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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Brands, Consumption, Identity and Fluidity

Consumption is a social phenomenon. It occurs within contextual frame involving a complex interplay between individual and society. Fundamental to the existence and perpetuation of a society is presence of some kind of relationship governing mechanisms. One such mechanism is segregations of people based on some principles. It is common find categorization based on age, income, gender, religion, and caste. Inherent to these categories is power and role structure. Groups exert pressure on their members to conform to a universalized conduct which also include consumption norms. Brands that deviate from the cultural impositions are met with resistance (consider women dress code and choice in Arab nations).  The beliefs, values, attitudes, ideas, roles are culturally determined which in a way prescribe ‘right way’ of being and doing.

Who you are is defined by the group you belong to. This imposes a perimeter within which your consumption/ behavior can move about (e.g. women must adhere to a dress code, officers must wear dipped in starch clothes, young should avoid ‘hot’ food, marry within community). Consumption in such situations takes place within an overall framework imposed upon an individual by the group.  Groups attain stability by regimenting individual behavior. Identity is an imposition rather than a choice. The choice of an individual to experiment with alternative selves depends upon power and cohesion of the group. But with the emergence of new networked and interconnected world a cultural assimilation seem to be taking place. Isolation is a thing of past. Many people criticize this development as cultural imperialism. Physical movement and exposure to alternative ways of existence have empowering effect. Who you are is becoming a matter of choice rather than imposition. It is not only about psychological choice; even the biological self can be bought (gender choice). One of the important questions here is whether consumption is identity determined or vice versa.

What is the role of brands and branding in such a fluid situation? How does this psycho-social experimentation influence branding practice? One such effect has been transformation of physical products into inhabitants of psychological space. As people move beyond their physiology to fashioning their psychological construction in identity search process, consumption is systematically distanced from its primary utility centricity. Brands are now new tools of identity creation and signification. Products are now more about what they mean than what they do. The identity creation project of target customers dictates their mandate. Consider how Lacto calamine ad is more about the user rather than the product, (a girl who forces the driver to reverse the bus so that old waiting couple who could not run could board in). Brands are identity creating tools. Who you are can be played around with by plugging in the symbolic capital that they embody and make available.

Who you are implies who you are similar to and who you are different from.  With the identity becoming fluid tensions seem to be simmering between established and the emergent structure. New groups and coalitions are beginning to challenge the power and legitimacy of old groups. The ideas and ideologies have come under greater scrutiny, the wisdom of which stands challenged.   A friction is  between  traditional-liberal is palpable; women are rebelling against the prevalent mould and seeking greater gender equality; people with alternate sexual orientation want  recognition; youth ‘you only live once’ orientation is militating against the age old mindset. All this is symptomatic of cracks in the established identity structures and new ones are knocking to make an appearance.

Differentiation/distancing: Brands is such a situation accord opportunities to identity creation (you are what you have- brand transfers a meaning to its user). Brands achieve this by a process of differentiation/ distancing and affiliating. At the centre of Veblen’s idea of conspicuous consumption sat drives with a certain class of people differentiate/ distance themselves from others. And this distancing was achieved on the basis of consumption. Certain products and practices are employed to ‘mark’ a class different from others. Is classical music or opera or art appreciation are new devices of distinction? In a city like Delhi when Jaguar ownership ceases accord differentiation, people move to a different category of prestige signifiers- e.g.  What you listen to while driving. Your choice of albums is indicator of exclusivity.  With the emergence of new economically entitled category of distinction marker is shifting. Theme restaurants, clubs, holiday, music, sport and education are used to achieve exclusion. Some of the iconic structure challenging and identity defining products has been bikini, rap music, contraceptives, and jeans.

Affiliating/ belonging: Unlike building identity based on rejection, often people are motivated to maintain their allegiance to an identity group. People with socialistic leanings wear Che Guevara hair style and Lenin beard to communicate affiliation to their political ideology. Consider people wanting to maintain and perpetuate relationship in Apple or Harley Davidson owners group. Here adherence to consumption codes, rites and rituals is essential to acquire identity from the group. In the world of crime Yakuza syndicate expect their members to strictly follow group’s code, rite and rituals. This is also true for tantra/ occult groups. Brands/commodities sometimes develop such strong linkages that they become symbolic icons of a particular group (guitar, tattoo, hair style, and hat). They appropriate some ideology and thereby become reservoir of cultural capital open to be tapped by anyone seeking identity transformation. For instance leather jackets signify Harley culture and body tattooing is about human transformation in to a yakuza.

It is worth pondering how people continually engage in brand acquisition and abandonment in their bid to weave a narrative about themselves.   

Honey Singh, Lyrics, Images, Rape, Identity and YOLO generation

Who am I? What do I stand for? Where am I going?

These questions are so simple that they don’t get any attention. Simple is obvious and obvious is ignored. The YOLO generation – you only live once, especially in their twenties do not have comfort of latching on to cultural categorizations to construct their self and the new is not yet fully emerged. The windmills of liberalization and globalization have rendered the old structures obsolete. The new generation is caught in the situation where the old is not completely gone and the new has not yet fully emerged. The khap diktats, civil society outburst, consumerist culture, rise of the nonsensical movies and lyrics, are all manifestation of this chasm and friction. With the blurring of boundaries the new generation is left on its own to seek answers to the above questions.

The people of the new nomadic tribe are robbed of identity and their privileges that stemmed from fixed social structures. Take a macro look in a metro station or a mall, the humanity stands homogenized but take a closer look and everyone seems to be on a perpetual identity construction voyage. The deeply entrenched power structures are shaken and there is emergence of the new ones. Market is now supplier of symbolic material and consumption is no longer about satisfaction but identity construction.  A Scorpio and an Audi radically differ from each other in their supply of symbolic meaning to one at the steering wheel. Both can’t latch on the old identity structures based on who they are, therefore brand is commissioned for both identity creation and signification.

When the system fails to provide the notions of identity, people are free to make a choice. It is now upon the will of an individual to construct the person he or she wants to be. Consumption in this context gets beyond the realm of utility to acquire symbolism. The choice although free, operates within the overall constraint imposed by a set of possible selves made available in a socio-cultural context. It is not that people choose from a set of infinite selves. Media supplies a limited set of images, symbols and models differing in narrative. Popular media is one big supplier of images and models which are picked by people in arriving at their identity definitions. Primafacie people are said to be free to make a choice but it operates with a constraint imposed by total available set. Culture industries provide repertoire of symbolic products out of which free will is exerted. Bacardi ad says ‘be what you wanna be…’ but images of people portrayed- supply of symbols- narrowly push to you to be ‘the kind of person you should be’.

Each aspect of the environment is laden with symbolism. Popular media as an important part of culture producing industry is a dominant supplier of identity construction resource. The expression of this process manifests in choices that people make – what we buy and how we behave. This influence is so subtle and sub conscious that it escapes conscious scrutiny. The codes of behavior are implicitly established.  Bacardi has very successfully managed to create a new symbolism around rum and establish acceptance of white rum in the youth market. Relationship can only get sanctified if you wear a platinum band, so are you a part of group called ‘platinum people’? Love has got a new expression.

When the identity is fluid and undefined and when we look out to symbols in identity construction process is a song by Honey Singh a potential threat? If diamonds which have very little practical utility can be ‘women’s best friend’ and chocolate can say it ‘better than words’, lyrics can certainly creep into our consciousness taking a sub-conscious route. The blanks of mind are imprinted with ideas supplied by the media to a great extent. The expression of the concept contained in the lyrics would be dangerous, even if it happens in one exceptional case.