29 October 2015 13:11:30 IST

To celebrity or not to celebrity

No other country uses celebrities to the extent we use them in India; here’s why

As soon as you finish business school and get into a marketing job the ‘celebrity’ question will pop up during a boardroom meeting and it is quite likely that your CEO might ask “why don't we use a celebrity too?” Or he might ask in a meeting that you are part of “is our celebrity delivering? We are spending so much on her!” Questions like these are fairly common in India and why is that? No other country uses celebrities to the extent we use them in India.

This observation is research-based and not a mere impression. So many major brands have celebrities on board and every marketing manager and his brother-in-law seem to have signed on one, often for the cost of an arm and a leg. Is a celebrity really worth it? Or is it just a lottery? What works and what doesn’t? Let’s discuss this important topic over the next couple of weeks.

Costs vs Benefits?

Any management decision is essentially an evaluation of costs vs benefits. How much are we spending and what are we getting for this investment? Having decided on a celebrity another question that's fairly important remains. Do we have the money to spend on media after paying so much to the celebrity? (I have seen this happen with that a brand that signed on Shah Rukh Khan). How will the brand benefit? Will the campaign only increase the awareness or will it result in sales?

Sachin Tendulkar is my all time favourite but will I buy a car just because he endorses it? Or will I merely stop with seeing the ad and liking it?

The limited availability of funds throws up interesting possibilities as I may even look at TV stars as they are cheaper than film stars and yet have their own following as this ad (available in Telugu here) will show us.

Long-term strategy or quick fix?

The smartest brands that have benefited from celebrity advertising have used this as part of their long-term strategy. The name that readily comes to mind is Pepsi. Pepsi having deep pockets has been able to use two broad categories of celebrities - one from entertainment and the other from cricket, as Indians are generally crazy about both films and the game. So in a lighter vein; I guess they must be running commercials with actors when the cricket team loses by 214 runs in a one day international against South Africa and when the team does well (which is rare) they probably will run commercials featuring cricketers!

Here is one of their recent commercials which actually feature both a famous actor Ranbir Kapoor and the Indian captain Virat Kohli. I am sure you would have seen this commercial but here goes. As an aside why I really like this commercial is because it is true to the tone of voice of all Pepsi commercials and it actually pokes fun at the celebrities who are Pepsi’s brand ambassadors. Few brands would have the courage to make fun of themselves.

Here is another interesting Pepsi commercial from the past and guess who the celebrity is? Yes it is Aamir Khan, who before his Coke stint was actually the brand ambassador for Pepsi .

This leads me to the other challenge with celebrity endorsements and it is a real one. You don’t really have control over the celebrity’s life or commitments. He (or is it his manager) is his own master. So the important question that you need to think about is this. Is our strategy in place and do celebrities have a role to play in our brand’s life cycle or is it a mere passing fancy?

Are you using your celebrity’s full potential?

Let’s take these two broad categories we spoke about - cricketers and actors. Now what can cricketers do? They can play cricket and often brilliantly but they may not be able to emote even to save their lives. Here is a very successful commercial of yester year featuring Sachin Tendulkar for the brand TVS Victor. The marketers claimed that the use of Sachin made a big difference to the brand .

Sachin has to merely pose as a cricketer, because that’s his core competence and people expect him to play cricket and not act. So this poses all sorts of restrictions on the script. Now if you want to an actor like Amitabh Bachchan he has tremendous histrionic ability. He can bring scripts to life. Here are a few commercials done several years ago for Parker Pens which showcase his tremendous acting ability.

Ad 1

Ad 2

Ad 3

Let’s move to Aamir Khan and watch this commercial for Tata sky where he talks about the brand’s phenomenal picture clarity and you can see how the actor takes the script to a completely new high.

Yes, actors can make a big difference to the overall interest value of your TV commercial as long as your script is challenging. But there is another problem with actors and we will discuss that next week. So hang in there if you want to know more about celebrities...

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