Re: Sania Mirza's place
Of celebrity branding, brand marketers, and India
Monday - Sep 15, 2008
Sheetal Patel - Televisionpoint.com | Mumbai
As per ICMR's survey, 46% of people buy products on the basis of merit and not on the basis of celebrity branding. Brand name was chosen by 31% respondents and product information by 28% as an 'influencing factor' in purchase decisions. Only 12% respondents said celebrity endorsements influence their choices though.
It was my 20th birthday and my parents gifted me a sparkling white Apple laptop. It was beautiful, and even today (three years later) when I uncover it amidst a crowd, it arouses a sense of pride in me. Guess what makes me more proud; Apple is one of the most admired brands in the world today, from the stable of The Most Admired Company for 2008 as per Fortune.
And who's its brand ambassador? Well, I searched and I asked. periodicals, friends circle, and even the Internet. Apple doesn't have a brand ambassador. And despite that, it has products that people hold in awe today. To talk about it, the latest car my boss purchased was the BMW 7-Series, and I bet he doesn't even know who its brand ambassador is. Shoes, yes shoes. Let me talk about my shiny black school shoes.
I would use 'Cherry' polish during school days not because I was some tom fooling Charlie Chaplin fan, but because my school Lady-Principal would fan me off if I missed it out on a Monday. The most recent gadget I bought was the Nokia E66, and I bet you wouldn't even know if the brand has a global celebrity endorsing it. Really, celebs are just eye-washing accidents. There seems no logic why the Indian Cricket Team chooses to endorse Pepsi (as though it was a health drink) or why Cartier chooses singers like Janet Jackson or Green Day.
I asked some industry experts about the positive measurable impact of celebs on the brand and this is the reply I got – "Not really.", says Malvika Mehra, agency head, O&M Bangalore.
Ravi Thakran, president, APAC, LVMH Watch & Jewellery also admits, "Adding Shahrukh doesn't actually increase sales of Tag Heuer and it's difficult to measure financially, the changes he's brought to Tag Heuer."
Even Satbir Singh of Euro RSCG boosted my gut-confidence when he said, "We conduct brand audits (before and after signing the endorser). But there are no quantifiable measures to check the effectiveness of the brand. However there are qualitative measures which are not sacrosanct."
Really, it's all an accidental hogwash. That's my favourite line from the recent Dreamworks flick KungFu Panda. And there Master Oogwey (rumoured to have been the inventor of KungFu) speaks these lines out with great honesty. "There are no accidents."
I guess he had no celeb-ads in his times because today, there is Oprah Winfrey, world's Most Powerful Celebrity 2008 as per Forbes proving me (let me confess) wrong. She showed how powerful she is as an endorser when she supported Senator Obama's most recent campaign.
And did she win? Well, in most of the states where she campaigned for Obama (like Iowa, Columbia, South Carolina et al), he won with huge margins (Iowa 38%, South Carolina 55% and Columbia 74%.). The success of the campaign and Obama's victory are the biggest testimony to Oprah's celeb power and the significance of celeb endorsements. She surely gets me on the wrong foot this time.
Really, people say that she can even get people hooked to the utterly uninteresting book, Tolstoy by just posing next to it or to eat snake soup (arghhh.) by just stating the secret ingredients of the secret ingredient snake soup.
But then, just like I have those that prove me utterly wrong, I also have the lot who give my anti-celeb argument a smashing thump. Shaquille O'Neil endorsing Reebok sneakers (in the Shaq attack campaign) or Hrithik endorsing Acer, really had little impact on the target audience.
And then you have the criminally suicidal commercials like Ajay-Kajol in Tata Indicom, Aamir in the Tata Sky commercial, Hrithik endorsing a vest (Macroman), Shah Rukh rubbing Navrattan oil to cool his burning head, or Hema Malini suggesting the Kent RO water purifier for fear of losing her 'sweet' voice to bacterial infection.
So why is it that the same celebrities who create magic with certain brands fall flat on their face trying hard to get another going? Is it because my observation that celebrities are picked or dropped with 'zero' science behind it is right? Or is it some inherent flaw that the limelight makes most of us too blind to notice?
Celebs like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid were once top choices among marketers in the country. But of late, there has been a significant fall in their endorsements. Sachin, Dravid and Ganguly's contract for Pepsi has not been renewed (a product which they have been endorsing for over a decade).
Then there are a host of companies who have either dropped brand Tendulkar or have not renewed their contract with him: Fiat, TVS, Airtel, PepsiCo to name a few. Dravid's contract with Max New York Life has recently ended sans the renewal wave, Sansui which end its association with 'Mr. Dependable'.
Sourav Ganguly literally has no ads in his kitty at the moment. Joining him in the 'empty can' pack are the Indian tennis wonder Sania Mirza and Bollywood queen Rani Mukherjee. Sania is out of Tata Tea, Sprite, HPCL et al and Rani is no more seen with Fanta, Munch or Titan Raga. The reason for this declining interest of marketers in these celebrities is simple: there has been a fall in their performance and media coverage – both resulting in lesser endorsement deals.
"A celebrity is dropped as the brand ambassador when the person becomes irrelevant to the target audience or the profession he/she belongs to," voices K. V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett.
Sridhar also adds that the reason why Sachin no longer makes it to the hot list of advertisers is that he is no longer a youth icon, that he once was. Although he is still respected in the cricketing fraternity, he is more of an icon for the middle-aged today. This is one reason why Pepsi, which is currently harping on the Youngistaan theme, no longer wants to continue with him and has the young guns Ishant Sharma and Shreeshanth.
