Brands, endorsers rethink relationships

Amazon India has been among the top 10 advertisers on television for almost all of the seven months of 2017, but it has stayed away from celebrity endorsers
A year ago it would have been impossible to scan through the papers or watch a video online without bumping into a movie star or a sports icon talking up a brand in an ad. Be it Ranveer Singh or Amitabh Bachchan or Virat Kohli, they endorsed everything from realty projects, face wash, noodles and sauces to mobile phones and laptops in 2016. A year down the line, there seems to be a chill in the air; new consumer protection rules seem imminent and companies are reconsidering the high cost of celebrity engagement, thereby cutting down the number of brands signing stars as endorsers.


Over the past few months, celebrity-led campaigns seem to be on the decline and experts say fewer brands are signing new deals. According to data provided by the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC), only one brand among the top 10 brands (as measured by TV ad insertions) in the April-July period 2017 uses a brand endorser consistently. This is HUL’s Fair & Lovely, which has actor Yami Gautam as brand ambassador. But the top three brands: Videocon d2h, Close-Up Ever Fresh and Amazon have new campaigns independent of brand endorsers.


There are exceptions though. The Chinese mobile handset makers have turned to movie stars for their popular appeal as have a handful of luxury brands that are seeking to influence the big spenders. The period of the telecast of the Vivo Indian Premier League was an aberration too. Many brands launched new advertisements featuring celebrity endorsers around the time, but these campaigns were confined to the channels on which the tournament was telecast. While Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh featured prominently in advertisements during the IPL, the associations between the brands and these stars had been struck long before the tournament. In other words, even for a huge event like the IPL, not many brands went out and signed new endorsers for their marketing campaigns, experts point out.


Source: BARC India
Are we then seeing a new phase in the brand-endorser relationship in India? Are brands becoming more conscious or are endorsers choosier while signing brands? Experts are divided on the subject. While brands and celebrities are being more cautious, they say that factors like GST and demonetisation could also be a reason why celebrity-led advertising is slowing down.


Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consultancy is however convinced that the tide is turning. He believes that brands are bored of the celebrity options they have. “Look at how the top celebrities went on a signing spree a while back. As a result, there is very little differentiation in the market. I think they are looking for new, fresh faces. It is not that brands do not want celebrity endorsers. I think they just don’t want the same old faces.”


In 2017, very few of the usual suspects have announced new brand deals. Sachin Tendulkar has been visible but that could be because he is reinventing his brand post retirement. But Ranbir Kapoor, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Virat Kohli have signed fewer brands this year. A few new faces have stepped in to fill up the void, shuttler PV Sindhu and actor Sushant Singh Rajput have signed on a few brands recently. But the frequency with they appear on television or in print is a far cry from the way brands used endorsers in 2016.


Ramakrishnan R, co- founder and director at Baseline Ventures says, “I won’t say there has been a slowdown in signings per se. But with demonetisation in the first quarter of the year and then the GST roll-out at the mid-year mark, a lot of these associations have not been announced. Brands have had to revise a lot of the back-end (operations) in light of the GST roll-out and so, the advertising and marketing aspect has been a bit slower than usual.” Baseline handles players like P V Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Ravinder Jadeja.


Bijoor believes that while brands are looking for new faces, some categories like e-commerce may still go in for the known names. “I also think that both brands and celebrities have become more conscious. Take Pepsi and its erstwhile endorsers Amitabh Bachchan and Virat Kohli. Both went on record to say they won’t endorse cola brands after their stints with the brand ended. No brand wants adverse publicity and they have become more cautious. On the other hand, with the accountability of celebrities endorsing brands increasing, the celebrities also perform a more rigorous due diligence before signing on the dotted line. One could say that the whole process (of signing a brand or celebrity) has become much more cumbersome,” he says.


There is also a change in the nature of the association. Ramakrishnan says, “Many brands are now going for tactical and cost effective ways to communicate. So the Gatorade campaign that Sindhu has done is a digital-first campaign. There are no TVC’s, just digital videos.” Many celebrities are also signing on as partners and investors, instead of just being endorsers to a brand and that brings in a whole new level of involvement. The times are definitely changing.

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