An idea can change a brand’s life

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Vijender Kumar could not be an alchemist and turn his bronze to a silver or gold medal in the Olympics, but he definitely has achieved the stature of an icon in India. Virtually within hours of him achieving his Olympic feat, this photogenic Haryana lad has been roped in by sportswear brand Adidas as its ambassador.

Besides Vijender, the company is looking to get associated with pugilists Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar who brought India glory with their unexpectedly good show at the Beijing Olympics.

“We are clearly looking at extending our relationship with them,” said Adidas India MD Andreas Gellner. The company is in talks with managers of the athletes for endorsement contracts. Once finalised, the contracts will be for around eight years.

Adidas currently has cricketers Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and tennis player Sania Mirza as its brand ambassadors in India. Reebok has cricketers including Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and a string of under-19 players as brand ambassadors while Puma has Sourav Ganguly.

Celebrity brand endorsement

Aligning brands with legends can be immensely valuable in terms of brand-building –provided that the personalities remain closely aligned to the brand values. India’s new-found sports stars are the newest kids on the block and can expect to be hounded by scores of brands and retailers for endorsements. Till date, brands have been aligning themselves with celebrities who predominantly belong to Bollywood or cricket. (Just to give an example, during 2002, the then India’s cricket captain, Sachin Tendulkar, was the country’s top brand endorser with 12 brands to his name ranging from Pepsi and Colgate Total to Fiat Palio and Adidas.)

Shifting preferences in terms of background of these celebrities is probably what some brands are somewhat apprehensive about, as displayed by Reebok and Nike both of which have decided not to go down this path.

When Indiaretailing dug deep to find out and study the primary drivers of brand endorsements in India, it found that there are two important things that the Indian branding industry is lacking in: According to experts, there is a scarcity of icons in India (no pun intended!) and also the advertising industry is missing some genuine creative concepts.

Speaking to Indiaretailing, Akashendu Das (popularly known as Akash Das), veteran advertising professional, said, “India has a serious lack of actual icons. When we speak of icons our choices get limited to people from Bollywood and cricket, which are equally glamourous fields. How many times do we find a big corporate house choosing to eschew celebrity endorsements in favour of creative campaigning? Even newspapers these days have gone for celebrity endorsements.”

Citing reasons for this, Das held that the frequent appearances of these stars and players in front of the media and masses have led the advertisers to believe that their brands will be recalled by consumers whenever they see those icons. “But the fact in this case is that the brand is remembered less while the celebrity becomes memorable. I have had people speaking to me about Shahrukh’s brilliant performance in an advertisement with Maruti, while the star actually endorses Hyundai,” he informed.

On a similar note, Harish Bijoor, brand expert and the CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, said, “Bollywood and cricket are seen as two mediums that can attract the lowest common denominators of the Indian population. Hence, I feel that the trend of signing up people from other backgrounds cannot be taken as a viable option for branding in the industry.”

Bijoor also admitted that the frequent appearances of these stars do play an important role in making them more ‘saleable’ as brand ambassadors. Bijoor also pointed out that glamourous stars including Leander Paes and Sania Mirza could not ride out the competition as they were not featured in the media frequently enough, whereas a new player like Ishant Sharma became famous overnight.

Where’s the Big Idea?

Speaking further, Das asserted that the Indian advertising and branding industry has been missing out on some brilliant ideas. “Actually, it is not only about the absence of icons and real celebrities, it is about the lack of a brilliant idea. The creative impact of a brilliant idea will always sustain in the consumer’s psyche, even if there are no celebrities involved,” said Das.

Citing the highly popular advertising campaigns of Happydent and Fevicol, both of which do not have a celebrity involved, Das said that such campaigns remain in public memory over many other star-backed advertisements.

Research conducted by Bates in India to track consumer opinion on the ‘relevance and effectiveness of celebrity advertising in building brands’, urged brands to ‘de-celebritise’ and focus on ideas. Concluding that ideas, and not celebrities, build brands, the study identified the optimum celebrity ‘fits’ and the cases where celebrities overshadowed brand-building performance.

The survey showed that in the case of cars, celebrity endorsers helped the brands attain almost instant recall. The study also showed that consumers were not naïve, and were able to identify a clear difference between a good script and a good brand idea.

Creating celebrities

When quizzed by Indiaretailing on whether a brand can associate itself with an upcoming talent from any field and help in creating new icons for the industry, Das said, “With the amount of money that is pumped in by a brand for an advertising campaign, I do not think that they will take the risk of featuring an upcoming star. We had once decided to shoot a campaign for Adidas with a national level athlete, but the plans never took off. However, it can be looked upon as a viable option to develop new celebrities.”

However, according to Bijoor, companies such as Reliance and other corporate giants should develop a bank of around 20 not-so-famous celebrities and use them in low-cost advertisements. The one that attracts the target audience in the most effective manner can then be developed as the company’s brand ambassador.

“Banks and steel companies have done it; I feel retailers and brands should work on this idea as an option to counter the unavailability of emerging icons in the country,” Bijoor commented.

By Satrajit Sen

(Photo courtesy: M magazine; photographer: Charudutt Chitrak)

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