In this day and age of ‘woke’ customer that’s dominantly Millennial and Gen-Z, tried and tested celebrity brand endorsements formula is proving lacklustre in India
The star power that Indian celebrities hold is the stuff that any marketer’s dreams are made of. In a country like India where people emulate their favourite celebs to a great extent be it clothes they wear, cars they drive, thoughts they echo – celebrity endorsement is a must… or is it?
What’s in a Face?
Using well-known faces to enhance brands value is an age-old method of marketing. As per a GroupM-ESP’s report, over the past decade, celebrity-led endorsements have increased from 650 in 2007 to 1,660 in 2017, representing a steady CAGR of 10%.
Various Indian brands engage celebrities to promote their product. For example, ethnic wear brand Manvayar capitalised heavily on a promotional campaign featuring sports icon Virat Kohli and his movie star girlfriend Anushka Sharma.
In India film stars dominate 76 per cent share of the endorsement market followed by sports stars at 12 per cent. While the personal care, banking and jewellery segment prefer female endorsers, the automobile, real estate, smartphones and e-commerce market tend to go for males.
E-commerce giant Flipkart, used the celebrity engagement on a wider scale for its annual Big Billion Days sale 2019. It had the largest ensemble of celebrities promoting one single brand for the same campaign. The A-list celebs included Deepika Padukone, Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Amitabh Bachchan, Saina Nehwal, Diljit Dosanjh, appearing in various advertisements along with many regional stars.
The validation that stars bring to brands in India is quite visible. Arvind Krishnan, MD of Bartle Bogle Hegarty India told Brand Equity, “In any ad-break, count the number of non-celebrity pieces of work that run, and you would be surprised.”
How Times Change
But this was Philip Kotler’s dictum, ‘using celebrities to cut through the clutter’. In the changing times, celebrities are becoming the clutter.
In this day and age of ‘woke’ customer that’s dominantly Millennial and Gen-Z, things are easier said than done. For example, for the new customer, a brand’s perspective on the environment, sustainability, and socio-political alignment matter more than faces. Social controversies pertaining to political, environmental, and cultural appropriation regularly hit brands. Many of such controversies stem directly from actions of endorsing celebrities. These all culminate into a ripple effect, heavily influencing customers’ purchase decisions.
Case in point – actor Deepika Padukone visited and stood in solidarity with Jawaharlal Nehru University students during the anti-CAA protest. She instantly became the most trending topic on the internet with criticism and praise in equal portions. Soon followed reports of ‘re-evaluation’ of her current endorsement deals and delay in ads featuring her. Marketers shelved campaign plans and waited for the controversy to die down.
Another such example of celebrity brand endorsement would be actor Aamir Khan, whose remark on ‘rising intolerance’ in India cost him an endorsement contract with Snapdeal. Not only that, Aamir was no longer the face for the Indian Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Incredible India’ campaign. The tourism ministry, in its alibi, claimed the move as a bid to make the campaign more ‘people-centric’ than ‘person-centric’. Therefore, they cut the Bollywood megastar and instead focused on non-celebrity personalities.
The Risks involved in engaging celebrities
Similar instances in the recent past have opened up a conversation about the ‘risk’ involved for brands in engaging celebrities. Brands need to synchronize their value with the celeb brand value for people to relate to the product. This again is easier said than done. Nestle’s director and executive vice president South Asia, Arvind Bhandari tells Brand Equity, “In future, celebrities’ personal convictions should be understood and brought in sync with that of the brands. Without these guards, expect a disaster waiting to happen.”
Social controversies make marketers rethink the ‘value of stars’. A Khan, Kapoor, Dhoni, Kohli or Padukone do bring brands access to an easy recall. However, enough brands work perfectly well without them.
Think of Amul, Fevicol, Parle-G, Maggi, Amazon, or Benetton. All are affirmations to the idea that celebrity brand endorsement isn’t the only way.