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The Face Value

by Arundhati Roy


It is not hard to believe that a celebrity is not less than any God in India. Be it a movie star, sports personality or even a musician, anything that is touched by a ‘celebrity’ has the potential of becoming gold. Now in this regard, how could the advertising industry not benefit from this opportunity!

The advent of celebrity endorsements in advertising in India began when Hindi film and TV stars as well as sportspersons began encroaching on a territory that was, until then, the exclusive domain of models. There was a spurt of advertising, featuring stars like Tabassum (Prestige Pressure Cookers), Jalal Agha (Pan Parag), Kapil Dev (Palmolive Shaving Cream) and Sunil Gavaskar (Dinesh Suitings). If we talk about the rest of the world as well, using a celebrity to sell a product is not a very new concept. In the mid-1800s, patent medicines earned the endorsements of queens and popes in the United Kingdom.

Every brand wants to be a customer’s first choice. But one must remember that there is a stark difference between a brand and a product. When you are buying a product, you are buying a tangible object which serves your purpose but a brand on the other hand, is an idea that a consumer is choosing to align himself/herself with. It is a lifestyle choice of sorts. If I had to explain it with an example, I would consider that of smartphones. We all know that a phone is a phone is a phone, it offers the same utility, but what makes one phone different from the rest is its ability to offer you that ‘extra something’. This is where Brand Positioning comes into play. It can be simply described as a value proposition that needs to be actively communicated to the target audience and that demonstrates an advantage over competing brands.

A person does not buy an iPhone to make calls, it is that feeling of being part of a tribe that entices them and makes them feel proud and successful. iPhone offers a status symbol in society and that is what a consumer is paying for. The battle is no longer between companies but tribes; the company with the strongest tribe wins. But of course, this is not to say that it is not a good product, it very well does what it claims to do. In the end, people will not buy a product on the basis of what the brand use to be instead, it depends largely on how well the legacy has been maintained. The users are the influencers in this regard because they are making a choice.


Now that we know what a brand is, let us explore certain aspects which help in building a brand. The first point of association that a consumer has with a brand is through its brand’s identity. Now, a Brand Identity refers to those things which helps you recognize a brand like its name, logo, tagline, typeface, etc. These are created for a customer to know what a brand stands for, its values. Another important aspect is the Brand Essence which can simply be defined as that one, single thought which captures the ‘soul’ of the brand. It is timeless. Now, for a brand to use a celebrity to promote themselves or for the purpose of collaboration, does become a huge task because one has to keep in mind everything that a brand stands for and align it beside what that celebrity stands for. After all, a celebrity is also a brand in themselves. There is a certain image that a celebrity has in front of its audience and in its most basic level, there must be a cohesive quality about the brand fit. We already know that using a celebrity to sell a product is not a new idea in marketing, but it is a pretty simple logic- people idolize celebrities, so when famous people are seen in advertisements promoting a new product, audiences are prompted to buy that product, either subliminally or directly. The loyalty felt towards the celebrity pays off in the product’s sales and the brand’s equity. Let us consider the example of ICICI prudential life insurance and Amitabh Bachchan. Celebrities such as himself communicate the value of the product and transform an ordinary service into a miracle solution for all problems of an ordinary customer. The image that one gets when we think about ICICI life insurances is that of an elderly member of the family who has become wiser with age and has solutions to all our problems. In this case, Amitabh Bachchan does offer a similar image which the nation relates to and most importantly, Mr. Bachchan stands out as a trust-worthy figure whose advice/suggestions can be accepted without much questioning.


Sometimes, certain celebrity brand fits can go terribly wrong like that of Pan Bahar and Pierce Brosnan. It was a great mismatch primarily because the actual audience of the brand is not aware of Pierce Brosnan to be able to associate the values that he (and James Bond) stand for to be able to transfer them to the pan masala brand. The pan masala chewing audience in India has its core audience largely in the tier 1 and tier 2 cities and it is a given that there are chances that awareness about James Bond/Pierce Brosnan is not upto the point where the consumer will easily be able to get the message that is being presented. The entire objective of the creative goes down the drain if it is unable to project itself in actual sales and that is what the case was with this particular brand.

This relationship between a brand and a celebrity is much more complex and intricate than it seems to be on the surface. One might think it is done without much thought given to it and if a celebrity’s image sells then it will be able to sell the product as well. But one must always remember that it is all about maintaining and complementing the personalities of the two different entities which results in a successful and timeless brand-celebrity fit.

After all, you probably would not buy a L’Oreal product if it wasn’t for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan telling you that “you’re worth it”.

We plan to stretch this topic into a series of couple of articles since one definitely does not capture the various dynamics that are into play. So, make sure that you come visit again!