Are the little stars twinkling enough?

Industry experts speak about the importance of celebrity and influencer endorsements, why celebrities are mainly crowned with trust, even though the role of influencers is increasingly growing and more…

Mar 17, 2022 04:33:00 AM | Article | Eularie Saldanha

In a country crazy about Bollywood and cricket, it comes as no surprise that brands ride on the raging success of superstars and cricketers to get noticed. A tea-time conversation might point at how celebrities with no brand relevance, find themselves glamorously vouching for the brand on screen, or against a mammoth hoarding atop a building.
 
However, even such an association seems to get a brand noticed and helps it start a conversation.
 
Then came social media and with it rose its influencers. Brands and marketers took notice of them and gave them a considerable chunk of their marketing pie. 
 
With their rise in popularity, Campaign India wondered if the role of either would be enfeebled. 
 
A quick discussion led to the belief that brands associate celebrities with credibility. We caught up with brands and brand experts to figure out whether our claim was plausible.
 
Why do brands pick celebrities?
 
The consensus is that while it takes engagement to draw in a consumer, awareness and being seen as credible remains the bigger challenge for many brands.
 
The awareness stage is when a celebrity walks down the marketer’s red carpet, to help the brand get noticed in a cluttered market. 
 
Poulomi Roy, CMO, RSH Global, which houses Joy Personal Care, believes that celebrities are needed to provide reassurance to customers. She said, “They have a mass appeal and lend brands their equity. The more attached people get to you, the more responsible you become because you realise that the way you conduct yourself and what you say, makes a difference. A celebrity's credibility is at a higher stake.”
 
However, some believe that in a Bollywood-obsessed country, the reason behind such an endorsement sees no logic. “Millions of fans look up to celebrities and might be willing to try anything they endorse. It works for urban-rural or metro and different tiers of cities and across media and helps get the brand noticed,” said Sanjay Tripathy, co-founder and CEO, Agilio Labs. 
 
When influencers influence 
 
Then comes the thought that smaller cohorts respond much better to micro and macro level influencers since they get consumers far more attached to the brand.
 
The fact that influencers are commoners causes instant relatability with their cohorts.
 
Talking about the pros of such an arrangement, Roy said, “Influencer marketing is interactive. You can click on links provided by the influencer in their posts, which directly take you to the site of the product. I would rather use influencers for smaller cohorts to build consideration and awareness.”
 
On the flip side, she highlighted that brands cannot hold influencers responsible, because they’re just doing something for the fun of it.
 
Nevertheless, acknowledging the fact that celebrities have been the holy grail for brands since prehistoric times, Apaksh Gupta, founder and CEO, One Impression, is delighted to see times changing. He stated, “Since niche brands are emerging and becoming giants, influencers are taking over the cards from celebrities, by creating relatable content on an almost daily basis.” 
 
The fault in our stars
 
Have you often wondered if celebrities use the products they endorse? Would Taapsee Pannu be galavanting in a pair of Lyra leggings, or Aishwarya Rai bathe with a Lux soap bar?
 
In 2009, Shah Rukh Khan, who was the brand ambassador for Dish TV, was said to have installed a Tata Sky (now Tata Play) satellite antenna atop his residence, Mannat. To add to the brouhaha, Tata Sky was then being endorsed by actor Aamir Khan. 
 
Samsung-sponsored popular Korean band BTS, celebrated their anniversary in 2020. They tweeted an anniversary message to their fans, however, using an iPhone. Realising what was to come, they quickly deleted the post and re-shared it from an Android device. However, viewers were ready to hound them with screenshots taken in a jiffy.  
 
These are just two of the many examples proving that brand loyalty might not be one of the celebrities’ strong suits. 
 
Tripathy believed that many brands don't care much about this, as the real consumer never saw what the celebrity is actually using. “Nevertheless, in the current age of social media and rapid boycott culture, consumers notice these anomalies and drop the brand like hot potato, if they are not convinced,” he added.
 
Roy shared that although her brand’s ambassadors don’t necessarily use the products on a daily basis, they are picked carefully based on the brand’s ethos.
 
JG Hosiery, which houses the brand Macho, too, claimed to pick Saif Ali Khan because his persona fits perfectly with the brand’s narrative of ‘Bade Aaaram Se’ (with great ease). 
 
In its recent campaign featuring actors Vicky Kaushal and Rashmika Mandanna, the brand wanted to portray the new age macho man, who knows how to handle attention from women. Speaking about why they picked this duo, Ninad Umargekar, the brand’s chief marketing strategist, said, “Kaushal sportingly handled the situation and Rashmika’s charm and magnetism helped the campaign steer clear of sleaze, due to which we have managed to differentiate from our competition.”

Fight or flight?
 
We have also seen various brands being grilled for the sins of their endorsers.
 
In January 2021, Adani Wilmar’s Fortune Rice Bran Oil’s brand ambassador Sourav Ganguly suffered a heart attack that resulted in an angioplasty. The cricket veteran was trolled for endorsing a brand that claimed to boost heart health.
 
Speaking of this, Roy expressed how people were foolish enough to think that using any kind of oil would prevent a heart attack. “The main problem is the kind of claim the brand makes and what it makes its celebrity do.”
 
Marketers insisted that a brand should hold its fort if a scandal involves the celebrity’s personal life and doesn’t necessarily tarnish the brand’s ethos.
 
For this reason, brands today draw up a contract with a very strong morals clause so that they can exit quickly if necessary.
 
Speaking of where marketers go wrong, Tripathy cited the example of athlete Neeraj Chopra, who was signed by many brands, soon after his Gold win at the Olympics. “While people will be happy to see the celebrity, they will miss the brand, as there is no real connection between the ambassador and the brand.” 
 
(Neeraj Chopra featured in the Cred, Tata AIA and GoodDot campaigns)
 
Again, Roy reminds brands that they do not completely ride on the shoulder of a celebrity, and have some equity of their own too.
 
However, with the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, celebrities are now mandated to conduct prior due diligence and verify the veracity of claims made by them, in relation to the goods or services they endorse.
 
Future of influencers vs celebrities
 
Experts stated that the motive for both, the influencer and celebrity is to take the brand communication forward to other people.
 
Nevertheless, a brand’s choice on whether to go with a celebrity or an influencer is usually influenced by many factors, explained Niti Kumar, COO, Starcom. “Budget, objective, markets and so on. Not all brands can afford the charges of an established celebrity, but influencers are usually more within reach. We are seeing an evolution towards brands doing a combination of activities to reach the fragmented youth consumer, hence, while celebrities are thriving, influencers will continue to grow.”
 
Gupta stated that while celebrities appeal to the masses and make them aware of any brand/product, influencers are the ones who drive actionability amongst them.
 
However, celebrity deals can today be extended to include their social media audiences as well.
 
Speaking of what this means for influencers, Kumar is certain that it would heat up the space, as influencers would now have to compete with established celebrities for brand money.