocal. Does it translate into higher ROI?
By Devika Singh
Over the past decade, celebrity-led endorsements in India have risen from 650 in 2007 to 1,660 in 2017, according to ESP Properties, clocking a steady CAGR of 10%. Bollywood actors have long ruled the brand endorsement scene in India, given their mass appeal. But marketers are realising that when it comes to appealing to the non-Hindi speaking markets, they pale in comparison to the regional celebrities.
A recent report by Duff & Phelps on celebrity valuations in the country states that marketers are opting for region-specific advertisements featuring local celebrities, in the hope of better return on investment in regional markets. The report says that the top five regional celebrities in India endorsed 41 brands in 2018. Among these, Telugu actor Mahesh Babu topped the list with 15 brand endorsements, followed by Tamannaah Bhatia with eight; while Diljit Dosanjh, Rana Daggubati and Shruti Haasan endorsed six brands each.
The regional divide
FMCG companies such as Coca-Cola and Horlicks have had different brand ambassadors in the North and South markets since a while; but the strategy is now being adopted by companies across sectors including start-ups. For example, Byju’s and fragrance brand Denver have both roped in Mahesh Babu as their brand ambassador, and gaming platform RummyCircle has signed on Bengali actor Prosenjit Chatterjee. Parle Agro, meanwhile, has brought Allu Arjun on board for Frooti and Jr. NTR for Appy Fizz in the South.
Kerala-based Kalyan Jewellers roped in Amitabh Bachchan as its brand ambassador in 2012 to announce its national presence. Recently, the brand signed different brand ambassadors in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat and West Bengal to get a stronger foothold in different parts of the country. “When we ventured outside South, we wanted to build a national brand name with a very reputed face to endorse our brand. Now, our target is to launch campaigns in every state where we have a showroom,” says Ramesh Kalyanaraman, executive director, Kalyan Jewellers.
This new strategy is a shift brought on by the emergence of digital media. Kalyan Jewellers, for example, plans to leverage these ambassadors mostly on social media — an indication of the blurring lines between brand ambassadors and influencers. Another case in point is Flipkart, which engaged with more than 40 celebrities across India, including Dosanjh, Rannvijay, Bhatia, Yash and Mahesh Manjrekar, to promote its Big Billion Days sale. According to a Flipkart spokesperson, around 202 multilingual creatives (ads and videos) were designed for the TV campaign alone.
Many brands are also partnering with regional celebrities for shorter durations to tap them on social media. “Since the rise of influencer marketing, a lot of brands are open to working on the per-post or per-engagement model just for social media,” says Ashutosh Harbola, founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm Buzzoka, which has recently launched a regional celebrity service for brands.
While the endorsement valuation of regional celebrities vis-à-vis their national counterparts is not known, experts say they prove to be relatively cost-effective. A brand strategist informs that compared to the `42 crore brand endorsement cost borne by Reebok in order to associate with Katrina Kaif, associations in the regional markets could come at half the cost.
However, Aviral Jain, MD, Duff & Phelps, says that the remuneration of a few top regional celebrities like Babu may match up to that of Bollywood celebrities. “But most others have a lower endorsement fee, around `25-70 lakh per day.”
It is important to note that a brand would typically engage a regional celeb for targeted states/regions, while also employing a national-level celebrity for its pan-India campaign. Thus, the dual brand ambassador strategy spells higher expenses, while calling for a more cautious approach. “Each ambassador brings a very different personality to the table, so one has to be very careful in crafting the communication because the campaign needs to reflect that celebrity’s personality,” says Naresh Gupta, managing partner and CSO, Bang in the Middle.
Besides, owing to the shorter contracts, the associations could come across as flings rather than long-lasting connections. “As brands ambassadors are not loyal to the brand, they may engage with a competitor after the contract ends. This could harm the brand’s image,” says brand strategist Harish Bijoor.