Celebs don’t always make effective brand ambassadors

08 Nov 2013


Sachin TendulkarWith cricketing giant Sachin Tendulkar announcing his retirement, his last Test series has become an unexpected Diwali bonus for both the Indian cricket board and advertisers riding piggy-back on 'brand Sachin'.

But the larger questions remain: did any brand use Sachin well? Does any brand truly manage to capture Sachin's essence? Was Brand Sachin even managed well? What is the relevance of a Brand Ambassador in the marketing mix? Do we confuse the term 'brand ambassador' with celebrity branding?

Popular TV programmes are awash with advertising – in sports telecasts in particular, one is likely to see more advertising than live action, with celebs selling everything from potato crisps to holiday destinations. Barring a very few, these ads just have the celebrity mouthing some inanities in an utterly unconvincing manner and smiling a standardised smile. No one remembers the ad or the product.

Why does this happen? Most marketers employ brand ambassadors to get their products noticed, and spend a lot of money to maximise the impact.

Then between the brand marketing team, the advertising agency, the celebrity's talent management team, etc, they come up with a hodgepodge script that is neither here nor there. The end product is so dumbed down that it looks like any other brand the star is endorsing.

Sachin TendulkarUsed wisely, a celebrity can take the brand places. Common people trust stars. They ape them, adopt their values and are happy to buy products that are 'recommended' by their favourite stars. But to make communication truly effective, the marketing team needs to remember that they are using the celebrity to strengthen their own promotional strategies and not vice versa. In the end, the star and the communication must cement the customer-product/service relationship. And let's not forget the real hero or heroine is always the product.

Internationally there are several instances of sportspersons or stars enjoying an omnipresence that goes much beyond their actual work. (The Beckhams are an obvious example).

Endorsement deals that sometimes rake in more for the celeb than their actual work does are not unheard of. These are the new gen, canny breed of stars. They work hard to create an individual identity, their own brand. And it is not by accident that they far outlive their actual careers in the public memory.

But India is not without its clever marketers. Indian celebrities are slowly waking up to the fact that they need to create a brand that they can market to not just India, but the world. The opportunities are tremendous. And there is no talk of retirement here.

The challenge is to figure out how brands too can ride this success story along with them without compromising their own life cycle and growth curve. Because after all, a Sachin should not be so easily replaceable.

According to Emmanuel Upputuru of ITSA Brand Innovations, it would be a great idea if someone could keep a score of how many television sets,  shoes, cola  bottles, inverters,  pens a celeb like Sachin has actually sold.

The best commercial using Sachin is the one for Pepsi where he didn't play much of role – it showed street children wearing Sachin masks.

Brand Sachin will not retire for a long time. Maybe his fees might come down a bit, which will make more brands look at using him as their brand ambassador.

Says Viren Razdan of Brandnomics Consulting, "What's the idea of the brand and what role does the celebrity play? Or is it the lack of an idea which pushes people to help break clutter … let's face it, how would we have known Dixie Banian – or Macro Man (both under-vests) had some Hrithik or Salman not lent their bare bodies and cool looks. These are definitely not 'ambassadors'  but just celebrity strutting … to break through the clutter.

"An ambassador's relationship is usually matured over a long term, as the idea of the brand is embodied, cultivated, represented by the celebrity. In the past Pepsi used stars to build their irreverence through nice comebacks by young cool commoners … puncturing the halo. Tiger Woods representation with golf … has a line of sports equipment / apparel around him … that's an ambassador – good or bad … wedded to the brand."

According to Pooja Chaudri of Concept PR,''Brand ambassadors often form vital links between a product or service and a consumer from an advertiser's point of view. While ambassadors and endorsement is essential, Public Relations campaigns are seldom built only around a celebrity.

PR based communication makes intelligent use of well-chosen brand ambassadors to reflect a brand's ethos and values, and add energy to a campaign but does not usually rely only on them to promote a brand. A short interview with a brand ambassador is at times more significant than a 40-second commercial. Regardless of whether it is advertising or PR, it is critical to use an ambassador or celebrity in the right way to derive maximum advantage.''

Confusing brand ambassador with celebrity branding

The term 'brand ambassador' stands for much more than mere association with celebrities. It can include the company management, employees, an acknowledged expert from the particular field, and most importantly, customers.

For instance, the owner of MDH Masala has been a brand ambassador for years. Beauty brand Dove, where real women have been used so neatly, so many times. Or the digital space today where consumer reviews are solicited and published making you, the common man, an ambassador.


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