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. It can also create media and promotion opportunities that sweep the consumer off her feet. Research conducted by Katherine Eckel, professor of economics at U.S. Virginia Tech, has revealed that celebrities or ‘higher status agents’ can get people to make a better choice but cannot influence ‘people to make a foolish choice’. 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. This phenomenon is reflected in the recent market research finding that 8 out of 10 TV commercials scoring the highest recall were those with celebrity appearances. A few examples: Sachin Tendulkar-Adidas, Sourav Ganguly-Britannia, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati-J. Hampstead, Shah Rukh Khan-Pepsi, Sushmita Sen-Epson and Aishwarya Rai-Coke. The effectiveness of the endorser depends upon the meaning he or she brings to the endorsement process. There is a three-stage process of meaning transfer which involves the formation of the celebrity image, transfer of meaning from celebrity to brand and finally from brand to consumer. This is what leads to effective celebrity advertising.
The selection of a celebrity for a brand is done primarily on the basis of a marketing brief prepared either by the corporate or the advertising agency. Once the relationship between the brief, the brand and the celebrity is established, the association is accomplished. For example, when S. Kumar was to launch its new range of readymade garments, Tamariind, there was the realization that one brand of apparel couldn’t be very different from the others, and what would make the difference was the packaging. So in came teen heartthrob Hrithik Roshan. The brand personality of Tamariind matches that of Hrithik — Tamariind being a new brand and Hrithik the new heartthrob. The idea behind Tamariind is the ‘flavor you wear’ — a brand catering to the fun-loving and adventurous youth. And the ambassador chosen is a successful and extremely exciting personality — a youth icon of today’s times. So the marriage is apt and justified.
The best advertising comes from a deep understanding of the consumer and how he/she connects with your brands. Therefore, the jhatka of Mirinda needs a personality with a sense of humour. That’s Govinda and Amitabh for you. However, there’s one fact that advertisers using celebrity endorsements need to keep in mind — never let the celebrity become your brand. In doing so, one runs the risk of killing the brand no sooner has the hype and hoopla around the celebrity faded.
A classic example of the above is Dinesh Suitings, where Sunil Gavaskar, the brand spokesperson, was allowed to rule the brand, thus becoming bigger than it. No sooner had the association ceased than the brand lost its identity, thereby creating confusion in people’s minds.
Therefore, the use of a celebrity must be proportionate to the objective. It is also important for one to be completely clear about why a brand should use a celebrity. Is it to boost sales or to boost image? Or is it just to keep the brand alive? If the objective is increase of sales, the celebrity should be used for short-term promotions and brand activities. (A classic example is the Rani Mukherjee campaign for Bata which is believed to have helped boost sales for the ladies’ footwear brand, Sundrop, by a whopping 500 per cent.) In the event of an image-building exercise, the celebrity can be used for a longer period of time, so that the brand can derive the benefit of the celebrity’s image on its own.
The association of Sushmita Sen, ex-Miss Universe, helped the brand Epson achieve instant recognition in the computer printer category even in the presence of other big brands in the market place. This is the power of celebrity endorsements,