Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is the celebrity a brand or a product?

Why do brands seek celebrities? They do that because celebrities stand for something; they are different from the herd and create instant awareness for their products. And that is not all. This is cricket World Cup time and each time your celebrity scores a four, snatches a wicket or pulls off a sensational catch, you are preening yourself on your choice. Unfortunately in the Indian context there is another imponderable reality for sponsors. They have absolutely no control over what the celebrity does. Of course while they may not have to worry too much about their celebrity getting into a controversy (unless of course they have signed on the spin king) they have a larger headache and let me try to address this. The biggest problem is that celebrities do not have control over their own destinies and lives but belong to sports management companies to whom they are mere ‘products’ to be managed, packaged and sold aggressively for a profit- brand and celebrity fit be damned. With Dhoni endorsing no less than 25 brands that I can recall and Sachin (or his sports management company) trying hard not to be left behind we have the current captain and the former captain featuring as brand ambassadors of more brands than they really should be doing. Of course the celebrity management companies are probably laughing all the way to the bank, but are the sponsors really happy or looking over their shoulders at every new brand endorsement that their own celebrity is so cheerfully signing.

Cost benefit

Ideally all good management decisions are cost benefit analyses with the benefits far outweighing the costs. However in the case of celebrities companies and decision makers seem to have conveniently forgotten this as they seem to be bowled over by the celebrity’s spell. Celebrity management firms are business men and women after all, and realize that now is the time to make hay .What are some of the other consequences of signing on cricketers ? While they are great on the field and can captivate you with bat and ball, in front of the camera they are like Atherton was in front of McGrath. Or to those not following cricket, “they cannot act to save their lives”. Neither do they reject scripts which ostensibly suck. Throw in the inability of the cricketer or his manager to differentiate between a script and a score card and you have films that are as pedestrian as the current Australian spinners. I would blame some of these problems on lazy strategists and lazier creative directors aided and abetted by safe clients. How can you be fired for signing on Dhoni? All of this reminds me of the Dell ad which was a rejoinder to the IBM line of no one gets fired for buying IBM with the rejoinder “but did they get promoted?” This is the time to take a risk, to push the envelope, do something different and not follow the herd.

The exception

Lest I be completely misunderstood, let me quickly clarify. The truth dear friend is not that I hate celebrities, but I love advertising. And there is no advertising that proves my point of view than the current lot of Pepsi world cup commercials. But while you build up your thirst, I just want to ask you a question which is probably worth answering after this world cup. How many celebrities will be able to match with the brands they endorse, after thousands of seconds and millions of rupees being spent on various brands, many of whom have mediocre advertising?

Use your heads my friends otherwise you would find yourselves with lighter wallets!

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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