Celebrity Advertising: Does it Make Things Easy?

Do celebrity endorsements just improve the ‘shelf life’ of the advertisement, or do they influence the purchase decision directly? Or, in other words, is the star, as a salesman, effective?

A celebrity may be seen as a testament, an endorsement, or as a company spokesperson.

Testimonials: If the celebrity has personally used the product or service and is in a position to attest to its quality, he or she may give a testimonial citing its benefits. Aishwarya Rai testifies to having used L’Oreal Hair colour and vouches for its benefits. Or in the case of the ads released by Cadbury’s following the worm infestation incident, Amitabh Bachchan was asked to visit the factory premises, inspect the conditions of production and then testify in favour of the chocolates.

Endorsement: Celebrities are often asked to lend their names to products or services of which they may or may not be experts. For example, Naseeruddin Shah endorses Sunola Oil and the ad features him extolling the health benefits of using sunflower oil. Although he may not be a nutritionist, the fact remains that being a public figure, he lends credibility to the brand.

Spokesperson: A celebrity who represents a brand or company over an extended period of time, often in print and television advertisements, and in personal appearances, is usually called a company spokesperson. Eventually, the celebrity’s appearance becomes closely associated with the brand or company. For example, Shah Rukh Khan is the spokesperson for Tag Heuer watches.

However, these days, almost all brands are resorting to celebrity-endorsed campaigns, often with the result that one celebrity, owing to his star status in the industry, endorses numerous brands at the same time. To cite instances, Amitabh Bachchan endorses more than a dozen products from Parker pens, ICICI homeloans, Cadbury Chocolates, Dabur to Navratna Oil. Sharukh Khan features in ads for Santro, Bagpiper, Airtel, Pepsi and many others. Isn’t looking at the number of ads in which a single celebrity features deceptive? Can we actually associate the brand with him? Doesn’t it lead to overexposure of the celebrity? Also, does it dilute the impact of the celebrity and lead to confusion about the brands amongst the consumers? For example, although Amitabh Bachchan is the brand ambassador for Nerolac Paints, a recent survey revealed that people actually associated him with Asian Paints. In this case, celebrity endorsement proved to be counterproductive for Nerolac. Should there then be a cap on the number of advertisements done by celebrities, or should the celebrity pledge his loyalty to the brand for life?

Mega brands don’t always depend on celebrities to hard sell for them. Coke has a policy of not getting its products endorsed through celebrities throughout the world. But in India they joined the bandwagon. Is it imperative for the company to use celebrities? Consider companies like Hero Honda that have recently switched to the concept of celebrity advertising. Is the switch justified considering the sale it already generates in the auto industry?

Advertisers spend enormous sums of money to have celebrities promote their products, with the expectation that the reading or viewing audience will react positively to the celebrity’s association with their product. However, recently there have also been instances, where brands have had to pay a heavy price for the fallibility of their ambassadors. Hansie Cronje, Azharuddin, and Ajay Jadeja had to be pulled out of all ads after the match-fixing scandal. Mike Tyson was dropped by Diet Pepsi after the heavyweight champ’s much publicised marital problems. Salman Khan’s ads were stopped after he was caught in the deer hunting case.

With celebrity endorsements and testmonials having become so lucrative that a special branch of the publicity sub-industry has evolved to manage them, what is the risk- to- return ratio that an ideal marketer should be ready to take?

Many believe that it is the instrument of foolish marketers. They stand by the fact that the stars mislead consumers instead of guiding them and, they themselves might switch leaving the consumers perplexed.E.g Aamir Khan and Aiswarya Rai earlier endorsed Pepsi but are now seen in Coke ads.These products are direct competitors in the Indian market. Does this then have a negative impact on the consumers?

Amitabh Bachchan, the most dignified personality of Indian cinema is seen endorsing products like Navratna Oil, and Sachin Tendulkar endorses Today’s Pens. Is there a mismatch between the personlity and the product? Sachin Tendulkar endorsing Boost is acceptable, but his endorsing Today’s pen is confusing. Similarly, Navratna Oil is not seen as a high end product, and hence does not match the stature of Amitabh Bachchan. Is it true that the Indian advertiser first selects the celebrity and then decides on the product, thus creating a blunder? Does this reveal an increasing bankruptcy in the creative circles of the advertising world? Should there be more focus on deciding the product first and then the celebrity?

Another point to consider is whether the celebrity is responsible enough to actually examine the product thoroughly before lending his name to it. Many a time, the monetary factor is the only consideration, and a dubious product endorsed by a celebrity may end up doing harm. A case in point would be the erstwhile high profile ads for Home Trade, featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan and Shahrukh Khan. They were reportedly paid astronomical amounts for their endorsement. A lot of people were misled by the initial publicity the company received, thanks to the star studded campaigns. When the company crashed, one was left wondering if the celebrities promoting the product were motivated merely by the moolah and never questioned the product’s credibility.

Often celebrity endorsements for certain products such as alcohol and cigarettes lead impressionable minds to see it as an approval. Bagpiper ads featuring Sharukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Dharmendra and Baba Zarda with Govinda and Amjad Khan are some of the examples. Not all personalities, however, are lured by the big bucks. Badminton champ P. Gopinath refused to endorse colas as he felt that they were harmful to kids and he wouldn’t consume it himself. This only sets the tone for some principled thinking by both corporate houses as well as their brand ambassadors.