If Hrithik Roshan dances in every TV commercial that he does, will that reduce brand recall? Possibly it will.
Does having multiple celebrities for a single brand dilute the association? Sure it does.
Do consumers feel that too many products are being promoted by celebrities in India? Yes, they are.
These are just some of the findings and conclusions from 'Food For Thought', a celebrity 'sensor' report released by Mediaedge:cia's (MEC) consumer insight and ROI division MEC MediaLab.
The study was conducted among 24,272 adults in 25 countries across Europe, Asia, North and Latin America and the India research had a sample of 1004 adults.
The Indian sample size has thrown up some results that would certainly interest brand managers and marketers.
For example, the study found that while celebrity interest among consumers is high, multiple brand endorsements by celebrities confuses consumers and reduces correct brand and celebrity associations. About 75% of the consumers polled believe that too many products are promoted by celebrities in India.
Jon Wright, regional director, Asia Pacific, MEC MediaLab explains, "The popularity level of celebrities was on the whole higher than the global average, and endorsement remains a powerful tool for marketers in India, despite the potential over-exposure. Significantly, people in India were more likely than the global average to want to interact with celebrity content online (among a comparable urban online population), demonstrating the depth of involvement people want to have with celebrities and therefore the opportunities for brands to extend the effectiveness of communications."
There's still some good news for celebrities (and their managers).
The research shows that celebrity endorsement still plays an important role in generating brand salience and positively affects brand image. Over 57% of those polled believe that celebrity endorsement makes a brand stand out. A majority state that it 'enhances' a brand's personality.
However the findings also state that, what celebrity endorsement doesn't appear to do, is build brand trust or belief in product efficacy. It doesn't encourage word of mouth either.
Shubha George, COO, MEC South Asia says, "At its most extreme, using popular celebrities with multiple endorsement deals can actually reduce brand saliency."
For example, when asked which brand Indian consumers most associate with Kareena Kapoor, out of 51 brands named unprompted, only Airtel (17%) and Boroplus (10%) achieved double digit recall.
Ditto for Dhoni - for 81 unprompted brand associations in consumers' minds, only Boost (12%) and Pepsi (10%) reached double digits.
Which brings out the study's most important finding - one of celebrity endorsement's greatest strengths - driving brand salience - can be completely negated by a celebrity who is spread too thinly across brands.
George says, "While the problem of multiple endorsements impairing brand salience is real and likely to stay, partnerships remain an important and effective marketing tool for many brands, when done well. Brands must take a long term view on celebrity and like any marketing investment, it must have a targeted measurable return."
George cites Shah Rukh Khan (Hyundai), Sachin Tendulkar (Boost), Amitabh Bachchan (Reid & Taylor, Dabur, Cadbury) as examples of successful long standing brand-celebrity associations. "All of these associations are almost a decade old, if not more," she says.
Amongst recent examples Abhishek Bachchan (Idea Cellular) and Aamir Khan (Tata Sky) also emerge as associations led by a powerful central thought that not binds the brand and celebrity, but also uses the celebrities beyond their recognisable face.
What's more, casting a celebrity as a screen 'avatar' can be dangerous and must the avoided, the research says. "Everyone knows Hrithik Roshan as a great screen dancer, but having him dance in all commercials reduces brand recall. Amongst those polled, only 5% recall Hide & Seek, a Hrithik Roshan-endorsed brand," the study states.
Lastly, the study urges marketers to invest more in media, since "under-investing in media kills the association without even an opportuniyu to test the strength of the association". Celebrities must be used as part of the overall communications strategy and not just as a standalone activity.