By S. Ramesh Kumar and Sairam Krishnamurthy
Celebrity appeal is nothing new in India. With the spread of the digital platform and the proliferation of app use (for example, Tinder in its first year of launch was used by its users to rate itself 13 billion times, as reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, September 5, 2013), brands will be launching celebrity appeals. with unique applications, while they may also have to deal with the trolls associated with the chosen celebrity.
Amitabh Bachchan became the first celebrity to use a non-fungible token (NFT) including his movie posters.
Are there any commonalities (as observed from a consumer behavior point of view) between the character of James Bond in the latest movie “No Time to Die” and Elon Musk?
Both are celebrities in their respective fields, one in the field of entertainment and the other an entrepreneur who is well rewriting the history of transport on earth and in space! And both inspire millions of consumers / start-up founders. The point to note is that one can be inspired by a model that may not be part of the branding world. A person from a small town who is striving for success can be inspired by Dhoni, who come from humble beginnings but have been successful on the international stage. Brands join forces with them to draw aspiration, on their own funds.
Indian cultural context
Essentially, celebrity appeal is all about aspiration and with the rapid spread of social media, celebrity power of influence may be at an all time high. This is clear from the number of new brands choosing celebrities who may not be as popular as established brands (cosmetics and clothing brands are examples of product categories reflecting the trend). The interesting aspect of the Indian context is the diversity of brands that have used celebrity advertising over the past decades. Almost every category announced, from colas to tights to cellphones, continue to follow this trend.
Some brands have handled the celebrity transition in innovative ways. The soap brand Lux using the reigning film celebrity (since 1941, Leela Chitnis, as reported by Mint, August 21, 2017) had succeeded in the intergenerational connection with the brand, which made it difficult for a competitor’s brand to follow the same strategy. Interestingly, the character of James Bond conjures up a fanatic audience across the globe, regardless of which actor has been playing the role for over sixty years, in a fantasy, whimsical world. High-end Omega, Rolex and Seiko watches have used the character of James Bond with the title actor portraying the character, for the past sixty years!
“Logic” associated with the attraction of celebrities
Over time, consumers have become more aware, more aware of advertisements, and in general much smarter when it comes to buying brands. It is quite natural to think, logically, that consumers cannot be fooled by paid celebrity calls associated with brands, as they are fully aware that edible oil or watch or bank approved. by fame is based on the brand’s agreement with the fame. In the examples of the Omega-James Bond association, consumers know that the high-tech gadgets used by James Bond with the watch may not be used by most consumers in the harsh conditions such as those depicted in the film. And it’s also rare to find a luxury watch associated with a figure beloved by the general public, in addition to the appeal that touches most psychographic segments.
But the mind for what it is, we believe with conviction that we would like to follow our attitudes, beliefs and values rather than just logic. We read almost every day that a celebrity is incorporated by a brand. There are three reasons we’re supported by celebrities – the first being reliability. For example, when Sachin said “Boost is the success of my energy,” he embodied the brand’s proposition, and consumers were able to tie Sachin’s claim to his competence to talk about energy.
Sympathy and credibility are the other two factors. Sympathy, or the allure of fame, is a catalyst for the consumer to create an emotional association with the brand. Credibility is more associated with consumers’ belief in the credibility of the fame’s source, and may not be based on the celebrity’s competence. For example, Amitabh has appeared over the years in several diverse categories, from chocolates to incense sticks (agarbathis) to banks.
Complexities of celebrity use
While theoretical explanations are still valid, especially taking into account the subconscious effects of consumer behavior, there are some practical considerations that need to be taken into account when a brand manages a celebrity.
1) What should a brand do if its celebrity is trolled? (can force a brand to change, or drop the fame)
2) Does the brand choose a celebrity for fear of missing out (FOMO) in competitive clutter?
3) Does the brand have a long-term sustainable strategy, when using a celebrity (Lux).
4) Does a brand use a celebrity as a known face to only provide product information in a low interest category? (Kent)
5) Does a brand use a celebrity for the purposes of persuasion or entertainment or both?
6) Does a well-known brand with a historical past choose a celebrity that matches their past associations or is it just to connect with a younger demographic?
7) Does a brand choose a celebrity to limit the damage associated with a product?
8) Does a brand choose a suitable celebrity after establishing themselves on the functional platform (Asian Paints)?
With the Indian film industry (Bollywood, Kollywood, etc.) producing more films than all other countries combined and with cricket being a religion in itself, there is no shortage of celebrities. The use of celebrities in the digital age may need to be re-evaluated by brands to get the most out of them.
Kumar is Professor of Marketing at IIM Bangalore and Krishnamurthy is Director of Marketing at More Retail. The opinions expressed are personal.