Starry brand appeal

Bollywood Superstar, Shahrukh Khan during a press conference launching TV show, 'Poochega Sabse Shaana Kaun' in Mumbai.
Consumers do not buy products and services, they buy stories. Marketers feel that celebrity endorsements result in more favourable advertisement ratings and product evaluations and create positive brand contributions.

Celebrities bring familiarity, relevance, esteem, differentiation (FRED) to the marketing message. But the effectiveness of a celebrity in an advertisement depends on celebrity performance, negative information, credibility, trustworthiness, likeability and the product fit. A familiar face is thought to be an easiest way to create the right brand associations. The celebrity endorser brings the image of the brand closer to the expectation of the consumer, by transferring some of the positive meanings in her image to the brand. As familiarity with a celebrity matters more than the product, brands rush to the biggest names.

MG (Ambi) Parameswaran, Founder,
India is one of the top five countries using celebrities to communicate with consumers. Japan tops the list with 43% celebrity endorsement. In a heterogeneous market like India with barriers of language, caste, class and religion, celebrities manage to bridge cultural gaps. An eminent sociologist opined that in the past, Indian brands used pictures of Gods in their promotional material which managed to traverse vast distances. Today brands are using the new gods — the film stars and sports stars.

A research done at S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) studied celebrity endorsement messages on Indian television. 200 ads telecast on the Colors and Star Plus channels during prime time (9pm-10pm) were recorded over a week. The ads were discussed and analysed with various groups of people. The ads were for brands targeted at households with women as decision-makers across socio-economic backgrounds. Research suggested:

37% ads featured a celebrity
38% messages featuring celebrities were durables, dominated by cell phones and kitchen appliances brands
36% were FMCG brands, and automobiles trailed low at 5%
Of all the celebrity ads, 85% used film/sports stars and 7% TV stars
The use of male and female celebrities is almost equal
36 ads (unduplicated) were celebrity ads of which four featured Shah Rukh Khan besides Amitabh Bachchan, Ranveer Singh    et al at 2. The only non-film celebrities were Baba Ramdev and Sanjeev Kapoor

Advertisements using celebrities were shorter in duration than those without celebrities (15 vs 21 seconds). People know celebrities and have a perception about them. Therefore, the storyteller has a context in which she is telling the brand story. Messages without celebrities invest in extra time to create a context and right brand associations. Japan and Korea have prohibitive ad rates and hence brands there tend to use celebrities with short story edits.

Ashita Aggarwal, Professor & head, marketing, SPJIMR
The research suggests celebrities are mostly used by low-involvement product categories but in India, durables — mainly smartphones — have broken the rule. The smartphone market is still evolving, there is an aspirational value attached to ownership and probably Indian consumers view smartphones as low-involvement as the replacement time is months!

Use of celebrities has its own risks. If the celebrity image is tarnished or there is a backlash (Aamir Khan and Snapdeal) or a celebrity overshadows the brand (Katrina Kaif and Slice). 

Sometimes the celebrity is so overexposed that people don’t associate them with any brand or confuse the brands, leading to dilution (Ranveer Singh endorsing 18+ brands).

It looks like brand will continue to figure in income statement of celebrities’ balance sheets. However, there are non-celebrity brands as well who are well remembered and liked by people. Who doesn’t remember the Surf “daag achhe hain” or Tanishq brides?

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