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?
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.