Is it my imagination, or are advertisers changing their brand endorsers a little too frequently these days? After all, it’s no secret that stiff competition and falling brand sales spur brand custodians to change agencies and even endorsers in a jiffy.
Celebrity managers agree that endorsement contracts have shorter lifespans these days. The real culprit, however, is the Peter Pan fixation, they say. Brands, across categories, need to remain young, and younger faces help them connect with the under-21 age group which dominates India’s demographic. This could explain Pepsi’s Youngistan ad motif, which saw them dropping long-time endorser Sachin Tendulkar. Even BSNL is now bringing Bollywood rage Deepika Padukone as its new face after Preity Zinta.
Anirban Das Blah, CEO, Globosport India Pvt. Ltd, says endorsements are seeing a generational shift and that beyond Pepsi, a host of brands—from ITC’s personal care portfolio to TVS to Cadbury—want to be seen as youth brands. He picks actors Deepika Padukone, Genelia D’Souza, Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan among today’s young and hot faces. The not-so Youngistan? It could be anyone from Bollywood actors Rani Mukherjee and Sushmita Sen to the pantheon of cricket legends. In Blah’s view, an Imran Khan and a Ranbir Kapoor could command higher endorser rates than established actors such as John Abraham or Abhishek Bachchan.
There’s a distinction between youth and youthfulness, though. Youth icons aren’t necessarily in their 20s, points out Vivek Kamath, founder director, Matrix India Entertainment Consultants, citing how the Bachchans and Sachin Tendulkar still appeal across segments. They, along with Bollywood actors Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Saif Ali Khan and others, are part of the iconic brigade that has an appeal across age groups.
Celebrity managers such as Matrix choose endorsers for various brands based on “brand fit”: on whether the brand’s and celebrity’s values mesh, whether budgets match, and the conflict factor—if the celebrity is endorsing rival brands, and whether the endorser’s potential for controversy, which could rub off on the brand. Tendulkar and Pepsi, and Saif Ali Khan and Lay’s, are examples of long and fruitful endorsement deals.
Contracts are broken when payment expectations are not met, or performance factors such as brand salience, recall and sales don’t pick up. Financial reasons not the lack of a youthful image, may sometimes be the real reason why advertisers change endorsers, says Kamath. Two to three rising stars can sometimes be hired for the price of a single heavyweight.
The endorsement game is becoming more of a tactical than strategic play these days, says Blah. Brand managers are obsessed with quarterly results, which decide their promotions and bonuses. So, if a new endorser fails to charm consumers and sales in a year, her contract would probably be reviewed, even terminated. The problem is, endorsements are not a magic wand—a good 12 months are needed to forge a strong association between the new endorser and the brand through advertising before brand recall and sales can get enhanced.
So, maybe Wall Street and Dalal Street are to blame for this prevailing short-term approach to signing up endorsers, which is detrimental to long-term brand building. But let us also not forget to credit the many creative directors who produce mediocre, boring, even confusing commercials where the celebrity is the idea. Ultimately, most stars are as good as the scripts they get, in films or in ads, says Kamath. Consider actor Irrfan Khan in the recent Vodafone ads which talk to small-town India. Now, that’s a marriage of a great performer with a great script.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org