The role of celebrities in the world of brands has primarily been restricted to endorsement and only recently has it gingerly evolved to co-creation. Across the world there is much strategic debate on the necessity for celebrity affiliations and then the choice of the correct person for the brand in question. In the current environment of customers seeking exceptional experiences in every category, a far larger opportunity is alive for celebrities in the arena of Marketing; from being a third-party endorser on a short-term contractual basis to actually becoming full-fledged consumer brands in their own right.
One needs to simply study the textbook principles of Brand Extension for being sufficiently excited at this brave new possibility. Every celebrity in each sphere is a brand in her own right with a set of robust associations, just like any product or service, starting with expertise in a core domain. Sachin Tendulkar is thus a cricket expert with the stature of a genius but a holistic brand architecture can easily be crafted with due rigour. Core values would certainly include integrity, passion, commitment, evangelism and other appropriate descriptors and in terms of appeal is a youth icon with unique appeal across demographic segments. In terms of construct, it would resemble certainly any global consumer brand that we would be familiar with such as Coke, Apple or even Nike, which automatically leads to eligibility for extension to newer categories.
The next step would then be to assess the thematic possibilities for extending the Sachin brand at the level of categories prior to identifying the management investors. It is possible to imagine a range of energy drinks and supplements quite logically from the sporting connection and equally a range of game-changing athletic equipment. Then emanating from the distinctive emotional associations, a wide and rich world of possibilities powered by imagination and intent. By thriving on his global excellence credo, educational institutions, business centres, media channels and business attire are eminently possible. By tapping on the credibility dimension real estate, public-lending platforms and even a bank is not beyond the realms of imagination. As are certainly fashion wear, social networking platforms, coffee shops in the QSR format from the view of iconic youth appeal. If a brand extension case study was opened up to professional strategists, a rigorous and meaningful range would definitely emerge.
What is true for the inimitable Sachin is equally valid for every other celebrity from the arenas of sport, movies, music, social media and other forms of public life. Every celebrity will lead quite seamlessly to an ownable brand architecture that will automatically, through a standard set of analysis metrics, attract a whole range of brand extension possibilities. Like any other consumer brand, their credibility will depend squarely on the performance and respect earned from their core domain and quite naturally the time spent in the market. In fact, if celebrities do consider themselves seriously as consumer brands like a Pepsi or Adidas, the way they conduct themselves will also change in a positive manner – including a greater adherence to public-place decorum, social media conduct and choice of projects. As a core part of the support system, every celebrity will engage a brand management team to be a strategic foundation and not just an endorsement manager with the mandate to sign endorsement contracts.
In tune with modern practices, the brand ownership eco-system will evolve to manage extensions of celebrity brands in the domains of services and products. Celebrities will tie up directly with venture capitalists to launch their range with the backing of global business experts; else they will resort to management contracts with domain experts. So, if the Sachin brand was to extend to energy drinks, Pepsi can well become the partner while if fashionista Sonam Kapoor becomes a chain of boutique hotels, IHG or Marriott may be the chosen associate. While in a different scenario a very large manufacturer of mobile phones in China may wish to launch their products under the Ranveer Singh brand, termed simply as Ranveer, to add consumer connectivity to product superiority.
In the firmly-entrenched age of experience, brands clearly exist as partners towards co-created outcomes as part of a complementary eco-system, which is exactly where the opportunity for celebrity brands to extend to consumer products and services is very meaningful as every notable celebrity is associated quite clearly with a set of experience expectations drawn largely from his work in the core domain. Rahul Dravid the eternally dependable ally, Kapil Sharma the guaranteed infuser of laughter, Shashi Tharoor the entertaining intellectual while Ustad Amjad Ali Khan the intense mood-elevator. When extending the brand to newer zones, the pre-entrenched associations will give consumers a shortcut to intended meaning that will be truly advantageous for investors, as opposed to starting afresh with a new name. Quite naturally on a foundation of guaranteed performance by serious association with legacy category experts or through strategic outsourcing that is the pattern of the day.
Celebrities are not sufficiently leveraging their brand power by remaining as endorsers, occasional co-creators or in the rare case becoming a sub-brand of an existing label, as demonstrated in the fashion industry occasionally. They must consider themselves to be full-fledged consumer brands blessed with the power to be roaringly successful in newer domains, aided by sound strategic partnerships. If adopted as rapidly as it deserves to be, this new-age approach based on age-old logic will dramatically change the way we build brands.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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