With smartphone makers choosing star power over brand building, advertising beginning to look homogenous

Published: June 17, 2019 12:07:56 AM

A defining aspect of the smartphone market is the consumer’s desire to own the latest model in the market. Loyalty evades brands in this category, except for some like iPhone and OnePlus that have a dedicated following.

Vicky Kaushal, Aditya Roy Kapur, Kartik Aaryan, smartphone ad, Bollywood celebrities, Oppo, one plus, Chinese smartphone, Gionee, Virat Kohli, Alia Bhatt, Shruti Haasan, Diljit Dosanjh,  smartphone market, iphone, deepika padukone, aamir khan, industry newsSmartphone brands’ celebrity obsession

By Venkata Susmita Biswas

Sample this: in a three week period, Chinese smartphone brand Oppo used three different Bollywood celebrities to launch its latest model, the F11 Pro. Actors Vicky Kaushal, Aditya Roy Kapur and Kartik Aaryan were introduced as the new faces representing the brand in an attempt to reach out to millennials.

In 2017, another smartphone vendor Gionee roped in five brand ambassadors — Virat Kohli, Alia Bhatt, Shruti Haasan and Diljit Dosanjh — for its #Selfistan campaign which coincided with the launch of Gionee A1. Tech giant Google, too, could not resist the temptation. Rahul Dravid, Priyanka Chopra, Twinkle Khanna and Anushka Sharma have promoted different variations of the Pixel in India.
Most brands in this category flirt with multiple celebrity endorsers at a time, or flit from one to another, depending on the flavour of the season. Stars have essentially become props in smartphone advertisements.

Method to the madness?
A defining aspect of the smartphone market is the consumer’s desire to own the latest model in the market. Loyalty evades brands in this category, except for some like iPhone and OnePlus that have a dedicated following. “This category is based on offering incremental functional benefits and not an emotional brand proposition,” says Jitender Dabas, chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup India. “It is a massive challenge in the smartphone category to come up with sustainable product differentiation.”

Brands employ celebrities as endorsers to stand out in the market, especially when product disruption is tough. But for smartphone vendors, this strategy seems to be adding to the clutter rather than breaking it. “Smartphone brands mostly use celebrities for launches. With every new brand launch, the brand needs to prove its mettle,” explains Saurabh Mathur, head, planning and strategy, VML&YR.
For example, Oppo has roped in a whopping 15 celebrities from Bollywood and cricket since 2014. Deepika Padukone, the current brand ambassador, does not promote all the new products the company launches. Often, the most contemporary celebrity is chosen — like Vicky Kaushal promoting Oppo after the success of his film Uri: The Surgical Strike — for higher gains.

Contrary to popular belief though, the rates are not very different for a brand ambassador collaboration and an individual campaign partnership, according to Vijay Subramaniam, co-CEO, Kwan Entertainment.

Xiaomi, which did not have a brand ambassador in the past, brought Ranveer Singh on board late last year. So far, he has appeared in ads for the Redmi Note 7 and the Redmi Note 7 Pro phones.

Here’s why Xiaomi decided to settle down with a single brand endorser. “With the brand expanding its offline presence, it became necessary to use traditional advertising measures to connect with offline consumers, while continuing to retain our unconventional brand element,” explains Anuj Sharma, CMO, Xiaomi India. The smartphone manufacturer now wants to gain massive brand visibility with Singh as its face.

Celebrity fatigue factor
This celebrity power comes at the cost of brand building, say experts. Through their advertising, smartphone brands focus on selling features as opposed to building a brand narrative. “It does not follow the typical trajectory of marketing, which lays emphasis on long term consistency and positioning,” notes Kedar Teny, CSO, Tilt Brand Solutions.

Mathur notes that because of the high churn of celebrities, “the consumer has no idea what the brand truly stands for”. Typically, a brand sticks with a single celebrity endorser for a few years, if it wants to build and stand for a certain value system. “Smartphone companies are not able to do this because phones have a very short shelf life; they need to get sold in the first three months of launch,” he says. In such a short-term marketing environment, smartphone brands prefer to make a big impact quickly, rather than build a long-lasting image.

When Chinese smartphone brands with deep pockets entered the Indian market, they enlisted the help of celebrities to create a high impact. This put pressure on other brands to do the same. As a result, celebrities were seen brand hopping — Virat Kohli has endorsed Xiaomi, Oppo and Gionee at different time frames, and Ranveer Singh has represented Vivo before his association with Xiaomi. But this does not bother Xiaomi. “There couldn’t have been a more compatible partnership than the coming together of two of India’s most disruptive brands — Xiaomi and Ranveer Singh,” Sharma asserts.

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