27 Jan 2020 20:16 IST

Using a celebrity to sell your product? You must be kidding!

Rushing into a celebrity endorsement without doing proper homework smacks of a lazy strategy

A recent study on celebrity endorsements merely reinforced something that I had always suspected. Most celebrity endorsements in the Indian context tend to work sub-optimally at best, leaving consumers confused as to who’s endorsing what. Here are a few figures for you to mull over:

— A fourth of Indian ads use celebrities as endorsers. That’s a whopping 25 per cent.

— Virat Kohli endorses 43 brands and MS Dhoni 44.

— Amitabh Bachchan still endorses 40 brands! And Vidya Balan 34.

Do you really think consumers associate the brands with the celebrity who endorses them? With so much dilution and confusion around the brand and the celebrity, does it make sense to pour crores of rupees into such a strategy?

Yes, celebrity endorsements work. But let me quickly tell you that, at times, we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Reading this far, you might think celebrities are to be avoided like the plague. Hardly, as there have been instances of brands that have strategically, consistently and effectively used celebrity endorsements with great success over the years. Pepsi is one such brand that has used celebrities very successfully over the years, both internationally and in India. Here’s one, from times past:



Nike too has had enormous success with its strategic choice of celebrities who were not only tremendous athletes, but also had a phenomenal, distinctive attitude, whether it was Andre Agassi or Shane Warne. Enormously successful athletes who even flouted the rules at times.

Closer home, how can one forget Lux, the iconic brand of HUL, that most of us grew up with and the film star’s soap that featured Sridevi when I was young and now features Deepika Padukone.



What’s the secret of their success?

There’s no denying the long-term success of these brands, nor can one ignore the role that celebrity endorsements played in their success. It is important to remember one thing though. The brands had a long-term view of their strategy and had committed to celebrity endorsements for years to come. How many Indian brands think long-term? Is celebrity endorsement the best strategy that they can realistically follow or are they taking the easy way out in quickly improving the brand’s awareness?

Let’s not forget that today’s ‘get rich quick’ brand managers too want to quickly make an impact, get a promotion and move on; and celebrity endorsement may certainly be one way to do this. But who’s thinking about the brand’s long-term health?

So what should young marketing professionals do?

When you are trying to figure out the best communicated strategy for your brand, there could be multiple pressure points to use celebrities. Aggressive managers of celebrities who are indiscriminately promoting their clients, ad agencies who have run out of creative ideas, your boss who wants to meet the celebrity, your spouse even... So what must you do? Here are a few questions worth considering when you need to take that million-dollar decision.

· What are the costs vs benefits of using a celebrity? After paying out huge sums, do you have money to put behind media?

· Does the celebrity’s personality match the desired personality of the brand you are trying to project?

· If the celebrity is a sportsperson, is his/her career graph on the up? Remember that it’s not easy to predict this.

· Have you considered sports other than cricket, rather than going with the overused top stars?

· If you are using an actor, does the script challenge the actor to superior performance, making it a memorable commercial?

· And, last but not the least, the script itself. How good is the commercial on its own merits and how interestingly does it feature the celebrity.

So what’s the bottom-line? Naysayers have a role too in the corporate world as long as you are able to sound like a wet blanket and if you are able to back your arguments with numbers. Rushing into a celebrity endorsement without doing proper homework smacks of a lazy strategy. Brands must constantly strive to be unique. All too often, using a celebrity can end up making your brand appear “me too”.

Who wants to be a ship that passes you by in the night in today’s competitive world? Think about it.