Celebrity Endorsements: do they work?


I don’t like Rafael Nadal the Spanish world number 2 tennis player, but I still own a Babolat, a brand of tennis racquets that he endorses. Strange isn’t it, if I don’t like Rafa why do I play with a racquet he endorses?

babolat rafael[source]

Similarly there are many products and brands that we use not necessarily endorsed by people we like, which brings me to a good question, does celebrity endorsement work?

Since time immemorial popular personalities were encouraged to use products to popularize them. The Romans were probably at the forefront of endorsements. Julius Caesar for example had this special tunic built only for him and popularized it by wearing it loosely, unlike the other Romans; needless to say his tailor had a big part to play in that.

Gladiators were encouraged to use a particular aroma which was then sold under their brand names. So all who wanted to become the ultimate athlete used this aroma to feel like a gladiator.

By the 14th century many royal figures started endorsing particular products, and it was an endorsement to get a royal charter to supply to the kings and queens of Europe. For example Tetley tea now owned by the Tata’s had a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I to supply tea to the Royal Family in the 1600. Such charters greatly added on to the prestige of the product and needless to say Tetley would have had a many fold increase in sales since then. Apart from the Royal family the nobility was another patron for all such products.

But the 20th Century brought with new kings and queens and these were the movie stars and sportsmen. Soon many products were being endorsed by this category of people. A good example is Lux which has been endorsed by the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Paul Newman.

In 1929, advertising featured 26 of the biggest female stars of the day, creating a huge impact among the movie-loving target audience. This was followed by Hollywood Directors talking about the importance of smooth and youthful skin. This pioneered the trend of celebrity product endorsements.

Today almost all major brands which play in the business to consumer space are endorsed by either sports stars or movie stars.

I have no doubt in my mind that endorsements help in brand recall and help in positioning for a particular product. But of late there have been many challenges with celebrity endorsements; I would like to list some that come to my mind.

1. One star too many brands– Let’s look at the Indian cricket captain Mahinder Singh Dhoni. He endorses close to 16 brands. So if a prospect is to name the top brands Dhoni is associated with I guess e would stop with 5-6. Just does this simple exercise close your eyes and try to recall the brands. I tried it I got Orient, TVS, Aircel, Pepsi, Mak, Blank Blank Blank. I can’t recall beyond that.

2. One product too many stars– Pepsi is a good example which has Ranbir Kapoor, MS Dhoni, and a host of other celebrities endorsing it. Similarly Coke has national as well as regional endorsements.

3. Long association of a brand with a star– Sachin Tendulkar used to endorse Pepsi, and then he shifted to Coke but I still associate Sachin with Pepsi. Some associations are hard to break.

So these are just some of the reasons there can be many more.

Also some brands never use celebrities. A good example is New Balance. The athletic shoe company does not believe in celebrity endorsement, but was a favorite with the great Steve Jobs. Even Coke does not use celebrities outside of India.

But I would like to listen to your views on this topic, what do you think? Do endorsements work? If yes then why? And if no then why not?

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  3. Dr Vikram says

    Hi Venkat

    I would love to see that matrix, maybe we should collaborate on a similar piece, what do you ay?

    1. Venkat says

      I would love to prepare an article on one. Let me know at [email protected]. :)

  4. Venkat says

    I find this article interesting. While it is true that people do not get tempted to buy a product from the celebrity who endorses it, that would still not make for the majority of the population.
    This also has a lot to do with literacy and ignorance. One may be literate and yet ignorant. One may be knowing and yet illiterate. If we form a two by two matrix, the section that is literate and knowing would not go by celebrity endorsements. However, falling on the other segments, the probability of picking up celebrity endorsed products/services would definitely be on the higher end.
    India is basically a country with a heavy idol worship level. People tend to believe in what a person with a bigger hand in the media / political / sport pie has to say about something. People will be tempted to buy that product. Celebrity advertising may not play a very big part in the other parts of the World, as it does in India.

  5. ramon says

    The endorsment works but .. beyond that .. the publicity off the product is the final goal, i dont buy a product because Rafa Nadal use it .. i buy a product for the goods an cosn he has .. but the puclicity off the endorsment product have .. is another to consider .. if will gonna buy

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Hi ramon

      I agree and that was the objective of my piece.

