Brand Endorsement, Influence, Amrapali, Dhoni and Misrepresentation

The Amrapali Sapphire and Indian cricket team captain MS Dhoni’s role as its brand ambassador has brought to the fore the issue of brand endorser and consumer attitude manipulation. In India use of celebrities is very common.  All kinds of celebrities are used by brands. If there  Alok Nath  who endorses Link locks on the one hand there is SRK who promotes Fair and Handsome.  For instance, Aamir Khan stood for brands including Titan, Coke, Snapdeal and Tata Sky, Amitabh’s kitty included brands such as Cadbury, Pepsi, Parker, Reid and Taylor, Dabur Honey and Navratana Oil; Katrina Kaif’s portfolio includes Slice, Veet, Pentene, Panasonic and L’Oreal.  One of the current high profile campaigns is that of Tata Motors in which football icon Lionel Messy is employed as global brand ambassador.

Technically, celebrities are only one of the various types of people who could be present in ads like created characters which may be humanized like Amul girl/ ZooZoos Vodafone or real people representative of a particular group like Surf’s Lalitaji and Nirma’s Jaya and Shushma (commoner)   or outdoorsy in Woodland or fashion inclined in Mango or shape conscious in K Special or expert in Lux shampoo ad or doctor in Colgate.

On theoretical note celebrities and brand ambassadors are different in terms of their expected role and contribution to the brand. The celebrity contributes to a brand by simply appearing in its ads (physical presence). For instance, Thums up used different celebrities including Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan and same was done by Pepsi which included SRK, Saif, Amitabh, Ranbir , Virat Kohli and Dhoni. The brand ambassador on the other hand plays a much serious role by becoming animated face of the brand in all its communication. Brand ambassador tangibilizes the invisible values and culture. He or she is expected to make deeper transformation in the way brand is perceived and felt by the audience. The value congruence between what an endorser epitomizes and company / brand values are essential.  For instance, Tag Heuer’s core value ‘don’t crack under pressure’ went well with SRK. The current intent of Tata Motors to portray itself as makers of great cars is done by Lionel Messy.

The question arises why companies pay hefty fees to get these celebrities or presenters to be present in their brand communications. Their value stems from the contribution that they make. Imagine the consumer effects that an ad would have with or without a presenter. To put simply, a known presenter can contribute to a brand’s success by lending awareness at the base level (imagine awareness of Navratna oil shot through the roof due to presence of Amitabh Bachchan in its ads).  Much deeper impact is made when the attitude toward the endorser is transferred to the advertised brand. The presenters in ads can predispose or prompt audience to view, think and feel a brand in a particular way. They may create a bias by influencing the consumer attitude, especially by creating a subtle jump over critical thinking to feelings. Presence of a liked source in ads may have retarding effect on thinking. So ads that make use of liked and loved characters activate emotional side of brain and thereby hasten judgments.

Attention effect:  the customers these days are bombarded with messages causing them to experience information overload. One common strategy for them is to screen out a large number of incoming messages. In this regard, celebrities provide an easy route to brands to capture customer attention. It is based on the understanding that consumers pay attention to what they like or interested in.

Awareness effect: typically celebrities enjoy high recognition and recall because of their popularity in their domain of work.  An ad typically ties together to independent stimuli (brand and celebrity like Pavlov’s bone and bell) and with repetition ceases their independence. As a result the awareness is transferred to the brand. It is an easy way to make an initial cut into an otherwise resistant mind.

Amplification effect: consider an ad which simply announces ‘Amrapali Sapphire 2/3/4 BHK flats Sector -45 Noida’ and its effect on consumer and when the same information is provided along with the presence of MS Doni. The two stimuli would not separately get processed in different hemispheres independently in isolation. Rather both will amalgamate into message which may have multiplicative or exponential effect. Now the address is not simply is an address rather it is multiplied with everything MS Dhoni stands for.  The cricket captain brings his traits like achievement, sincerity, dedication, leadership, endurance, success and commitment gets them to multiply with simple matter of fact ‘address’. This may have predisposing effect on attitude of even high involvement customers (due to risk associated).  In similar way when an ad proclaims ‘pure honey’ in the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, a huge difference is accomplished between what is said and what is actually received by customers. Here combining one with one creates eleven not two.

