Thursday, July 06, 2006

Celebrity Endorsments as a Strategy


In my previous article on Globally Integrated Marketing Communications, I had explained how Tiger Woods’s endorsement of Accenture is beneficial to the company in sending the message of high performance. This is just an example of having celebrity endorsement. Marketers of consumer products have long used celebrities to endorse their product - and this has become a common strategy. I, therefore have chosen to write about the theory and the intentions behind the strategy of using celebrity endorsements.

Objectives of Marketing Communications

Defining the objectives of the advertisements is the first step. In general, there are four major objectives for any advertisement. Note that not all advertisements need not have all the objectives.


  1. Establish the product need

    Establishing a need for a product or a product category is the necessary first step. This is more important in new-to-world category of products. For example iPod or TVIO, or Playstation or indoor barbecue grill or Hair tonic or Oxyclean etc..

    In Indian context, consider the advertisement for Polio Immunization drive - the TV advertisement featured Amitab Bachan telling that immunization is a must for every child - while people suffering from polio are shown in the background along with healthy kids. This advertisement used a celebrity to create the need for polio immunization.

    Another good example is Toyota’s advertisement of Innova in India. The TV advertisement prominently shows Amir Khan playing different roles while traveling in an Innova. The different roles - establish the need for such a big car in India. ( Note that Indian car market is dominated by small cars - which can seat only four adults, Toyota wanted to establish the need for a 8 seater car in India)

  2. Create Brand Awareness

    Once the need for a product is established, customers must be able to associate the brand with the product category. For example iPod is strongly associated with portable MP3 players, TVIO is associated with DVRs, Nike with sports shoes etc..

    A classic example of this is Nike’s use of Michael Jordan advertising for Nike. This advertisement instantly created a strong association of Nike with basketball shoes.

  3. Set customer expectations

    Brand value comes from the customers experience with the product. If the product meets or beats his expectations, then a positive brand image is created, else a negative brand image is created. Therefore it is essential to set the customer expectations accordingly.

    This is most common in established consumer products - Beauty products, household cleaning products, food products etc..

    Consider the advertisement of Burger King featuring Shaquel O’Neal eating a burger with a very satisfied look in his face!
  4. Create a purchase intention

    These are marketing promotion advertisements - Buy one, get one free, or get additional discounts if you buy within a particular date etc.. The sole purpose of such communication messages is to encourage customers to buy immediately or within a short period after seeing

    Use of celebrity endorsements to create a purchase intention has been very limited. This is mainly because such advertisements adversely affect the personality brand value of the celebrity. Being associated with a discount deal is not favorable image for the celebrity and the customer.

Celebrities in Positive & Negative Messages

Celebrity appeal does not work with negative communication messages. Advertisements which are based on guilt, fear or shame cannot use a celebrity in the advertisements. For example advertisements which show the danger of drunken driving or anti-smoking etc. are not suitable of celebrity endorsements.

Organizations have tried using movie stars and sports personalities to send anti-drugs messages - but they all have failed. For example Indian Health Ministry used Kapil Dev in an anti-drug abuse advertisement. Though Kapil Dev is a well known cricket player and has a very strong brand appeal, the communication message failed. The main reasons why celebrities cannot induce the desired effect in a negative advertisement is that the viewers do not associate celebrities with the message. In case of Kapil Dev in an anti-drug abuse advertisement, viewers did not associate Kapil Dev with drug abuse - so his appeal was ineffective.

In general celebrity endorsements work the best when the marketing communication message is based on positive emotional appeals: Love, Humor, Success, Pride, Joy, Happiness, sex appeal, etc.. This is because people normally associate positive image with celebrities.

Positive emotional appeal is a double edged sword. If the celebrity gets involved in a scandal or get adverse negative publicity - then the brand or brand message associated with the celebrity also suffers. For this reason Nike & McDonalds pulled out advertisements featuring Kobe Bryant when Kobe was accused of rape. Mohammed Azzarudin was removed as brand ambassador for TISSOT when he was found guilty of match fixing.

Today celebrity endorsement contracts are written in such a way that companies can easily walk out of an endorsement contract and can collect for damages if the celebrity gets involved in a scandal.

Choice of Celebrity

The choice of celebrity is critical for the success of the advertisement. The celebrity should have high recognition, high positive affect, and the image of the celebrity must match with that of the product. For this reason, famous sportsmen are used to endorse sporting goods: Michael Jordan & Nike, Tiger Woods and Nike, David Beckham endorses Adidas, etc.. While it is totally inappropriate for movie stars to endorse a sports product - like Bill Cosby advertising for a sports shoe.


Celebrity endorsements are now springing up everywhere. Movie stars are now endorsing a whole range of products: Beauty care products, cars, food products, fashion & fashion accessories, lifestyle products, the list is almost limitless. These days, celebrities are being used to endorse medicines too. Bob Dole endorses Viagra and Wasim Akram (Pakistani cricket player) endorses Biocon’s insulin.

Celebrity endorsements can be used more strategically - Celebrities can use their expertise to improve the product, define the market position and sell the product. Nike has enrolled Tiger Woods as a consultant for its Golfing products. Tiger Woods played a key role in developing new products and sales of Nike’s golfing products skyrocketed. Another example is Salton’s George Foreman Grill. Salton, the company which developed this indoor grill had a tough time selling it before George Foreman came into the picture. The sales took off when George Foreman - a two time world boxing champion endorsed the advertised the product in QVC channel.

The cost benefit analysis of using celebrity in marketing communications is bit tricky. But the general belief is that using celebrity is a lot cheaper in building a brand. For example, S.Kumar’s built the brand "Reed & Taylor’s" as a premier suiting material by having Amitab Bachan in its advertisements. To achieve the same without a celebrity would have taken longer time & more money. In a span of less than two years after launch, the brand Reed & Taylor’s" has become the second largest seller of cloth for men’s suits in India.

Celebrity endorsements must be used judiciously. If the celebrity is too famous or too popular, then the celebrity will overpower the product - i.e., people will remember seeing only the celebrity and forget the product. This happened when Britney Spears came in a Pepsi Commercial in 2001. Britney Spears was at the height of her popularity - viewers saw the advertisement to see Britney Spears and forgot all about Pepsi. In India, Hollywood actress Dimple Kapadia in a sexy swim wear was used in a Cinthol soap advertisement - People remember seeing the actress - but the soap was forgotten.

Closing Thoughts

Celebrity Endorsement is a staple strategy in marketing communications for consumer products. Lately celebrities are being used to promote capital goods and business services. All this points towards the big and easy gains for a product by using celebrity endorsements. Globalization has created global recognition of famous celebrities - Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Britney Spears etc. are popular all over the world. Their global popularity has paved the way for a global marketing communication strategy based on celebrity endorsements.

The risk factor - and a grave one at that is the brands/products are susceptible to serious damage if the celebrity associated with that brand falls into disgrace. Barring such an incident, companies must ensure that the brand message is aligned with that of the celebrity’s image.

4 comments:

Ayaka said...

Its well written! i learned a lot!Thanks!

shweta said...

mate if you could do me a favour and help me with the refernces so that i could learn more in depth.
that will really be great if you could do that

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