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Celebrity ad fever

By September this year, 37 fresh brands had joined the celebrity endorsement bandwagon that closed 2011 with an impressive 706 brands. Going by the advertisers’ appetite, the numbers will only grow. Anita Sharan reports.

business Updated: Nov 26, 2012 02:00 IST
Anita Sharan

By September this year, 37 fresh brands had joined the celebrity endorsement bandwagon that closed 2011 with an impressive 706 brands. Going by the advertisers’ appetite, the numbers will only grow.

Several brands that have already been using celebrities are increasing their numbers in their ads. Besides, in addition to Bollywood and cricket celebrities endorsing brands, now television actors are swelling the celebrity ad numbers. The sports celebrity spectrum for advertising has expanded beyond cricket to other sports. Even e-commerce portals are signing on celebrities for endorsements.

“There was a time when celebrities were used to break the ad clutter. That’s no longer true,” admitted Satyaki Ghosh, director – consumer products division, L’oreal India, which uses film celebrities in its advertising.

Sometimes, celebrity ads can also leave people scratching their heads, bemused. “Salman Khan endorsing a brand of rubber chappals is just plain stupid,” grumbles Mumbai-based homemaker Anita Desai, 53, who watches a lot of television. Several marketers and ad professionals agree with her.

But the fact that people have noticed and registered the Relaxo ads with Salman Khan is moot. “While urban consumers may dismiss such advertising as silly, Ram in rural India may not,” Trivikram Thakore, marketing director, Fashionandyou.com, pointed out.

This fashion e-commerce portal has signed on one-film (Rockstar) actress Nargis Fakhri as a brand ambassador. Myntra.com has signed on actor Chitrangada Singh and Yepme.com has roped in Kangana Ranaut.

Desai observed that while celebrities draw attention to the ads and brands, they don’t necessarily induce purchase. “If something new is endorsed by a celebrity, I would try it out.” On the use of TV actors for endorsements, she said: “We see them in serials daily and are familiar with their screen characters. In ads too, we recognise them as their screen personalities.”

On whether bringing in celebrities – who at the upper end charge Rs 10-15 crore for a campaign – can influence buying decisions, Thakore said, “People will buy based on what a brand and product offers. But when product clutter leaves very little left to differentiate, using a celebrity can catch attention. And if many celebrities are used simultaneously, like Pepsi did with Indian cricketers Dhoni, Kohli, Harbajan, Raina versus football sensations Drogba, Torres and Lampard in its ‘Change the Game’ ad campaign, it makes for high impact.”

Ashish Mishra, head of Water and Interbrand India operations, added: “There are more celebs in ads simply because today there are more celebs. An increasing number of brands, with their urgency to register themselves quickly in a short rope business environment, are resorting to the celebrity fillip. Celebrity surely gets a fillip; whether the brand does too is a very different matter, of course.”

Tim Lindsey, CEO of the UK-headquartered D&AD, which awards and trains the international design, advertising and creative industries, said, “Celebrity advertising is mostly lazy advertising. However, using a celebrity over a period of time to build a brand can be effective.”

One such brand is L’Oreal, which has endorsement deals with 12 celebrities internationally. In India, it uses Aishwarya Rai and Sonam Kapoor for its hair care brands and Freida Pinto for its make-up range. “L’oreal Paris is about glamour. Our brand ambassadors are stars in their own right. We have long term relationships with them, something consumers connect with,” said Ghosh. While L’Oreal has had Aishwarya Rai on board for close to 12 years, it has had Sonam Kapoor for four years and Frieda Pinto for three. Ghosh said that using celebrities successfully involves an entire science behind the advertising process including product quality and values, production value, story board, advertising relevance to the consumer and media planning.

Some brands that have already been using celebrities to tell their stories are now adding on even more. Nescafe, which uses film actor Deepika Padukone and TV actor Purab Kohli in its ongoing campaign, brought in funnyman Vir Das and film producer Karan Johar in different ads. Its current ad has added on music (team) biggies Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy to Padukone and Kohli. Fast Relief, the painkiller ointment, uses sportspersons Zaheer Khan, Sushil Kumar and Mary Kom in its latest ad.

As the growing clutter of celebrity ads jostle for attention, the outcomes are bound to be mixed. "Except in cases where the celebrity tells the brand story effectively, this ad format can be expensive and deliver poor economic outcomes . There is also the danger of the celebrity being bigger than the brand and taking attention away from it," said Lindsey.