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Make campaigns idea-first and not celebrity-first; use their strengths to make ads memorable: Experts

As the first half of the festive period comes to an end, almost every brand has collaborated with one or the other celebrity. delves deep into the nitty gritty of the hows and whats of celebrity endorsing to identify what works best for brands

With celebrities taking the front-seat for almost every other brand’s commercial during the first half of the festive season, industry experts voice concerns over brands using the affinity of celebs just for the sake of breaking the media clutter and not utilising them in an idea-first fashion.

Dhruv Sachdeva

According to Dhruv Sachdeva, Founder, Humour Me, “Brands have been working with celebrities for several decades now and have found the association to be highly beneficial. India is an extremely trust-deficit market and collaborating with celebrities helps brands in elevating the brand image in the minds of the consumers and builds a certain trust and credibility factor.”

“In India, Bollywood and Sports are the two categories which work best owing to the individual brands that the artists and sportspersons have made for themselves. Celebrity-led campaigns will always perform better in the short term because they give instant results to the brand in terms of increased sales as the media push becomes easier with a celebrity,” he added.

Abhik Santara

Abhik Santara, Director and CEO, atom network, said, “When we have a discussion with brands for narrowing down on a celebrity, we as marketeers foresee two major things- one is the immediate cut through (or instant awareness or recall) and the other is giving the brand a certain amount of stature.”

“For comparatively newer brands foraying into a crowded category and being taken seriously with some amount of gravitas, celebrity endorsement proves to be very beneficial as it impacts the brand’s KPIs, including top of the funnel metrics like intent, purchase, etc. directly depending on the idea. However, the celebrity is as much responsible as the brand idea, and thus if a celebrity is merely roped in for the sake of it, it has a very convoluted impact,” he added.

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Lloyd Mathias

As per Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former marketing head of HP Asia, PepsiCo India & Motorola, “Most of the brands, today, are collaborating and utilising celebrities and well known personalities as a shortcut to beat the media clutter and get noticed. However, brands need to integrate a celebrity into their communication in a manner that works off the celebrity’s popularity and yet remains meaningful and relevant to the brands proposition because there has to be a fit between the brands and the celebrities, both.”

In Mathias’ opinion using a celebrity only to beat media clutter is not just lazy marketing but it’s also counterproductive because it is important to ensure consistency, authenticity and relevance, so it appears that the celebrity genuinely believes in the brand's proposition.

“With younger consumers, especially GenZs, having the understanding of celebrity associations as a paid for endorsement, influencers tend to be a much more powerful tool, because they seem to be more relatable and believable to the audience along with the cost benefit,” he added.

Rajesh Ramaswamy

Rajesh Ramaswamy, Founder, Script Room, “Sometimes there is an absolute mismatch of personality between the celebrity and the brand and sometimes a brand doesn’t even know the right way of using a celebrity and establishes no connection of any sorts in the communication.”

“But, celebrities do work and give an instant grab because people will look out for them no matter if they like the ad or not, they’ll end up watching it wholly. Ultimately, the way a celebrity is used is gaining more importance as people are no more in awe of the celebs and stargazing has gone down, thus in newer celebrity-led campaigns, they are shown in a more relatable fashion,” he added.

Moreover, Ramaswamy also emphasised that the celebrities do help the brands make a cut through across the nation as their popularity doesn’t seem to diminish and only rises further, thereby helping the brands to gain public attention but the campaign idea definitely comes first.

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Nisha Sampath

As per Nisha Sampath, Brand Consultant and Managing Partner at Bright Angles Consulting, “If one has a good look at the nation, culturally, we worship celebrities and they are the figures of power and fame, more than any other content, so much so that the people have built temples for the celebrities in Tamil Nadu. So, the love that people have for these stars and the appeal these stars have is not only limited to the younger lot, but also the older generations.”

“The connection with celebrities that people have is real and only grows with time. Thus, the brands also hope that they get a rub off in terms of awareness and affinity, when they collaborate with a film star. However, they do not work with all audiences and business categories as some categories are mainly about the product and the technology that a brand brings to the table and in some cases, the geographical constraints make it more cynical as it is extremely hard to connect to the vast mass market consumers,” she added.

Sampath also emphasised that a brand can do without a celebrity, in the cases where the brand idea is extremely strong or the product stands for something very strongly, it’ll be differentiated depending on the creative idea.

Commenting on as to what is driving brands to collaborate with celebrities, even more so today, Sampath highlighted that brands who are aspiring to grow and take share form the market leaders, there is a general belief that it might not be possible without being associated with a celebrity and that pressure is driving more and more celebrity collaborations.

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When asked as to what are some of the advantages that come along with celebrity collaborations, Mathias said that the celebrities add to the brand’s credibility and helps it reach a much wider audience through the celebrity’s personal rub off and help the media budgets go much longer. The celeb’s achievements also impact the brand in a positive way as they are much more newsy as compared to an average model, he said.

