Endorser Actions, Brand Value and the Ousting of Salman Khan

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.

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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.Image result for tiger woods accenture

 

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.

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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)

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Bal Thackeray, Power Brand and the Power of ‘Against’

Branding space is not limited to the world of commerce and business. Branding possibilities exist in virtually every sphere of activity involving exchange of value between two or more parties. In socio-political space, brands are created at a point where ideas intersect. Political brands like the BJP or Congress stand for a combination social, religious and business ideologies which they seek exchange with voting public. In the similar vein Barack Obama brand was meticulously created in the US at the centre of which sat the proposition of hope ignition (“Yes We Can”) and change (“Vote for Change”; “A New Beginning”).  Congress managed to dislodged NDA by appropriating an idea of common (‘aam admi’) which range bell with ordinary people, a silent majority left out and marginalized.

Branding begins with the search of a meaningful idea. There is no dearth of ideas; but the ones floating around tend to be less valuable. Surface ideas offer shallow platforms and create superficial relationships and hence fail to create deeper commitment. Real brands are created by a search and appropriation of ideas which lay buried in the depths of human consciousness. Their location below the threshold of awareness makes them  harder to reach. Only a few with a vision can access them. But these offer pristine branding opportunities. Hitler was bestowed with extraordinary powers visualize what Germans dreamt in their sleep and whispered in the quiet of themselves. He understood these well and subsumed in his ‘Nazi’ brand.  The longing for a change and feeling anomie that Americans suffered became the foundation stone of Obama brand.

Brands derive power from resonating and unique idea.  Brands resonate when the idea on which they are built connects deeply and intimately. The idea or insight must be built by a careful study of life condition of people (the idea of ‘beauty’ (Lux) or ‘iconoclasm’ (Apple). It is the power of idea that a brand manages to extract customer commitment, attachment, love and engagement and ultimately create a community. The critical condition defining a strong brand is that its idea should un- shared.

Whether one likes or not, the out pouring of lakhs of people on the streets of Mumbai to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray certainly provides testimony to the fact that he was a powerful brand.

  • Brands seek loyalty; on this measure he commanded unflinching loyalty of his followers.
  • Brands forge emotional connection to create following; his followers held deep emotional bonds.
  • True brands command unwavering allegiance.
  • Their customers can ‘go out of their way’ (bear discomfort or assThis was equally true for Thackeray.  Shiv Sainiks willingly take both physical and legal risk to carry the will of their brand. But the essential question remains, what idea did this brand appropriate?ume risk) for them.

Many brands forge connection based on the power of negative emotion. So brand strategy is built on the not what it is or who it is for rather what it is not and who it is not for. Bourdieu explains that preference formation may not a positive emotional response rather a negative one.  It implies choice is not based on what people most like but reject what is most disliked. It is choice based on rejection (‘refusal of the taste of others’/ ‘visceral intolerance of the tastes of others’). Class distinctions are often based the rejection of the style of others (lifestyle, tastes and preference).  The choice for a brand like Apple may be based on the rejection Nokia being the common choice of others. Bal Thackeray’s ideas were often based on opposition like support the emergency (when most people disliked it); admiration of Adolf Hitler (people hate him for what he did to Jews); against socialist trade unions (when socialism was cherished dream); and a movement called ‘Marathi Manoos’, anti- Bihari (against the idea of one nation one citizen).  

We may disagree with his ideas and ideology. But given the fierce loyalty that his brand commands it certainly stands for an idea highly differentiated and highly resonating for a select group of people.

Politics, Involvement, Brand Kejriwal and IAC

One of the reasons why undeserving candidates get elected to Parliament is the attitude of indifference towards politics. In branding terms, this kind of reality is triggered when meaningful difference between brands ceases to exist. Hence it does not make any sense to waste cognitive resource on evaluation and selection (brand parity). Pulling out of decision process by supplanting the ‘thinking’ with ‘routine’ is a logical approach. Branding is all about achieving resonance through relevant differentiation. But most of the political brands appear to be devoid of meaningful differentiation and a large portion of citizens have ‘pulled out’ from the election process.  The consequent reality is low voting rate. This particularly is beneficial for the political class if parties scratch each other’s back.

Kejriwal and IAC’s contribution to political marketing is in the form of ‘disruption’ of the equilibrium. They have brought the issue of corruption at the centre of the political discourse. Corruption in politics has been taken for granted and hence had become a low involvement issue (all brands similar wrt to corruption). But by their aggressive and innovative approach they have managed to highlight corruption as one of the most important aspects in political brand selection process. Almost identical strategy was once used by Godrej in refrigerator market. Godrej sought and successfully managed to differentiate their brand on the platform of PUF (which was a common insulation used in fridge). The brand appropriated an attribute in consumer’s mind to achieve discrimination. The campaign’s focus was to pull customers back in to decision process and make them evaluate brand with a modified criteria.

