From soaps to shirts, underwear to eyewear, celebrities play a crucial role in influencing a shopper’s purchase decision. For the longest time, retail brands have leveraged their star power to promote their products, attract customers and increase sales.
But their charisma has gained even more importance in the digital age, where there is an ongoing battle to grab eyeballs. The popularity of this trend if evident when one looks at the GroupM’s Showbiz marketing report 2017, which shows that the celebrity endorsers’ market in India has risen from 665 celebrity engagements in 2007 to over 1660 in 2017. Another report states that the value of celebrity endorsers has risen close to a whopping INR 70 billion from approximately INR 15 billion a decade ago.
A STAR-STRUCK NATION
Duff and Phelps, a global advisor on brand protection and enhancement, in its fourth ‘Celebrity Brand Valuation Report of 2018 India’ noted that millennial celebrities are the first choice for retailers wanting to encash opportunities fuelled by youth-generated demands. The endorsement market has matured from vanilla endorsement deals to strategic partnerships and equity deals. In a digitally dominated era, retailers are continuously reassessing high investment celebrity associations in terms of sales conversion and returns on investment (ROI).
They stress that the marketing strategy of celebrities endorsing brands to “create an impact” remains “pivotal” to their brand strategies in the digital era and has in fact assumed greater significance. “Celebrity associations help drive potential audiences to the brand via multiple channels like digital, electronic or print (depending on the campaign) and collaborations often result into a spike visibility,” said Etienne Marques, Partner at Peepul Consulting.
This is because the target audience who are largely the aspirational youth with disposable income are consuming varied forms of content digitally and through traditional media. Marques cited the example of HRX, an activewear wear brand synonymous with Hrithik Roshan. He noted, “HRX stands as a case study to other upcoming celebrity led brands as it has transformed in terms of mileage in a short time with a primarily online approach.”
FITMENT IS KEY
Tushar Jain, Founder and MD of High Spirit Commercial Ventures that owns the INR 100 crore premium luggage brand Traworld, believes that while it is difficult to measure celebrity association with ROI, it goes a long way in tapping new regions. The company recently signed Bollywood actor, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, as its brand ambassador. While shy of disclosing actual numbers, Jain said that its numbers witnessed a “stupendous” rise after a soft launch of its campaign with the actor. With the imminent launch of mass media advertising, the company is confident of enhancing revenues by a least 25% and consolidating its footprint in south, west and north India.
Brands need to research the social media presence of celebrities to ensure that they are in sync with the brand’s values. Soumava Naskar, Director, Hummel, reiterated this view. The Danish sportswear brand recently roped in Bollywood heartthrob Kartik Aaryan as it was looking for a “local influencer” and the latter was a perfect fit as his persona “resonates with the cheerful approach of inclusiveness that Hummel stands for.”
Elaborating on matrix used for ROI determination, Naskar stated, “Sales is traceable and growth measurable for Hummel to the extent of limited edition collaboration. However, it is more about the fitment lens than the budget.”
Harsha Agarwal, Director of Emami Ltd, could not agree more on the fitment factor. The company had megastars from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan endorsing Navratna Cool Oil catering to different demographics at the same time. While the universal appeal of Amitabh Bachhan was to grab eyeballs of a generation using the same hair oil since their childhood, Shah Rukh Khan’s debonair presence was to make the use of hair oil cool amongst the youth! As Agarwal put it, “Both megastars had one thing in common – they could evoke a deep rooted connect and empathy in audiences.”
SAFEGUARDING AGAINST RISKS
In the digital era, another area of concern is the constant media glare and active social media presence. Must, retailers then remain on tenterhooks as their brands may come under the scanner as well? Not really, Marques believes.
While a brand must always be prepared for firefighting at any point of time a good amount of “risk can be averted” by researching “across channels” including background information and present day associations of celebrities. “Further, screening content before it goes into the public domain is a standard practice,” assured Marques.
Hummel’s Naskar believes in being proactive not only with celebrity associations but takes it a notch higher with “hygienic checks” across all sponsored programs. He recalled how the brand was quick to dissociate with a sports association on confirmed reports of gross violations and gender based mistreatment.
In conclusion, it may be fair to say that while celebrity associations may not have a direct impact on sales, the brand image they portray and thus creating mind space for potential customers is what drives brands towards celebrity endorsements even in this fast changing digital age.