Celebrity endorsements in the digital age

Why do brands need a celebrity to endorse them? The answer is simple and not very surprising, brands have no life, but people do; brands want to associate with ‘real people’ to gain the rub-off from celebrity’s larger than life personality.

In this digital and social media era, where peer reviews and status updates can influence purchase decisions, does the concept of hiring a popular celebrity as your brand ambassador by paying a huge fee make any sense?

Kareena Kapoor in a TVC for Alpenliebe

View: How many brands are endorsed by Kareena Kapoor? Over 14 brands! including, Alpenliebe, Limca, Vivel, Citizen, Metro, Sony Vaio, Anne French, Head & Shoulders, Mahindra Duro, Lakme and Lavie. Applaud for yourself if you recalled more than five brands; and applaud again if you can recall alteast two other brands she endorses but are not mentioned here.

It is a cluttered world out there, getting audience’s attention is becoming increasingly difficult, and only a few celebrates are perceived as ‘larger than life’ by audience in general. Hence the over exposure of same celebrity by many brands; the inherited risk here is that, audience may see it as ‘this celeb will endorse any brand for a quick buck’

The template strategy to launch a brand through a celeb is a passé; consider a new smartphone launch, you just have to just buy some media space, hire a PR agency, sign-up for a celebrity and pull an invite only event for the page-3 crowd, and boom! Everyone talks about you for next few weeks, you have instantly reached the masses; and the cute actress you hired to endorse your smartphone may have no idea what OS it runs on, but her pretty smile, gorgeous dress and glamour quotient makes up for it.

Is this method effective in this age of digital and social media? Will your customer consider buying your brand because it is endorsed by a celebrity or will they dig for peer reviews, compare performance (remember the batter life?), check for deals and most importantly, the status associated with the parent brand (‘Samsung’ vs ‘Micromax’ as opposed to ‘S4’ vs ‘Canvas HD’)

For majority of the brands, social media has clearly evolved has a double edged sword, it can make or break brand imagery in a short period; in the age of c2c conversations, celebrity can only be an initial trigger. The solutions to build superior brand imagery are in the efficient hands of the brand managers.

As a brand manager, what do you want? A five crore spend on Kareen or a tweet that like Oreo’s super bowl moment?

Counter view: When mass media is still the major way to reach your target audience, the concept of celebrity endorsements makes complete sense, brands need a means to catapult their brand equity, brand goodwill has to be accelerated, and cutting the clutter and differentiating their offering is largely made possible by associating the brand to a real life person- a celebrity.

In the last decade, from FMCG to real estate to technology brands, a few celebrities have done it all in India, the legends are Sachin Tendulkar, Amithab Bachchan, Kareen Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, Shahrukh Khan; this trend is here to stay.

Micormax’s recent campaign with Huge Jackman (TVCs could have been much better though!) was done to change the perception of Micromax from a ‘cheap phone’ to a ‘superior but affordable smartphone’.

Digital or no digital, a brand needs to borrow or hitch on a celebrity’s shoulders to change perceptions and position their intended messages to a larger audience at once; social media is a medium where audience can be engaged, which is preceded by having brand imagery built by the celebrity in question.

What comes to your mind when you see or hear Boost? For me, it’s the nostalgic cheer cry ‘Boost is the secret of our energy’ by Kapil Dev and a young Sachin.

Whatever the category your brand belongs to, there’s always a relevant celebrity to associate for its imagery, but for this great personalities, these brands wouldn’t have been so successful today, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Samsung, Tata Sky, Lays, Ashok Leyland.