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Analysis: With Many Faces

Madhav walia created a winner smartphone brand using a celebrity endorser. Today, a few years later, Madhav is not recommending the strategy to Anila, who is seeing potentially big benefits for her youthful phone brand, Nix. Why?

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Madhav walia  created a winner smartphone brand using a celebrity endorser. Today, a few years later, Madhav is not recommending the strategy to Anila, who is seeing potentially big benefits for her youthful phone brand, Nix. Why?

Madhav shares the flip side of celebrity endorsements in his conversation with Anila. Celebrities can often overshadow the brand, and they may endorse a bewildering number of brands across categories, not helping in association or recall for the brand (think of jewellery brands: can you remember which celebrity endorses which brand; and bigger issue: what is the promise of each celeb-endorsed brand?) Final flip, think Tiger Woods or Charlize Theron: the celeb’s real-life actions can force the brand to annul the relationship prematurely and even move against the celebrity.

But their dialogue also raises some pointed questions. If the above are true, why are there so many examples of celebrity endorsements? Also, is Madhav correct that celebrities are only useful for brands in nascent categories? And that glamorous stars are the best celebrities to pick, a la Amitabh Bachchan?

Anila counters all of Madhav’s points. Idea used the less glamorous Abhishek, not Amitabh, to position itself as a smarter challenger in a non-nascent category — and grew market share. Sure, the super glamorous Cindy Crawford helped turn around Omega in the 1990s after two decades of Japanese dominance. But successful brand ambassadors can also be like the quirky, humorous and irrepressible Juhi Chawla for Kurkure (who this writer first engaged for the brand), who helped the brand achieve dizzy heights over several years of usage. So what’s the recommendation — endorser or no endorser?

As always, one has to start with the brand’s context. Only when the brand’s positioning is defined and its current situation well understood, can one create the ‘what’ and ‘why’ for the different elements in the mix , such as the pricing, distribution, communication. And then comes the question of whether to use an endorser, of what kind, to say what, and in what way. If the overall brand strategy and task are well defined then these questions get answered rather automatically. So, that’s a clear road map.

But, hold on just a second. As you are reading this, the world is changing. And some of the biggest changes are due to the interconnectedness of the Web. Here are some emerging truths.

First, people are paying more and more attention to their friends. So, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” postulating that “Uber influencers” — a small group of people with massive followings — would influence our purchasing decisions and behaviour has been knocked out by Duncan Watts, a researcher of online communities, who has showed that the “power of everyday people” knocks out “the Few”.

In other words, our close networks of everyday people influence us more than celebs, online and offline.

Second, there is growing consumer scepticism about advertising. From a recent Nielsen survey, 33 per cent consumers trusted paid ads, but 92 per cent trust peer recommendations. Another survey shares that for 70 per cent of people, a suggestion from family or friends led to a purchase decision!

So, then, do paid brand ambassadors no longer have a role to play? They do, only in a different form. Consumers are looking for far more expert and knowledgeable information about a brand than from a paid ad or endorser.

Here comes the role of the social media brand ambassador, a person who knows and is willing to talk positively about your brand, in front of their friends (your potential customers) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. They help create the 66 per cent of positive brand conversations happening on these platforms that are rated by surveys as being more credible than the 8 per cent that are negative. So the “credible many” who know, use, trust, love and are willing to talk about the brand, become the real ambassadors, the diplomats who overshadow the obvious (dubious?) “Uber few” who are paid to enact the brand’s personality but usually lack the authenticity of usership, engagement, or loyalty to the brand!

Isn’t this the brave new world emerging? Is Madhav Walia the man who has seen the future? Only time will tell.    

The writer is CMO of Tupperware India, having worked earlier at HUL, PepsiCo, Nokia and Wrigley in sales, marketing and general management roles

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 06-04-2015)

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