From ambassadors to influencers

Market for endorsements has matured. Brands are no longer looking just for a pretty face, but for influencers


Author Amish Tripathi endorses the Amazon Kindle e-reader. The list of brand ambassadors is also expanding beyond the predictable film and cricket celebrities. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Author Amish Tripathi endorses the Amazon Kindle e-reader. The list of brand ambassadors is also expanding beyond the predictable film and cricket celebrities. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

In June, cable and broadband company Hathway signed up tennis player Sania Mirza as its brand ambassador to promote the company’s ultra-high speed Internet brand. In July, online marketplace Askmebazaar.com engaged Bollywood actor and director Farhan Akhtar to promote its brand. In September, digital payment solutions firm Oxigen Services India Pvt. Ltd said it had signed up Sachin Tendulkar as its brand ambassador. The same month saw Jasper Infotech’s online marketplace Snapdeal unveil its Diwali sale campaign with Bollywood star Aamir Khan. The company also enrolled R. Madhavan, the superstar of southern films, as its brand ambassador to push Snapdeal in the south.

The Aamir Khan and Madhavan deals for Snapdeal were concluded by celebrity management and branded content firm Mates, a unit of media agency Madison. Mates is also signing up Shah Rukh Khan for a new footwear brand.

These are only some of the celebrity brand endorsement deals that have been sealed in the last few months. The list of similar deals between brands and ambassadors in the recent past is exhausting. The endorsement deals market is buzzing. There is a sudden spurt of activity in this space, with brands chasing celebrities to sign them up as ambassadors. Celebrity and talent management experts will have you believe that the deal sizes are going up. Brands are willing to spend big bucks, with new product categories such as e-commerce leading this chase.

That is not all. The list of brand ambassadors is also expanding beyond the predictable film and cricket stars. Men and women from different sports are in demand as are choreographers, DJs, chefs and stand-up comedians. A new category of digital celebrities is also gaining ground. The bottomline is that the person should fetch eyeballs whether it’s a home chef or a musical genius who gets millions of views online. Anyone who can get the eyeballs is in demand, according to Vinit Karnik, national director (entertainment, sports and live events) at media agency GroupM. It could be Amitabh Bachchan or Miss Malini.

To be sure, the celebrity endorsement space is seeing a paradigm shift. Celebrities are no longer just ambassadors, they are influencers. And as mentioned earlier, these influencers are being drawn from different fields. So today, Terence Lewis, a choreographer, can promote a brand as can fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar. Authors like Amish and Chetan Bhagat can also play themselves in the Kindle commercial. Indranil Das Blah, who runs Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, maintains that the market for endorsements has matured. Brands are no longer looking just for a pretty face, but for influencers.

While Manav Sethi, marketing and digital strategy head at Getit Infomedia, which runs Askme.com and Askmebazaar.com, has signed up pretty faces—Ranbir Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut and Farhan Akhtar for his brands—he has also signed up food critics Rocky and Mayur for the the food vertical on Askme.com. Celebrities are enrolled to break clutter and for instant recall. Since Askme.com targets consumers between 15 and 44 years of age, Ranbir Kapoor as the ambassador for the search platform gave the brand instant recall and Sethi expects to exit fiscal year 2016 with 1.3 billion searches. He credits the actor for the spike.

Ranbir Kapoor may be an exception as he’s not on social media, but in general, the concept of ambassadors as influencers has a big digital leg to it. Most celebrities today are signed up for their massive digital following (and agencies say there is a rate card for tweets). They are social influencers who impress the target consumer, that is, the youth. And the young can be found on digital media. For them, the mobile phone is increasingly their first screen.

Little surprise, then, that GroupM has developed a listing of profiles of 300 influencers of whom only 50-70 are well known, claims Karnik. The rest are big on social media with millions of followers.

Through their ambassadors, brands today want reach, disruption and active engagement. The scope of work for brand ambassadors is also changing. Earlier, they featured in print and television commercials or made the occasional appearance at an event. The role of the influencers today is more personal in nature. For instance, you may find a clutch of film stars tweeting about different brands. These celebrities may not necessarily be appearing in the television commercials of these brands, yet they promote them online and are the digital influencers.

Twinkle Khanna, for instance, is not a print or television ambassador for Askmebazaar.com. But she owns the home decor vertical on the site and posts videos that teach you how to style your living spaces.

Clearly, plain vanilla celebrity endorsements are passé. Today, the relationship between brands and their ambassadors is definitely closer and more engaging.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing, and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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