Brands don't have a spokesperson, corporations have. The spokespersons for the corporations have a tough job for they disseminate the official version of the company to regulators, presses, authorities and the wider audience. They are the final word in public for their corporations. They rarely appear in commercial advertising for their own brands.
But sometimes, the spokesperson for the company and the ‘spokesperson’ for the brand becomes one.
Is that prudent? Does it add to the stature of the brand? Does it make the promise of the brand sharper and persuasive?
Essentially, brands are not the same as corporations that own them. The branding gurus have always said that the true ownership of brands lies with its consumers. Advertising adds charm to the entire brand persona. Brands measure likeability of its communication. More the communication is liked greater is the long-term traction for the brand.
What happens when brands merge the spokesperson and the endorser?
One of the earliest examples of this is the founder of MDH appearing in his own ads. To start with, he is the face of the brand appearing in all packs of MDH. MDH in its earlier years used celebrities along with the founder to build traction. The celebrities added a lot of spice to the brand, the old man became the voice of authority. The market then expanded, competition expanded, brands with regional pockets of influence started to become national.
Today the founder of MDH has to fight BigB to get the attention of the audience and also has to battle a host of funny Internet memes to keep the favourability of brand high.
By using the founder as a spokesperson and keeping him as the constant branding element, is MDH losing out on contemporariness? Or is MDH doing well, despite the advertising? With the structure of spice market changing, will MDH have a new challenge to face, and will the octogenarian founder be the weapon? Can he build the charm the brand will need?
Patanjali, however, has used its two founders to sell a host of brands from honey to staples to even instant noodles. Maybe when brands go combative and build an outrageous tonality, the spokesperson helps the brand. Patanjali with its really tall claims of nationalism, purity and goodness would not have worked if the claims were not made by the founders. In case of Patanjali, consumers don’t buy the brand, they buy the founder. There are no parallels to this strategy. Lee Iacocca did something like this, but in another era, and for a small time. I suspect over a period of time Patanjali will have to stand on its own two feet and not lean on the two Babas if it has to keep growing. Patanjali may need to add a lot of charm to its brand world.
Recently, a coaching institute broke a TV campaign with the brand owner as the spokesperson. It’s about how the coaching institute helps daughters become doctors and sons become engineers. Should the founder have appeared in the campaign himself? Can you recall the brand name as you read this?
The most famous spokesperson today is the ‘Trivago Guy’. Is he working for Trivago? Is the wider audience who look for hotels online in love with the brand? Are there gains the brand has made beyond driving search traffic? Trivago is the today’s rendition of MDH, where the only way brand can build some kind of traction is by bringing the brand owner to the fore.
Advertising has to add charm and likeability to brand communication. It’s not easy to do that with brands’ owners appearing in advertising.
This is a tricky strategy, as often the question the consumer asks is who is that guy?
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle.)
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