A majority of ads go un-noticed. That’s a worse state to be in than being noticed and disliked. An ad being noticed but evoking indifference in the viewer is also a sub-optimal state to be in. In this context, many marketers (and agencies) believe that celebrity endorsement is the solution for the ad to be noticed, creating brand name awareness and affinity. If only it was that simple.
Celebrity endorsements – from marketers POV
Creating brand awareness, positive brand associations and appeal among the target audience are often the reasons why brands pay a hefty fee for endorsements. If the brand (say, a skin cleanser or pimple cure) is aimed at the youth, then the current role model in a domain related to beauty (naturally, cinema) or achievement of some sort (sports) would be considered actively by the brand team. Among the earliest brands to use film stars for endorsements was Lux soap. Decades ago, only a handful of brands could afford to pay celebrities. Hence their presence in ads was also rare and hence aided in noticeability and awareness.
Over the years, signing up celebrities became the easy, lazy option for many brands. Beyond MNCs and large corporates, SMEs and family-owned businesses too had hefty marketing budgets and could afford paying celebrities- it wasn’t a novelty anymore. So we suddenly had film stars & sports persons endorsing everything cars, vacuum cleaners, steel pipes, toilet cleaners and more. Unfortunately the brand team sacrificed the creative idea in the process and a majority of such ads are boring, insipid, predictable…a cloudy haze. What’s more credibility of such associations are also suspect as no one expects a celebrity to use the product they are endorsing. Celebrities, with some exceptions, saw this route as easy money and endorsed everything under the sun.
When celebrity ads work
The fundamental principles of an effective ad are the same for any ad, with or without a celebrity: a single, focused, relevant message delivered in an entertaining or compelling manner through a creative idea. Sometimes, the script may not have an idea but the execution (production values, computer graphics, a catchy jingle) may give the ad an edge to be noticed and be memorable. The availability of a celebrity does not take away the need to have a creative idea.
A common thread in famous ads which use a celebrity is the use of the celebrity as a character. Even when a celebrity plays himself or herself, some amount of self-deprecation and disarming humour works than just having them hold a pack or mouth unconvincing dialogues praising the product.
The Saif-Kareena ad
In this context, an ad featuring Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor for Vectus – a pipe and water storage solution company was the topic of discussion on social media since yesterday. The ad ticks the box on every aspect of a mundane celebrity ad: token presence of celebrities, force-fit of the product, endorsement of a category & brand which the viewer knows to be untrue and dubbed voices. In the normal course of things, this ad if seen on TV would have either left the viewer cold or reach for the remote. But among the many viewpoints a common theme was that because the brand was being talked about in social media, the objective of creating brand awareness was achieved. Hence, the suggestion that it was an effective use of celebrities even if the ad was corny.
In my view, the ad got visibility on Twitter and LinkedIn because a few popular voices and influencers on social media talked about the ad- notably @Gabbar Singh and Karthik Srinivasan.
BTW, the ads have modest view counts on YouTube and positive comments on Facebook.
Not every run-of-the-mill celebrity ad (and there are so many of them) will get a chance mention from a social media celebrity to give awareness a filip. Even if the Saif-Kareena ad got discussed, its impact on brand sales or equity is suspect. Mere brand name awareness is of no use in any case. Awareness with the right connotations leading to brand affinity and it getting into the consideration set for that category purchase is the real test. I doubt if the Vectus ads passed that test. Nevertheless, this is not going to be the last instance of a brand signing up a celebrity in the hope of creating awareness and airing an ad without a central creative idea simply relying on the celebrity-factor to create short term brand name awareness.