People can be categorized on the basis of their involvement with politics. Majority is indifferent and has situational involvement (when the need arises or elections take place). The other group enjoys enduring involvement (as shown by high level of interest in product/ election).  People differ in their approach to handling problem depending upon their level of involvement. Involved people deliberate and process information extensively but people with lower level of involvement resort to short cut heuristics (in our case looks of candidate, name, and ease of recall). This is how bad candidates get elected because they escape scrutiny because of low involvement.

The campaign of IAC has triggered the interest (arousal) of this silent majority into politics by shifting people from ‘habit to decision making’. Now people are beginning to look at their affiliation with political brand with the new angle of corruption- which had become dormant.  The selection based on ‘peripheral’ aspects is getting replaced with critical evaluation (central route to persuasion).  This shift is good for Indian democracy.  When Indian electorate begins to discriminate political brand on the core aspects then only good people would make it to the Parliament.  People are encouraged to think hard about their selection of political brands.

In a situation of equilibrium based on product parity, the best strategy for an entrant is to ‘disrupt’ consumer cognitive frame. IAC has done precisely that. People are taking a look at politics, politicians and political brands in new manner.  By this shift from ‘habit to decision making’ IAC has managed to ‘cut through the clutter’ and carve out a position for itself.

Good or bad, that’s debatable.  Now political parties whether like it or do not like IAC, they just can’t afford to ignore it.

Brand Personality, Animism and Diamonds

The term ‘relationship’ moved out of sociology (kinship and family) to marketing in the last decade of the twentieth century. Relationships are important in a societal context because of their economic, social and psychological role. Marketers have realized the importance of building customer relationship as the economics of customer retention revealed that customer attraction cost may be as high as five times the cost of customer retention. Therefore there is a strong case in favour of cultivating relationship with the customer. But the challenge is how can a phenomenon which is about relation or association between people be applied to marketing?

If relationships are about people, then it may be difficult to conceptualize the same between customer (animate) and the product (inanimate). This quest for bond and relationship building calls for extending the realm of the market entity beyond its functionality. The customers must view a market entity in the same light as in which human beings are seen. This calls for brand humanization. They should be made capable to forge connections that only humans can create. The product satisfies a need and personality creates relationship. Brand humanization becomes all the more necessary when product gets commoditized or these are marginally differentiated from one another. Personality can add richness and character to an offering by adding a psycho- social dimension to an otherwise utilitarian object. The idea is to liberate the brand from narrow think centric perspective by extending its intersections on the side of feelings and emotions.

A brand can be perceived along five personality dimensions (Jennifer Aaker):
Sincerity (down to earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful)
Excitement (daring, spirited, imaginative, up to date)
Competence (reliable, intelligent, successful)
Sophistication (upper class, charming) and
Ruggedness (outdoorsy, tough)

Related to personality is the concept of ‘animism’ which implies a belief that even non human entities including rocks, animal and plants have spirit. Consider how our rivers, mountains, trees and animals mean much more than what they actually are. So what motivates customers to accept brands as humans? The consumers’ willingness to accept a brand as much beyond a bundle of utility probably has something to do with animism. It facilitates our negotiation with non human world. When brands are anthropomorphized by instilling human qualities, they acquire wider meanings for customers. The boundary so extended allows brands to assume an extended role which is much more comforting and satisfying.

There are many ways to create brand personality. Personality connotations are vested in both inanimate and animate aspects of a culture. These include music (jazz or classical), artifacts (piano or guitar), people (French or British), colors (red or blue), and shapes (circular or angular), trees (banyan or coconut) and endorser (Amitabh or Salman) . Celebrity endorsement is the easiest way to create brand personality. Consider the following six brands and their endorsers:
Gilli endorsed by Bipasa Basu (‘Beautifully you’)
Sangini endorser Kareen Kapoor and Salman Khan (‘Diamond jewellery’)
D’damas endorser Sonakshi Sinha (‘Celebrate always’)
Diya endorser Celina Jetley (‘Diamond jewellry’)
Asmi endorser Priyanka Chopra (‘For the women of spirit’)
Nakshatra endorser (Katrina Kaif) (‘Diamond jewellery’)

What do these endorsers contribute to hardened carbon? These brands, by utilizing classical conditioning principles seek to acquire qualities and traits that these endorsers stand for. The assumption here is that these associations create a human like feel and character to an otherwise inanimate piece of jewelry and push it on a couple of notches higher on the value hierarchy.