The message amplification also is achieved when a brand uses real or lookalike experts. For instance Castrol ads use a mechanic lookalike to promote lube superiority. Colgate for long used man in doctor’s uniform to amplify the brand’s superiority.

Differentiation effect: commodities suffer from lack of differentiation due product similarity. For instance, salt and battery cells may be identical in their construction. In such cases, the presenter or celebrity used in brand’s communication may become the only differentiating attribute. For instance, in honey market, both Dabur and Patanjali claim their honey to be pure and natural. In such a situation, the differentiating attribute between two brands is Amitabh and Baba Ramdev.

Why do endorsers command high prices? What sits at the core of their price is their ability to influence awareness, attitude and behavior. Their power relies on a complex and subtle process by which inference is drawn by consumers themselves. Advertisers ensure that facts are not misrepresented by knowing or unknowingly. It is this behavior of drawing conclusions (we didn’t say that you concluded yourself) insulates brands from being legally charged. Consider, all the surrogate ads like Carlsberg (glasses) or Bacardi (music) technically do not promote liquor but liquor gets promoted, glamorized and desired. In this context, the communication industry cannot be regulated by law entirely. The only option is conscience. But conscience often gets defeated by wealth.


Aamir, Amitabh, Incredible India & Borrowing Success

  • ‘Amitabh Bachchan perfect choice for ‘Incredible India’ campaign: B-town (The Indian Express).
  • ‘Amitabh Bachchan is new ambassador of Incredible India campaign’ (India Today)
  • ‘Amitabh, Priyanka are new Incredible India brand ambassadors ‘(The Hindustan Times)

The above are some of the headlines that reported the change of brand ambassador for the ‘Incredible India’ campaign.  The Tourism Ministry has ended its contract with Aamir Khan who was the face and the voice of the campaign. Khan has had a long association with the campaign who was suddenly removed as spokesperson for ‘Incredible India’ for allegedly making intolerance remarks.

Brands get celebrities or other type of endorsers to speak for them. It is a common strategy and change of spokesperson is also common. For instance, SRK currently speaks for Big Basket, D’ Decor, Dish TV, Nerolac and Mahagun. Ranbir Kapoor featured in ads of Panasonic, Pepsi, Tag Heuer and Ask Me. Even ‘common man’ is also used by brands to influence consumers. One of the most iconic endorsements of this type has been that of ‘Lalita ji’ of Surf and Airtel’s current television ads employs ‘common girl’ to promote its services. It is also not uncommon for brands to change their endorsers. This change could be promoted by a variety of reasons including brand intending to adopt new positioning or endorser may get involved in some controversy like Tiger Woods  ( cheating scandal) and  Azharuddin (match fixing).

There are several reasons for brands to employ spokespersons. One of the straight gains for a brand is to ride on the popularity/awareness/recognition/popularity of the endorser (if celebrity).  Imagine Amitabh standing next to hair oil brand Navratana (‘thanda thanda cool..’). Besides celebrities can elicit good feelings/likeability because of their performance in their performance area (Sania Mirza, Sania Nehwal, Pierce Bronson, Ranbir Singh). Sometimes, endorsers are used to appeal to reason by appealing to thinking and reasoning. Consider figures like doctors (Sansodyne, Paradontex), hair expert (Sunsilk) and Nutritionist (Bournvita).  Endorsers often serve as role models and subtly inspire people to emulate them (slender image of Katrina and muscled up body of Salman).

