Celebrity endorsement of products can fulfill either a strategic or a tactical purpose. In the case of Taj Mahal Tea, Zakir Hussain fulfills a strategic role. He is a brand ambassador. An intrinsic part of the brand itself in many ways. Distancing such celebrities from the brand at hand is a tough task. At times, the celebrity in question assumes a larger than life image that overshadows the brand and its delivery appeal.
In the case of a Coke or a Pepsi, the celebrity is pretty much a tactical initiative that is run for a period of time to plug a particular proposition. In tactical initiatives that embrace celebrities, the name of an individual who is the flavor of the month is pretty much of an incidental issue. It is pretty easy to divorce celebrity from brand, and yet retain brand sanity.
It has become a fashionable thing to use celebrities when you want your brand to jump into a point of contemporaneity that would otherwise take a great deal of effort to build in the good old way. The celebrity is an easy route! It hits back at you at times. Look at all the money that went with Hansie Cronje and our very own Salman Khan! In the case of our very own Mr Khan, shooting a Chinkara worried many a wildlife enthusiast. A later violent image on the sets dampened it more. A much later accident in a drunken state drove in the nail further!
I am sure now we have got a hold on the subject matter. To go on with more examples, there’s young Chandrachur Rocky Singh flaunting his choice of suitings and there is Raveena singing of love and a ballpoint pen. Akshay in Ruf and Tuf jeans. The other Akshaye on a speedboat surfing in his father’s footsteps, on lime freshness.
Amitabh Bachchan hamming it as himself and his screen characters in a corporate film for a consumer electronics giant. This is advertising’s very own star track. And the star system is working out of the film star circuit as well. Cricket has created its own ad stars… Sachin Tendulkar, Azhar, Rahul Dravid… as their rating points go up so does their advertising appeal. Internationally tennis, baseball, basketball and soccer stars command millions in endorsement money while film stars have always plugged their choice of brands, all for a neat sum of money. Andre Agassi in Nike ads, Shaquille O’ Neill in the Pepsi commercials, Michael Jordan recommending his signature line from Nike, Air Jordan and players coming together to claim, “this is my planet” for Reebok.
In Indian advertising the celebrity is hot property. The film star celebrity is naturally first choice. There are clients who come in from small towns with wads of cash looking for an ad film script and with a clear agenda… to make a film with their favourite star. But the film star route is not restricted to small towners alone flip through the ads and you will notice as many multinationals using star power, to sell their products. Why do we choose celebrities to endorse products when it costs an arm and a leg to put a celebrity under contract? Why do we deal with celebrity managers and the whole gamut of celebrity management to get the star of our choice, whose choice does the star finally represent, a star-struck client’s or the consumer’s? What happens to a brand if it becomes indistinguishable from the celebrity endorsing it, like the Nawab of Pataudi and Gwalior suitings? What happens when in an ironic twist a spokesperson becomes a celebrity because of brand advertising and then becomes larger than the brand like Lalitaji in the old Surf commercials?
What happens when you run out of celebrity testimonials or endorsements can actually work two ways. One to bring quick memorability, recall and recognition for your brand which helps when your brand is fairly new so you can cash in on the linkage. If you are a multinational it helps you project an Indian face and often a popular Indian face. Celebrity testimonials work when your product makes logical sense in the celebrity’s life… like a beauty cream for film stars, a range of tough wear for a tough guy, a memory supplement for an aging prime minister, a pair of shoes for a famous player, and by logical transference of this peek into the celebrities behind-the-scenes life, make it relevant to our own. But celebrity testimonials can never be an easy way out if you are looking at some long-term brand building. For that you need a creative idea and a celebrity is no substitute for an idea. A film with an all-starcast can still flop if the script and story don’t deliver. The consumer like the public is discerning.
What makes a celebrity testimonial work at a point of time when words like brand building and realism and real people are the current buzz. Strangely the same climax that has thrown up a host of real commercials, featuring real people with real emotions, really using the brand in question and subscribing wholly to brand values. The same consumer who is exposed to Surf Excel advertising is also exposed to Govinda in the doodh-ganga ad and Madhuri in the Lux commercial. But the consumer is willing to see category differentiation. A film star in a beauty soap ad is acceptable, but a film star endorsing a dish washing powder may require an unimaginable suspension of belief.
In India today, the use of celebrity advertising for companies has become a trend and a perceived winning formula of corporate image-building and product marketing Associating a brand with a top-notch celebrity can do more than perk up brand recall. It can create linkages with the star’s appeal, thereby adding refreshing and new dimensions to the brand image.