In early February, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan dazzled Australians by appearing in a black fishtail-style gown with a perfectly fitting lace bodice embellished with gemstones. The former beauty queen was attending the launch of a Longines boutique in Sydney in her capacity as the Ambassador of Elegance for the Swiss premium watch brand. Rai has been the face of Longines since 1999 and more recently, the endorser of French cosmetics brand L’Oreal since 2003. Likewise, her Bollywood counterpart Shah Rukh Khan can boast of South Korean automobile giant Hyundai retaining him as their ambassador for two decades (and more).
Brands are often seen changing their celeb ambassadors as the seasons change, bringing in currently reigning icons and younger faces to portray the brand’s evolving qualities. Why then do certain brands prefer continuing their association with a particular celeb for years together?
Brands are all about the long-term, about consistency; and if the celebrity too can be ‘long-term’, it’s a rare phenomenon, says advertising and branding veteran Ramanujam Sridhar. He says Hyundai (for example) have acknowledged the value of Shah Rukh to the brand’s launch, success and growth. “Shah Rukh has been involved with the launch of the company, when it was not so well-known here and SRK was the big brand. His ads ‘Should I or Shouldn’t I’ certainly made waves. His charisma and appeal to women helped the brand as he did commercials with Preity Zinta. It’s a tribute to the resilience of the star and the consistency of the brand owners that the association has endured,” says Sridhar.
Just like in any partnership, long-term associations, especially when they continue to stay relevant, are always good for a brand, says Jiggy George, founder & CEO of brand management and licensing company Dream Theatre. According to George, the brand and the celeb must continue to evolve and echo the same DNA. “The celeb’s performance equity must continue to grow in such associations and if that is not the case, the association can run the risk of being out-of-touch,” says George.
Moreover, having the same ambassador enhances brand recognition and recall, say experts, as the celeb becomes the signature of the brand, helping the message to get delivered faster to the consumer.
However, the drawbacks of the same face for a brand are too many to be ignored. Long-term associations with a celeb can do more harm than good, says Kaustav Das, CEO of creative agency Ralph & Das.
Firstly, says Das, the brand’s fortunes get inexorably linked to the celeb’s fortunes. If the celeb faces a controversy or his or her performance sinks, it impacts the brand. “Secondly, celebs age and their personality matures over time. But brands have to evolve and stay fresh all the time. Celebs cannot necessarily evolve to comply with a brand’s re-set vision,” says Das, who feels that hiring celebs ‘’is the conventional wisdom of lazy marketers.”
Having different ambassadors helps maintain freshness in a brand’s communication, say experts, “As new celeb endorsers address changes in consumer preferences. It also helps to send out a new message or advocate a novel product or service with a new celeb.”
Do mascots like the Amul baby or Air India maharaja stand a better chance over celebs then?
“Perhaps”, feel experts. Das says the mascot can evolve. “A fine example is the V-Guard kangaroo evolving after 40 years. Or the Qantas Airlines kangaroo that has undergone changes over the years.”
Mascots can never get into controversies, says Sridhar. “But the challenge is that they have no appeal of their own and it has to be entirely created. But brands like Amul have managed to do it over the years.’’
Mascots can also be used to convey topical messages (like the Amul baby) “without having to resort to long-term planning, co-ordination, shoots, etc. But mascots have to be created and invested in over decades to turn legendary,” says George.