However, Sachin still has a hope as Manish Porwal, CEO, Percept Talent Management, explains, "Endorsements for choice of new generation products like Pepsi may be a thing of the past for him, but he's still great for brands that signify longevity or trust."
The phenomenon works in the reverse direction too. Saif Ali Khan's recent association with Kareena has suddenly got him all the limelight, resulting in massive media coverage and increased endorsement offers. His annual fee for a campaign is Rs.5-6 crore surpassing even Big B's, whose annual fee hovers around Rs.3-5 crore. Today, Saif is behind only Shahrukh (Rs. 8-10 crore) and Aamir (Rs. 8-10 crore).
A decade ago, there weren't many such switches in brand endorsers. The reason was simple – there were just a handful of celebrities in the country. That simply means that even if I was a lesser-known celeb a decade back, I would have become a star today. But the past decade has seen a lot of change; call it a huge churn in the celeb management industry. Today, there are thousands of celebrities in the country. This has given marketers enough leverage.
Moreover, the industry has come a long way from typical safari suit clad paan chewing secretaries to professional talent management companies handling celebrities and their endorsements. There is much more money splurged by a brand today.
"In 2001, 25% of all advertising dollars were spent on ads carrying celebrities. In 2008, that percentage has gone up to 60% of all ad dollars spent," exclaims Percept's Porwal.
Sample this: there has been a 49% growth in celebrity endorsement advertising volumes on just TV during the year 2007 as compared to the previous year. There were in total 745 celebrity endorsements in 2007 as against 499 in 2006.
Today, the celebrity endorsement industry is worth Rs.550 crore and is growing at high double digit growth rate ranging between 60- 80%. Experts predict the growth rate to touch even triple digits, soon.
But the ghastly part of the story is that 60% of the celeb endorsement industry is still unorganised, which obviously means that celebrities are picked up to represent a brand on gut feeling or based on their the then popularity quotient or hype.
No scientific or statistical tool is being used for matchmaking in this regard. As Porwal admits, "The talent management business today is transactional. It's not planned and executed well. Presently we are mere brokers"
Unfortunately, marketers and advertising agencies can't say that while deciding upon a celebrity. This can be fatal as companies are spending fortunes on them. "There is no science involved in picking a brand ambassador. Bollywood is the big hit with the clients and 2 big hits would get you into the top list of advertisers," accepts Vaybhav Singh, creative director, McCann-Erickson.
"There is a bit of logic and thinking behind it but I don't know whether we can term it as a science," feels Jasmeet Arora, vice-president, marketing, 21st Century Media.
But there are a few brands which actually apply scientific methods too; one such example is Dish TV. "It's a very scientific marketing exercise through which we have selected Shahrukh," told Arun Kapoor, the-then CEO of Dish TV. He further explained that they short listed Shahrukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar as potential endorsers.
A graph was plotted with these celebrities on y-axis and the attributes and brand values of Dish TV on x-axis. The brand values plotted were – the entertainment business, technology product, innovator, vibrant young brand but 'geekish' at the same time as it's a family product. The person who best fitted the bill was Shahrukh Khan.
Sanjeev De, agency head, Saatchi & Saatchi Delhi, also expresses his need for statistics in this regard as, "There is a great deal of science involved in picking-up a brand ambassador and it cannot function without that." He explained the process through which Hrithik was chosen as brand endorser for Sony Ericsson.
"We did not zero in just him there was a big well laid out process that we followed. We were looking at entertainment devices so we looked at the one who ruled entertainment business at that time," De adds.
There were many facets of the brands that did not match with Dhoni's, Yuvraj's or even Sachin's characteristics. So the zeroed-in needs for the brand was a star with an international appeal and yet with the ability to influence the masses, and the one who can generate aspirational values amongst the target audience and is also consistent. Hrithik fitted the bill completely, and so he was chosen.
Unfortunately, very few agencies and companies take the pain today. As Rajeev Raja, executive creative director, Bates David admits, "The selection happens more on instinct basis rather than applying any science."
Sources from Dabur also say that, "If somebody already has a celebrity like Amitabh Bachchan as a brand ambassador, they will never want the termination of such a relationship." This indicates that for many companies having a big celeb on board is more important than the brand-celeb fit and relevance of the celeb to that brand.
There is a need for an industry body to calculate the total visibility of celebrities, just like we have TAM, aMap and BARC (soon to be launched) to rate TV programmes where ads are plugged in, and the marketers pay according to these ratings for the ad spots.
Why can't we have celebrity rating monitors who rate a celebrity's media presence in cm-sq or seconds based on the free publicity he's got in media and the endorsement fee being decided accordingly?
The West already has something of that sort like 'Davie-Brown Index' that measures a celebrity's ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent. Such indexes ensure that the huge moolah being spent on celeb endorsements results in some positive impact.
So what's my final conclusion? Simply stated, celebrity endorsements have a positive impact on a brand only if scientific match-making tools are adopted. Really, if this gut-feel tale continues for long, we'd soon have an Indian 'Arnold Palmer' (an old-time golfer, who was showered with endorsements his entire life.
Finally, Pennzoil had to give him half of the company as payment.). Really speaking, I don't believe in celebs making a difference. but that's just a strong belief, a gut feel. Statistically speaking. but I give a 100% guarantee that I'll let you know when I discover a way to measure my thoughts.