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Gender pay disparity is a reality but are brands acknowledging it when it comes to their endorsers?

While gender pay disparity still exists, BestMediaInfo.com spoke to experts about the role advertisers and brands can play toward resolving it

While the industry might be working towards improving the depiction of women in advertising, the same cannot be said about them offering similar and fair compensation to female brand ambassadors and endorsers.

A few months back when Cadbury recreated its iconic ‘Kuch Khaas hai’ ad with women cricketers everyone praised it and called it refreshing. Actor Alia Bhatt was also recently featured in the advertisement of Blender’s Pride: a category that has long been dominated by ambassadors like Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Ranveer Singh etc. This shows that ads in with women in the centre, irrespective of the category, could garner eyeballs.

However, according to the Duff and Phelps Celebrity Endorsement Report for 2021, Virat Kohli, Ranveer Singh, and Akshay Kumar are at the top when it comes to brand valuation. Out of the top 20 celebrity endorsers from India mentioned in the report, just four women have made it to this list. Alia Bhatt is at number 4, Deepika at number 7, and Kareena Kapoor at number 14. PV Sindhu is the only women athlete mentioned in the report who is at number 20. 

BestMediaInfo.com asked industry experts what factors are responsible for women making less money than men when it comes to endorsements. 

Karthik Nagarajan

Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer, Wavemaker India, said, “Celebrity endorsement, the way we have known it, is changing. Today, the social media/creator celebrity is a significant part of that pie. Brands look for brand safety, whether the celeb appeals to the brand’s TG and whether he/she can be credible as both an ambassador and a customer. Gender pay parity is just a dark legacy from the past. It is still a reality even though the gap is significantly lower than earlier. The rules are being rewritten entirely in the social media celebrity world where parity doesn’t exist, for the most part.” 

Nisha Vasudevan

Nisha Vasudevan, Executive Creative Director at Supari Studios, feels it is a larger systematic issue. “Advertisements mirror what society is asking for. Until we don’t ask for more avenues for representation, it's really not going to happen. Even though narratives are changing, it is going to take some time.” 

Nandini Sharma

Nandini Sharma, Head, Brand Servicing and Strategic Relationships at Exceed Entertainment, feels there is no real barrier (apart from a perceptive one) to female celebrities charging a fee close/equal to their male contemporaries.

Garima Khandelwal

According to Garima Khandelwal, CCO at Mullen Lintas, the social media following of a celebrity matters the most. “Virat Kohli is in the top 10 most followed celebrities not just in India, but in the world. So, imagine the eyes balls anything associated with Virat gets. Once you know your worth and can capitalise on it, advertisers will pay if it’s an ROI.” 

Vasudevan of Supari Studios feels that it is not like female celebrities are not asking more from brands, but brands are unwilling to do so. “Advertisers have to see the value in them.” She explained that as a society we are not conditioned to see a woman perform stunts for a soft drink. On the other hand, we also don’t see men endorsing products like Slice. “Women do get sexualised. That's just a reflection of modern society that we don't expect to see women in certain roles.” 

The category of the advertisement also matters. For example, the Duff and Phelps report said that endorsing products from the personal care, consumer durables and apparel are often attached to the celebrity’s status symbol.  However, endorsing a product that can be hazardous to health, such as carbonated and alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, etc may also negatively impact a celebrity’s image. Celebrities tend to charge much higher fees for endorsing such products, and these categories are more often than not offered to men. 

Last year, when Indian women athletes performed exceedingly well at the Tokyo Olympics, there were talks about how it might lead to sports stars getting more ads and representation but we don’t see women athletes get the same level of endorsements as MS Dhoni, Kohli and more recently, Neeraj Chopra. 

Nagarajan said, “The Olympics over the last two editions have been game-changers as far as women's celebrity endorsement is concerned. With PV Sindhu leading the list, Mirabai Chanu and Lovlina found a lot of brands reaching out to them immediately post the Tokyo Olympics. At an overall level, the representation has certainly increased. However, sustained growth is still a challenge.” 

According to Sharma, the brand space is quite a niche when it comes to women sports celebrities. She said as more Indian women peak in their respective sports at a consistent pace, (which in turn will be driven by bolstering our sports infrastructure further), brands are not going to be averse to selecting ambassadors that are the right product fit and reflect brand values.

On the other hand, Sharma also said advertisers have become progressive in their approach and female stars can be found increasingly quoting a price that is justified with their brand relevance, individual growth and track record sustainability. 

“We are in an era witnessing a strong communication shift where advertisers see pride and prestige in augmenting brand value by engaging with women: be it an emerging face, a well-established celebrity or whether it is about modern wives, mothers etc. If a company rationalises that an ambassador's character would bring to the fore an ideal amalgamation with its brand philosophy and attributes, they will pay the fees no matter the gender.” 

She added that celebrities both male and female know their value and exercise their option of walking away. “Fees may also vary based on product category, or hinge on a celebrity's selective approach in endorsing brands like being at their career's peak that brings with it discernment, life priorities such as marriage, motherhood etc. So, it may not always be accurate to say they are not earning as much, rather they may have become selective in how a certain association benefits them holistically in the longer term.”

Khandelwal added, “Endorsements are also about cashing in at the right time, the pay disparity we are referring to is not just about endorsements. Didn’t Deepika walk out on a Bhansali project recently because she was not getting the same pay as the male lead? Endorsements with any celebrity always come as a variable, am sure Cred did not pay their celebrities what it would have cost them in their heydays,” she explained. 


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