Who is correct choice for ‘Incredible India’: Amitabh or Aamir. Important to the selection of spokesperson is ‘brand-endorser’ fit. The question is what is sought to be achieved by ‘Incredible India’ the campaign and who is target audience.  Is the idea to promote India within India or outside?  What contribution endorser is expected to make (recall, good feeling, appeal to reason or inspiration).  The purpose of the campaign is to attract foreign tourist on the promise of something ‘incredible’ that India offers. The synonyms of ‘Incredible’ include magnificent, wonderful, marvelous, and sublime.

To promote India on the promise of ‘incredibleness’ the core of the campaign has to be what magnificent India has to offer like monuments (The Taj, Charminar), festivals (Diwali, Holi), spirituality (Rishikesh, Himalayas), religious places (temples &churches), jungles and mountains. In this scheme of things what role do celebrity endorsers play? What incredibleness actors like Amitabh or Aamir would bring to an international audience? They are known to Indians therefore would contribute to influencing them by way of recall, inspiration and likeability but what contribution would they make to move audience from  affluent nations which contribute to world  tourism?

Celebrity endorsement is not a perfect substitute of creative ingenuity and thinking. Many however believe that the success of a star/sportsperson can be borrowed to fuel your own success. But that is not the case. The important question is to ask is what the brand seeks to achieve in its customer’s life and how does an endorser figure in this equation.


Corruption Yatra, Positioning, Endorsement and Brand Anna

Mr Advani expressed his desire to undertake a ‘corruption yatra’. It certainly has political overtones. But that is not the point I wish to discuss on this page. Let us look at this announcement from a purely marketing perspective.

In marketing ‘imprinting’ is a very important concept. Each brand seeks to imprint something (a proposition) in prospects’ mind which is relevant for customer and different from competition. Consider the following brands and think what immediately comes to mind:
• Dettol
• Close Up
• Orient and
• Ujala
• Johnson & Johnson
Without much stress what flows is: antiseptic, fresh breath, PSPO, liquid fabric whitener and baby care. And now consider Anna. It seems the word anti corruption is appropriated by Anna in the perceptual space of people. What happens when a new brand seeks to affiliate with a concept already occupied by a first mover? Two things happen:
First it immediately acts as a clue to mentally rehearse what has already been stored which makes the connection even stronger.
Second the late entrant is perceived to be a ‘shadow’ or ‘me too’ or ‘also ran’ or ‘copy’ of the original. It does not go down well in the cognitive system. Let us go to the above examples.
Savlon failed to appropriate what Dettol stands for, attempts by Colgate to enter into ‘freshness’ haven’t met with a great success. There is only one PSPO fan. Tens of brands were lured into liquid fabric whiteners only to be non entities. And finally Wipro’s Baby Soft brand could not give J&J an effective challenge.

The success of a concept is a big draw for others to jump in. But mentally the early mover in the perceptual space is protected by what can be called the ‘perceptual advantage stemming from imprinting’. Human mind resists forgetting or unlearning especially when new brand constantly sends the reminders by becoming similar to the original brand. Consider how the first movers react: Coke communicates that it is the ‘real thing,’ Levis is ‘the’ jeans and then there is iPhone and phones.

Let us explore how prospects receive and evaluate communication. Most of the brands seek to communicate a concept by a variety of appeals which include: slice of life communication (showing a typical user like Tide or Surf does), celebrity endorser (like Amitabh Bacchan in Navratan oil or Shah Rukh Khan in Linc pens), expert endorser who is an expert in the field (real doctor endorsing Sansodyne tooth paste), testimonial (an actual user who provides testimony to product efficacy as in the Dove ads) and spokesperson (a known person who becomes the mouthpiece or advocate for the brand like Aishwarya Rai for Longines watches). In communication two factors determine source effectiveness: source attractiveness (looks and physical attractiveness), source expertise or knowledge.

The announcement by Mr Advani to embark upon a ‘Corruption Yatra’ has to been seen from above two angles: the first mover perceptual advantage which Anna seems to have preempted. Second how well will this idea be perceived by the filter of people of endorsement?