How brands can avoid being held hostage to celebrity vagaries

Celeb brand ambassadors getting embroiled in controversies is nothing new. What should brands do to minimise the damage to brand value? Brand experts share their views

BestMediaInfo Bureau
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How brands can avoid being held hostage to celebrity vagaries

How brands can avoid being held hostage to celebrity vagaries

Celeb brand ambassadors getting embroiled in controversies is nothing new. What should brands do to minimise the damage to brand value? Brand experts share their views

Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy & Aanchal Kohli | Mumbai | May 14, 2015

Salman-Khan-with-Atul-Singh,-President,-Asia-Group,-The-Coca-Cola-Company Salman Khan with Atul Singh, President, Asia-Group, The Coca Cola Company (File Photo)

In the wake of Salman Khan's recent court judgement, a spate of brands for which he has been the brand ambassador, decided to lie low for a while with respect to using him as part of their promotions. This is not the first time when a celebrity brand ambassador has got embroiled in a controversy, putting a spoke in the marketing plans of several brands. BestMediaInfo spoke to some brand experts to understand how a brand tides over such a situation without its image taking a beating in the long run.

Brand building is a business

Harish Bijoor Harish Bijoor

Brand consultant Harish Bijoor doesn't mince words when he says, “This is business. Hard business.” Stressing that a brand must not stick their necks out for their celebrities in trouble, he believes that brands are essentially selfish entities.

“The good of the brand is always protected passionately. To that extent, a scandal or the undoing of a star celebrity in any other way is typically not tolerated by brands. Brands resonate the aspirations of their consumers. Therefore, they read the consumer's mind and act accordingly. Brands are hit only if they go against the grain of their consumers,” Bijoor added.

KV Sridhar KV Sridhar

KV Sridhar a.k.a. Pops, Chief Creative Officer, SapientNitro India, who handled Salman Khan for Thums Up while he was with Leo Burnett in his last assignment, firmly believes that brands have to come before the celebrity. “Brands could be valued anywhere from Rs 20 crore to Rs 2,000 crore. One cannot jeopardise the brand valuation for a celebrity, who might have come on board for probably Rs 2 crore.”

Partha Sinha Partha Sinha

Partha Sinha, Director and Chief Strategy Officer, South Asia, Publicis Worldwide, highlighted the difference between signing a celebrity and using a celebrity to deliver a brand message. He felt that more often than not brands ended up signing a celebrity without a central brand idea in place and that becomes an issue.

Saujanya Shrivastava, Chief Marketing Officer, stressed that brands derived value from celebrity association but were not predicated solely on the same. He explained that in the larger context, brands solved customer needs and hence played a meaningful role in the lives of the target audience either by way of strong emotional payoffs or functional delivery. “Equity is built over central pillars of performance and trust and so long as this equation is maintained, the short term vacuum is transient,” he added.

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

“A brand built on strong core values will be able to transit seamlessly into a new face – without any impact on its positioning,” observed Lloyd Mathias, Marketing Head - Printing & Personal Systems, Hewlett-Packard India. Noting that most good marketers will have built their brand's equity over time basis core values, Mathias believes that the sudden loss of an ambassador should not significantly alter the brands messaging or core positioning. “These brands should seamlessly continue their communication without the 'ambassador' and focus on amplifying the brands core value,” he added.

Celebs are human too

Publicis' Sinha is of the opinion that no celebrity should ever become 'the face of the brand' (unless, of course, the celebrity is an equity holder in the brand). “Because, however much may the synergy be, we are then trying to fit a human being to a business proposition. There will always be a risk. The human face is likely to falter, make errors, etc., because that's the basic human nature. The entire business cannot be rested on such vulnerability,” he explained.

Bijoor noted that brands were hit only if they went against the grain of their consumers.

Priti Nair Priti Nair

Sharing a similar point of view, Priti Nair, Founder, Curry Nation pointed out that brands had to a take a call about their association with a brand ambassador to adapt with the public eye. “At the end of the day, celebrities and brands are under the public eye. It is very important to understand the public sentiment before deciding on the brand's course of action,” she maintained.

Nair also felt that Indian consumers reacted more strongly against a celebrity if they did something which was considered immoral. Moreover, the Indian judiciary takes its own course of time for a decision, and Nair notes that public memory is short and the impact of the judgement will not affect the celebrity's status as much as it would have if there was a quick judgement.

Moving on

Mathias believes that a brand can transition to a new ambassador or a new campaign through clear messaging and use of direct consumer speak through digital and social media, which does not require long lead times.

Saujanya Shrivastava Saujanya Shrivastava

Shrivastava observes that the process of transitioning to a new face should be a well thought out exercise and not a knee jerk reaction to a short-term event. “Building long-term value should be the guiding principle behind any such move,” he remarked.

“The idea of the brand should always supersede the idea of the ambassador. Then transition can really become smooth,” pointed out Sinha. Stating that he tends to look at celebrities more as media vehicles than as integral part of brands, he explained, “If one vehicle is gone, you look for another. But this theory pre-supposes the existence of a brand idea. In the absence of a brand idea, the entire marketing programme can be held hostage to celebrity vagaries. Unfortunately, that seems to be the story behind most 'brand faces'.”