Additionally, Ramaswamy also pointed out that when any brand faces certain image issues, celebrity collaborations prove to be a legitimate option as they reassure the brand’s credibility and trust.

As per Sachdeva, most marketers make a blunder of underestimating the intelligence of the audience and tend to use a celebrity just because he/she is onboard with the brand and that doesn’t do justice to the brand at all.

“The right way of going about any brand collaboration is to utilise the celebrity in a way that it establishes a category connect between the celebrity and the brand for the right reasons where the artists’ own skill sets and strengths complement the association and marries the values or audiences of the brand,” he said.

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Moreover, Sampath also pointed out that the celebrities do not always bring credibility to any brand, because today’s consumers are much more aware and know if the brand is featuring a celebrity just for an ad and has no personal connection in terms of being consumed by the celebrity.

“Celebrities work best for categories where the consumers get a feel that the celebrities themselves might be the users, for example- luxury, fashion, lifestyle, etc. and having a celebrity in an ad brings its own challenges because sometimes, the scripts are reworked around the celebrity so that they get substantial screen time,” she added.

Santara also highlighted that when it comes to commodity categories like consumer durables, FMCG, etc which are highly crowded categories and there is no new news that the brands can give in terms of their product offerings, celebrities help the brand in bringing a fresh energy and undried rate of conversions.

“With the rise of new-age D2C brands in India who compete with the likes of P&Gs and Unilevers of the world, for them scaling up is one of the top-most priority and are keen on doing it immediately and that’s when celebrities come into the picture,” he emphasised.

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While commenting on some of the challenges that come along with celebrity collaborations, Humour Me’s Sachdeva stated that one must always keep in mind that he/she is required to do justice with the client brand and the celebrity’s brand, both at the same time and make them both win.

“Celebrities are crystal clear when it comes to playing on their strengths and skill sets and aren’t interested in doing anything just for the sake of it. Thus, more brands need to recognize that they should use celebrities as actors, playing their character roles and not in a generic manner. Just using a big name is not going to do the job,” he asserted.

Additionally, ^atom network’s Santara also pointed out that with the advent of social media and the massive awareness it has brought in, the equity of the celebrity is directly linked to the brand image and the actions of the celebrities happen to impact the brand in a certain manner. Similarly, one wrong move by the brand will also have a certain impact on the celebrity, he added.

Mathias also asserted that celebrities always come with associated risks and may get into a controversy that could cast its shadow on the brand. “Most brands recognize this when they sign on a celebrity. For movie stars there’s a risk of their movies failing, much like for sportspersons -loss of form or being dropped from the team,” he added.

Moreover, the brands’ equation with the celebrities has also undergone a change in the past few decades, as per Santara. “Earlier the celebrities signed their respective deals with the brands with no vested interest, but today it is majorly done on an equity-basis. So, the celebrity is also part owner of the business, thus his/her role is not just limited to brand communication but driving the business and success for the brand,” he added.

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“Of course, most brands will have a moral clause that can ensure that the brand can terminate its association, should the celebrity get into an unforeseen situation that can adversely impact the brand,” said Mathias.

Furthermore, Ramaswamy also highlighted that when it comes to celebrity endorsements, there are certain constraints to the thinking process and the campaign idea along with its execution as there is a time and location constraint attached.

“Sometimes one has to think so much within the box that he/she may not be able to pull off a great idea because of the limited number of hours and the celebrities not being able to shoot in outdoor locations, and that is a big bummer,” he aHowever, one should make interesting use of the celebrities and make ads which suit their personality that helps cut across for the brand and in a manner which makes it memorable because people tend to get bored of a celebrity when the ad is too aspirational and goes beyond the public as there is no relatability attached to it, emphasised Ramaswamy.

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Moreover, Sachdeva also stated that some of the older and celebrated advertising campaigns in India didn’t even have a celebrity yet worked beautifully for the brands. “Using a celebrity is not an idea, it is just a device. Therefore, even if a brand doesn’t collaborate with a celebrity, the canvas is wide open for ideas and innovations,” he added.

^atom network’s Santara also shared a similar point of view and pointed out that the brand idea or the communication idea should always be on the forefront and if that idea could work in a better way with a celebrity who in turn aids in furthering its reach faster, then only one should consider associating with a celebrity. “If a brand can have a standalone idea without a celebrity, it is a far better state to be in, because celebrities might give a short term spike, but the long term equity of the brand rests on its communication or brand idea,” he said.

For Mathias, the main differentiator between a celeb and a non-celeb campaign is that a celebrity lightens up the screen and they very well know how to handle public appearances and also in front of the camera, which gives a lot of value to the brand, but what is critical is that there is a fit between the two and just sticking a face to an ad might not be the right way, he said.

On a concluding note, Sachdeva also highlighted that the global tailwinds also suggest that there is more trust in micro, nano, and category-specific bespoke creators as opposed to generic big-name celebrities because associating with them brings in a lot of trust owing to their influential nature in the categories they cater to and have deep engagement and passion within the communities they have built.

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