  6. Ritika Kumari says

    ya , according to me endorsement works because I have seen many people esp my friends who purchase the goods which is endorsed by their favorite celebrity….sometime I also feel like purchasing the products which is being endorsed by my favorite actor/actress….may be it doesn't work for gen X but for Gen Y it has greater role to play…

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Hi Ritika

      Point well taken, maybe the younger generation does get influenced but I am sure that extends to only low involvement products.

  7. Vineet Bhanot says

    look at TATA.

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Hi Vineet

      A very good example, thank you for Sharing. TATA traditionally dos not use celebrities. They focus their campaigns around issues like Jago campaign for Tata tea.

  8. Ravi says

    Definitely No in my opinion. I think, in today’s world, consumer is smart enough to weigh the pros and cons of a product. When I purchase a product, I do not give a damn who endorses it, If that product has an added value for a lower price, I go for it.
    Do you think, consumer today is foolish enough to think that MS Dhoni drives a TVS bike or Sachin drinks aerated drinks (which are bad for health)? Even if they do, in the end what matters is the product is good for the buyer and not for the endorser.
    A good advertising campaign is that which highlights the features of the product and explains why the product can add value and not uses lousy gimmicks by showing SRK in a tub.

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Totally agree, I echo your sentiments.

  9. Kumar Gaurav says

    Ya I think in this way to some extent but not completely. Some basic reasoning are acceptable and it is also true that when a person endorses many products his impact reduced but I think it reduced only marginally. Because if we try to understand the human behavior and why celebrity being used then we get to know that not just it help in Brand recall but many other impacts also present at the same time. one is attention, usually when you take a personality in your advertisement it seeks extra attention which let people more prone to feel first stage of AIDA model. so it become very important. second is people's automatic unconscious linking of particular personality with the personality of Brand in which we include both monotonous and non monotonous attributes. Third is People's perception get influenced by considering it from known source. for example SAHARA from long time not very active in Advertising but spend much from always on Cricket players and advertising to make it's impression over his customers that it is well established believable company. Now as I mention many reasons for the celebrity endorsements, I think advertising is biggest differentiating and pulling factor for any product. thus it may be because MSD is endorsing many product I could not recall many but many time when we see product or get little links or hints over the packet we relive the advertising experience at the moment and it help in making decision in favor of Brand being endorsed. As we know many time product not being planned before purchase it gives help to rationalize the emotional purchase and simplifying decision making.
    A part of that the behavior of some person and the reasoning in starting in which person even purchase product endorsed by someone I don't like.I think it can be due to many reasons first marketing is not just promotional issue but the combination of all product, price, place , promotion, people and many more Ps. Apart of that many time we just don't like players or celebrities due to one reason and that is we consider them as rival of our favorites, like I don't like Nadal because I love Federer or I don't like MSD(mahendra singh Dhoni) because I love Sachin and think that he snatch Sachin's limelight, In this case what happen people Don't like players but keep respecting other player due to his potential to challenge their Favorite one and quite familiar with the person and don't let influenced their liking for product influenced by their emotional irrational reasoning attached with the Personality. As I always believe human dicision making is a complex process influence by many conscious and subconscious actions. So its difficult and generalise things but pattern may be in this way.

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Hi Kumar

      Thank you for the long comment, that could have piece by itself, :).

      Now I have heard many people talk about AIDA and how the initial attention can be gathered with a celebrity, now the challenge comes when everyone starts doing the same, getting the celebrity to endorse. This would lead to the brand losing its differentiation. Lets look at the recent example of Jeremy Lin promoting Volvo, with Volvo in Chinese hands and Jeremy Lin being a point guard it makes a very strategic fit as a celebrity. We would only be naive to assume that Katrina Kaif would be using Yardley deo for example.

  10. Naweed says

    “Even Coke does not use celebrities outside of India.”

    Brands will definitely use celebrity endorsements in places where the celebrities are great icons for the public. From time to time, we also get to hear of lookalikes of those icons being hired for publicity campaigns!

    1. Dr Vikram says

      Yes I mean there are two sides to it, endorsements can work wonders especially in low involvement products, but the product might have sold by itself.

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