Consumption, reference groups and celebrity endorsement

Last week a news item reported that many firms have dropped celebrities from their brand communication campaigns. These include Pepsi Mountain Dew ( Salman Khan), Big Bazaar’s FBB (MS Dhoni and Asin), Fastrack (Genelia D’ Souza), Thums Up ( Akshay Kumar), Netrogena ( Deepika), and Taj Mahal tea ( Chirangda Singh). Yet there are brand which continue to use celebrities in their brand building like Aamir Khan (Hero series Samusng), SRK (Dulux), Aishwarya Rai ( L’oreal), Anushka Sharma ( canon), Nikon ( Priyanka Chopra), Amrish Puri ( JK cements) and Saif Ali Khan ( Royale).
The modern man belongs to the subspecies Homo sapiens. The individual is closely tied to the collective. Accordingly a person belongs (member) to groups such as family, friends or aspire to belong or identify (non member) with like cricketers or film stars. These groups become important for the marketers because of the influence they exert in consumer by shaping their beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors. It is this influence which makes them hot property for the marketers.
Groups derive their importance from the functions that these perform for consumers: informational, utilitarian and self expressive. In some buying situations deficient consumer knowledge and expertise necessitates search for information from others (a doctor is a good advisor for specialized toothpaste (Sensodyne) or infant products (J&J). In certain cases consumer seek or enjoy group membership by conforming to the approved norms to avoid punishment or disapproval (Leather jacket for HOG membership or certain brand e.g. Ecco shoes for golf playing). People want to express their identities as to who they are and who they are like. People aspire to be like some groups/ individuals which help them enhance their self concept. It is psychological association which makes many consumers to like a brand ( Reid and Taylor- Amitabh Bachchan or Katrina Kaif- Lux).
The basis of reference group influence is the power (as against authority) or capacity to exert control over consumption. The power types include: referent power (based on identification based on admiration- we admire Sachin’s achievements or beauty of Kareena Kapoor); information and expert power (one wonders what Amrish Puri has got to do with JK cement; he is neither knowledgeable nor expert of construction/ Dr Devi Shetty is certainly a good endorser for a heart valve and Hafeez Contractor can certainly influence behavior for a housing or office complex); the human desire for appreciation (reward) and avoid threat or risk leads to certain groups acquiring reward power (‘hey you’re looking gorgeous’- Ponds or a women becoming ravishingly ‘attractive’ in Parachute Body Lotion). Consumer buying is also driven by the motivation to conform to group norms in order to avoid something negative for instance stopping at traffic signal (fines) or wearing formals to a club dinner (admission denied).  
Reference group’s capacity to influence consumer behavior is determined by credibility or trustworthiness because of knowledge and expertise (What is Amitabh Bachchan doing in Nano Clean surface cleaner? Or Sachin Tendulkar in JP Cement?). Attractiveness or identification is another consideration. George Clooney or Pierce Brosnan influences Omega’s target audience based on attraction and identification so is the case with Shah Rukh Khan for Santro. Slice seduces its target customers by calling its drink as ‘aam sutra’ borrowing from the attractiveness of Katrina Kaif.
Brands borrow influence from reference groups to move consumer. Once successful does not mean always successful. The dynamism in the marketing environment at both ends sometimes can upset the brand and endorser fit. This necessitates course correction which can take many forms including discontinuance of endorsement. Remember how Accenture dropped Tiger Wood scandal rocked match mixing involving skipper Azaruddin who endorsed Tissot brand. May be the youth brands like Mountain Dew and Thums Up do not find their endorsers not young enough or match psychographic profile. The long relationship between Nakshtara and Aishwarya Rai broke after her marriage and the brand signed Katrina Kaif as endorser.

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3 thoughts on “Consumption, reference groups and celebrity endorsement

  1. people tend to buy items of brand which hav familiar faces. .. as u said smtimes the brand endorser dosent have any connection nor intellect to endorse it

  2. Your are right. Sometimes known figures are used in brand communication to develop recall by linking unknown brand with a known figure. Navratna hair oil managed to build high recall on the strength of Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda promoted Rupa as ‘Yeh Aram Ka Mamla Hai’.

  3. Interesting read Sir; especially the aspect of disconnect between brands and celebrities. One wonders, for instance, what is Hema Malini and family doing in Kent purifier…besides adding to the glam quotient of course. Infact even big names like Big B are being used far too callously to endorse brands which I feel they may not even have heard of before!

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