Every brand today wishes to forge a connection with its consumers. A strong connection leads to higher brand recall, and there is no simpler way to do this than by hiring a celebrity Brand Ambassador. Celebrities, by virtue of their public personalities, have distinct imagery and associations pre-formed in the consumer mind; and when consumers see these celebrities endorsing a certain brand, they form mental connections between the attributes of the star and the attributes of the brand. MS Dhoni for Lava mobiles, Ranveer Singh for Ciaz, Akshay Kumar for Honda, Shahrukh Khan for Jio are all examples of Brand Ambassadors.
Another good example is that of Joy, a brand of skincare products, which has recently hired the television comedian Bharti Singh as its celebrity endorser. Joy being a relatively new brand wishes to position itself along the lines of ‘beautiful by nature’, i.e. as a brand that relates to internal beauty and not the external image. The decision to hire Bharti breaks general convention in the skincare segment as she, unlike endorsers of other similar brands, is clearly overweight. But her strong and confident persona, transfers those qualities to the imagery of Joy in the consumer mind. This transfer of attributes from the celebrity to the brand is the reason why paying such high fees to these stars is justified. Any other lesser known face would not have evoked these pre-developed associations that a famous star can, and hence would be less effective.
The connect that a consumer feels with a celebrity is dependent on something called the self-concept, the perception that the consumer has of himself. A consumer or a fan will identify with the celebrity when he perceives his own self – his values, attitudes, behaviour -to be similar to those of the star. Celebrities appeal to the self-actualization goals of aconsumer. Based on his self-concept, a consumer places the celebrity into either an aspirational group (he wants to be like the star) or an associative group (he believes his qualities are already similar to the star). Virat Kohli, Rafael Nadal, Ranbir Kapoor are all role models for the young men in our country. Similarly, Saina Nehwal, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt are role models for the women.
Associated with the self-concept are the feelings of pride and shame. Pride is defined as a positive emotion that is experienced following a positive evaluation of one’s competence or effort in achieving a goal. Shame is be defined as a painful feeling of guilt, wrongness,inability or failure. These two emotions can be visualised as forming a continuum. Just as at home, when a child scores good marks, the family experiences pride and vice versa, similarly if a brand endorser that we adore does a good deed, we would experience pride.
This pride enables us to feel good about the brand as well. For instance, Akshay Kumarvoiced his ‘nation-first’ opinion against actors from Pakistan, lending nationalistic associations to the brands he endorses, notably to Honda. His opinions enhanced the consumer’s pride in use of Honda vehicles. However, the opposite is also true, and consumers may experience shame on being related to the brand ambassador.The brand manager’s task, therefore, does not just end on hiring an appropriate celebrity.
Companies must continuously monitor the activities and statements of its endorsers to minimize incidents that cause shame. As the celebrity loses his credibility, the brand risks losing the trust that consumers place in it as well. The incredible India campaign faced this issue with Aamir Khan, Accenture with Tiger Woods, and very recently Thums up with Salman Khan. They were all promptly fired, and wisely so.
Contributed by Harleen Kaur (my doctoral student at FMS)