Celebrity endorsements: not always the lazy option but can be

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In advertising circles, many mock the use of celebrities in campaigns seeing it as a lazy option. ‘Could not think of a decent creative idea, so decided to sign up a celebrity’ is the explanation. There is some truth in that. The recent controversy about the signing of a ‘right celebrity’ for the Incredible India campaign is an example – where it is somehow assumed that a brand endorser is a must. Fact is the Incredible India campaign idea has been running successfully for years without resorting to a celebrity spokesperson. In my experience, sometimes the discussion on signing up a celebrity happens even before the creative ideation begins. Usually it is family-run, FMCG companies who take this route, signing up the star of the day. In such cases, the product story could be very weak or it may not have any differentiation at all – I mean, a banian is banian is a banian. And so we have a familiar face endorsing the banian in the hope that it will create brand awareness. Ditto with soaps, hair oils and such like. Very often this approach works especially in categories where there is little to say by of product differentiation – if it weren’t, CMOs wouldn’t be continuing the practice for decades.

There was a time when only a handful of brands could afford to sign up celebrities, competition wasn’t rife in a category and celebrities were choosy too. So the presence of a celebrity in advertising was a bit of a rarity. Now all of the above scenarios aren’t true so we have a lot more of it across categories. The way a celebrity can be used also differs – playing a character or as the celebrity himself or herself. The former can take a namesake approach (a celebrity as a family man driving the car in a car ad) or a more endearing one (like Aamir Khan in the old Coke ads). The latter approach is the more common one with the celebrity endorsing anything from a jewellery brand to a kitchen scrubber. The reason-why CMOs love signing up celebrities is short term awareness – many new or relatively unknown brands owe their visibility in mass media & word of mouth to the presence of a celebrity. So there is an element of ‘easy way out’ but this instant awareness works great for social causes.

The role of Amitabh Bachchan – angrily chiding, coaxing users to help get rid of polio, is often cited as a great example of how celebrity endorsements can play a critical role in marketing.

Pandey, 60, winner of over 800 advertising awards, said that out of all his works, his all-time favourite campaign is the polio eradication drive. “This was the greatest campaign for me ever as the results achieved were even greater.” The government’s drive endorsed by Bachchan saw India become 100% polio free, a major achievement considering most other social ads yield mixed results. The advertisement saw an old but angry Bachchan reach out to the nooks and corners of the nation, chiding women for not having administered their children the two drops of vaccine.

Matt Damon’s association with has also helped the cause gain visibility. Justice For Muttur is a powerful film and a real cause – but not many would have heard of it – maybe a celebrity spokesperson would have got better visibility. So there is a strong reason for celebrity endorsement in some cases. The trouble is marketing & advertising folks take that route as a default one even if the product has a chance to tell a compelling story of its own.

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