Celebrity endorsements: Getting it right!

Once in a while, incidents like the Coronavirus pandemic disrupt and transform the way we live or conduct business. Over the last few months, companies have totally rejigged their business models, revisited their FY business plans, paused or slashed their marketing budgets, and reduced salaries or workforce, with the underlying objective- to minimise losses, stay afloat and stay relevant.

In 2020, when a majority of the world’s population was forced to spend months staying indoors, organisations, irrespective of their industry or the size of their business operations have been forced to alter their marketing plans. Marketing has primarily become digital, and a large number of companies have moved to purpose-driven marketing, so as to connect and engage with their customers.

Celebrity endorsements, the tried and tested formula for driving brand awareness, have also seen an overhaul of sorts. The traditional version that included celebrities committing close to 80% of their time for offline activities, like product launches, ad films, TVC shoots etc., is seeing a change with more time commitment and deliverables linked to the digital platforms. The budgets in this case have also seen a cut and a lot of celebrity endorsements have moved to digital, with brands preferring to work with celebrities for a short digital campaign so as to drive brand connect with a certain category of customers.

How celebrity endorsements help

In a country like India, celebrity endorsements have always helped to build that instant connect with a larger set of audience. The primary reason for this is that celebrities have millions of fans that believe in them and listen to what they have to say. There is also a category of people who treat these celebrities as their ideals and blindly follow whatever they say. Hence, a single post on a celebrity’s social media platform has a power to reach millions across the world.

There are numerous examples of brands that have successfully leveraged the power of celebrities to become renowned names in their industry. Brands like a Nike or Adidas, which are seen amongst the most renowned brands in their category globally, have successfully leveraged endorsement marketing. Nike has celebrities like Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Michael Jordan endorsing it, that has helped the brand connect with a wide range of customers. Adidas has carved a niche for itself in India with its association with cricketers and relevant sports stars, from time to time.

Another advantage of celebrity endorsements is that, in tough times, when a business is trying extra hard to reach out to its customer base, a celebrity helps break through the clutter easily and increase the brand salience.

Celebrity endorsements: The new hacks to make this work

In 2020 and the post Covid world, there is a need for celebrities to create more immersive content to be able to create impact. Also, building personal connect with the customers is the key for celebrities endorsing specific brands. Brands understand that being real is what is working well- and hence, an FMCG brand would prefer to partner with an actress who would have posted a video washing utensils in the kitchen, or a famous actor who was seen mopping the floor of his home in his last Instagram post. Brands need to be cautious and not choose celebrities on the basis of their popularity, but opt for those who are okay to move away from larger-than-life image as this will help them better connect with their audience.

Here are some more tips that can help get celebrity endorsement right:

Carefully select the celebrity

It is advisable to carefully pick the celebrity who will endorse your brand. Ideally, a brand’s views on environment, cultural diversity, freedom of expression, etc, should match with the personal views of the celebrity, so as to make better impact and also avoid undue crisis. For example, celebrities like Akshay Kumar or John Abraham who are seen as fitness enthusiasts are a good option for brands dealing in fitness products, wearables, fitness chain or a wellness supplement. Shilpa Shetty is another fitness guru and yoga practitioner, making her a good fit for health and wellness brands as well as brands in the women wellness space.

Authentic and topical communication

Brands should engage with celebrities who can push out authentic content across their digital platforms. They should be relatable and down-to earth. Also, the messaging needs to be topical and in sync with the times. For example, when the country was in lockdown, Indian badminton star PV Sindhu shot short videos and re-shared content for brand partners, from her home. The messaging was around creating awareness about the need of ‘staying home, staying safe’.

Crafting a positive image

Sometimes brands might have faced a crisis and need to rebuild a positive image. In such scenarios, they should select celebrities who are trusted and have mass appeal. For example, when Cadbury faced backlash due to worms in its popular Dairy Milk chocolates, it decided to sign up Amitabh Bachchan to help reinstate trust and brand credibility by communicating the steps taken by the brand to ensure such crisis does not happen again. Amitabh Bachchan is a living legend with a mass appeal that cuts across cities, segments and age groups. He is seen as a trustworthy and honest citizen. Millions look upto to him. This endorsement of the brand by Mr. Bachchan really helped the brand win the trust of its customers again.

Building emotional connect

To beat the blues due to economic and overall uncertainty, there is a need for brands to create campaigns that are positive in nature. The pandemic has drastically changed the customer behavior. Brands that are positive and able to build an emotional connect with the customers’ lives through their campaigns will have an edge over others. Hence, they should explore working with celebrities who are seen as go-getters and positive in their viewpoint towards life.

Digital is the way forward

Companies are fast realising that with the pandemic not going out of our lives any time soon, there is a need to focus more on the digital campaigns as people spend more time on the Internet. Companies are realigning their existing contracts to focus on digital campaigns. Even traditional advertisers have moved from big annual campaign to more topical ads with celebrities acting as influencers across various digital platforms. Take the example of Pepsi Co. that works with A-listers for its various brands. The company has totally realigned its strategy and focusing on influencer led campaigns. The recent ‘Smile Deke Dekho’ and ‘Heartwork’ çampaigns for Lay’s were digital and the brand worked with over 2,000 influencers.

The more the merrier

The customer today is the kind who tends to get bored easily. He/she demands variety, and likes new and intriguing content, especially on the digital platforms. Hence, brands have started working with multiple celebrities to keep the freshness alive, and ensure that the customers are more engaged. The new age brands like Flipkart already follow the practice of associating with multiple celebrities for their key campaigns like the Big Billion Days. The mantra of associating with multiple celebrities is here to stay.

 Rise of alternate stars

The customer has moved on from being influenced by only their favourite actor or celebrity. Today, there are a number of TV stars, celebrities from OTT platforms, as well as bloggers, who are extremely popular. With tighter budgets, brands should explore associating with these smaller and micro celebrities.

To sum it up..

There is also the other side. In the times of social media, celebrity endorsements have their set of challenges. Brands do not have much control on the views voiced by celebrities on their social media channels. This could act as a ticking bomb. There are numerous examples of how brands had to bear the brunt when their partner celebrity shared his/her view on social media. One of the recent examples is about Aamir Khan and his statements on ‘rising intolerance in India’. This opinion was not taken well and Aamir Khan faced immense backlash. Sadly, Snapdeal and other brands associated with Aamir had to face the heat of the customers. Snapdeal decided to not renew its contract with Aamir and issued a notification that said “Snapdeal is neither connected nor plays a role in comments made by Aamir Khan in his personal capacity.”

Hence, it is important for brands to careful select the celebrity that they want to partner with. Brands should focus more on leveraging digital platforms for celebrity-led promotions. The messaging and the storytelling should be impactful, so as to ensure higher brand recall. Lastly, brands should explore partnering with multiple celebrities, and not put all their eggs in one basket.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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