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3 Things to keep in mind while deciding Celebrity Associations

From Deepika Padukone as the face of Tanishq, to Juhi Chawla for Kurkure, or Amitabh Bachchan representing OnePlus, to Salman Khan endorsing Appy Fizz, the list of celebrity endorsements is endless. Nowadays, many brand managers, armed with millions of marketing bucks, find celebrity endorsements to be the easiest way of increasing brand awareness and brand relevance.

Celebrity associations is an expensive, but effective way of boosting your brand recall values, if carried out well. In my career, I have faced numerous temptations to sign up popular figures for new product launches. But each time, I would have to battle with a lot of questions. Would it benefit the brand? Would the ROI be justified? Would some other form of marketing be a better option?

Let me share with you 3 of the my considerations if I have to make such decisions.

1. Brand Personality vs Celebrity image

Before associating a brand with a celebrity, one should try to answer a few questions about the brand and the celebrity that is to be associated.

What is the brand image that you want your audience to perceive? What is the your brand personality? What is your target segment? Does the celebrity appeal to that particular demographic? Which idiosyncrasy of the celebrity resonates with the brand personality. If you get satisfactory answers to those questions, then you have cleared step 1. Now, lets look at the types of brand personalities.

There are 5 broad dimensions of brand personalities: Sincerity, Excitement, Ruggedness, Competence and Sophistication.

Sincerity is all about being honest, genuine, real. If your brand personality is sincere, you would need earthy kind of characters. Dove is one such brand which is of sincere personality.

The second dimension, Excitement, consists of characteristics such as: playful, imaginative, spirited and courageous. Red Bull would be one such brand.

Ruggedness, or toughness is the third dimension. Brand of this personality suggest outdoors nature and a certain forceful or powerful nature. The shoe brands Woodland, Nike, Reebok, etc are typical Rugged personality brands.

The fourth type of brand personality is Competence. As the name suggests, this brand personality is characterized by intelligence and being good at what it does. It represents success and reliability. Apple easily falls into this category, as do tech companies like OnePlus, IBM etc.

The last dimension is Sophistication. This type of brand personality represents the refined, the elegant products. Luxury brands or jewellery brands are of this type of personality.

Now, a brand can be of multiple personality types. For example, a brand can be both rugged and excitement types, or both competence and sophistication types. It just depends on what your brand strengths are and what you would want your brand to be known as.

Alright, now that we have clarity on the types of brand personalities, we just need to fit the type with the celebrities we are scouting. Usually the big ones in India are the Bollywood actors and Cricket stars.

Movie celebrities sometimes are easier to decide, due to the genre of their most popular movies. Akshay Kumar showing up in Ruff n Tuff jeans advert around 23 years ago brought in the gung-ho machismo from his early movies to the brand. Many of us kids switched from the usual stitched trousers to jeans just because he said, “Rough and tough ho, toh Ruff n Tuff jeans pehno”. The imagery was clear.

Likewise, Sachin endorsing Boost, Michael Jordan endorsing Nike, they are all relevant to the people who are likely to use those products. And those people look up to these idols. So, the target is clear.

Its pretty basic and simple actually. I mean, one can’t go very wrong with it. Unless, you go absolutely tangential with it, like having Sachin Tendulkar endorse beauty products, or having Anil Kapoor for hair removal products, or even have Hema Malini for an Energy snack bar. Just follow the brand personality and ask yourself why the celebrity is a great fit for the brand.

2. Value vs Price

One of the big questions we marketers need to answer often is: what is our marketing Return on Investment (ROI)?

When deciding on a celebrity, one must understand that this endorsement has to have a measurable impact on the brand, an ROI. It can either be in the form of sales, or reinforcement of the message we pass through out marketing communication.

More often than not, this is translated to sales growth achieved, as against the money invested into the campaign. Can this money invested be put into other streams instead? Could it be that hiring social media influencers would make more sense, or investing into BTL activities like sampling or activations would be more effective?

You have to weigh the options. Each of the major celebs would charge around Rs. 15-30 crores for a single campaign. On top of that, you need to spend heavily on the media spend to be actually make the campaign known. That’s quite a bit of money. Would you gain additional reach and subsequently obtain the adequate conversions to sales for the same?

Assuming it does, you would also have to decide which celebrity fits the bill. Lets say, you have crossed step 1 from above and selected the brand ambassadors who are suited to represent your brand. Lets say, Priyanka Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan (for the sake of comparison with available data). Who do you choose between them?

Priyanka Chopra has 23m followers on Instagram, as against Amitabh Bachchan who has a mere 9m followers. Based on the speculated figures sourced from the internet (which I have shared in the chart below), just for the sake of comparison, Chopra charges around twice the amount senior Bachchan charges. These figures might or might not be incorrect, but the point is, you have to weigh the reach and the value you are getting vs the price they are charging.

So, I would look at it this way: what is the cost per contact for this approach? In the above example, Priyanka Chopra wins hands down over Amitabh Bachchan. (Although you would first have to consider step 1 before qualifying the comparison.)

3. Risk of brand dilution

The third consideration I usually keep is about the risk of brand dilution. Celebrities are in great demand usually. You would find that most of them represent multiple brands. Is it really worth the money for the same person who represents apparels in one ad to represent toothpaste in another? It would be near impossible to get exclusive endorsements, but at least, we must try to choose wisely such that your brand imagery and other categories do not contradict radically.

A few examples I feel are Akshar Kumar representing Kwality for dairy products, and also representing Thumbs up doesn’t quite fit in my mind. Does it for you?

That’s not all, Akshay Kumar has been known to represent numerous other brands: Signature Whiskey, UP cleanliness mission, Lodha group, Prince Pipes, Policy Bazaar, Paisa Bazaar, Dollar Club, Eveready, Micromax, Honda, Rasna, Sparx shoes, well, the list is quite long. I will let you be the judge of the synergy between the brand imagery amongst these brands.

Likewise, many other celebrities have long lists, and still brands keep signing them up for endorsing their brand. I have compiled a list below for understanding how long those lists go and how much they charge.

If you ask me, I would rather put my money on someone fresh and as exclusive as possible. If I can’t find them, I would rather not have it at all. The over used ambassadors would only lead to dilution of my brand equity. So, that should be a major deciding point for choosing any celebrity as the brand ambassador.

Caveats and the conclusion:

Brand ambassadors can benefit; but they can be risky too.

Celebrities are often loose cannons. You don’t control their lives or their actions. Many a time, huge celebrities have let their fans down. This leaves the brands in a lurch. Imagine Nike rooting for someone so strongly, showering millions of dollars and claiming strong association with someone like Lance Armstrong all through the years, and then overnight, he is no longer the poster boy for Nike. How about that?

Armstrong is not the only one. Tiger Woods caused his sponsors Nike, Gatorade and a few others to lose upto 12 billon dollars in shareholder value. Things could go topsy turvy fast with major celebrity endorsements.

But I guess, risks do not deter many. After all, despite the controversies, Nike retained Tiger Woods as one of the brand ambassadors. Even in India, Salman Khan was signed early 2018 to endorse Emami group’s food products, although he has been convicted and has multiple other cases against him, one of which is murder.

So, probably, in many cases, brand owners feel the returns are likely as high as the risks. But in my book, the above 3 rules matter. Follow the 3 rules and you will be in control of your brand.

Please feel free to leave your comments or inputs below.

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