Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sinful Indulgence or Simply Science?

Many complain that celebs in India Demand “Exorbitant Sums” As Endorsers. They say it is sinful. Empirical Evidence, However, Proves them wrong – The Critics have even failed to read the amounts specified on hefty cheques that Hollywood Stars earn for the same. lessons (At Least One) to learn from the Endorsement Drama

SRK, Big B, M.S. Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and every single Bollywood star (and now even Telly stars) or sportsperson worth anything with achievements under his/her belt, have leapt onto the ‘celeb endorsement’ bandwagon and are having a blast! Apparently, the Indian celebrity endorsement market last year itself crossed Rs.450 crores. While critics have cried hoarse over this development and have openly questioned the credibility and effectiveness of ‘bizarre’ coupling [say, a combo of M.S. Dhoni, Kailash Kher and Sushmita Sen endorsing real estate!], there are the intelligent stars who have a strong logic defending their case. One of them is King Khan, who attempts to explain the rationale as: “Let us get some facts straight. No one has forced these intelligent, qualified and hi-profile advertising professionals to hire our services to help sell their products, right? They are all seasoned communication experts, with total knowledge and awareness of both their consumers and brands. Surely, they must have seen something in us – as a powerful, seductive and persuasive link – which helps them bridge the communications gap in an effective and meaningful manner.”

Science, empirical evidence and research supports his argument. Robert Clark and Ignatius Hortsmann, in their notable research ‘Celebrity Endorsements’ statistically prove that “celebrities enhance product recall [and] consumer perception of product value.” More importantly, they write, “Consumers value more highly a product endorsed by a celebrity than one without a celebrity endorsement.” Wharton’s Eric Bradlow writes in his research ‘Advertise yourself’ that it is important “to reach out to people who are ‘influencers’. Everyone should have a list of 20 or 30 people who will act as their ambassadors.” Miciak and Stanlin’s research also shows that now, “Celebrity endorsements work so well that about 20% of all TV commercials [globally] feature a celebrity.” Surely, there are no free lunches anymore and every single advertiser takes this route after a lot of deliberation. And as far as the brand ambassadors are concerned, representing a brand is a straight barter deal, based on demand-and-supply, because in this age of commodification, everything comes with a price-tag.

However, conservative critics carp that our ‘A-listers’ merrily sell out to the highest bidder, which is not what you would expect out of a Sean Connery, an Al Pacino, a Jack Nicholson, a Meryll Streep or any one of weightage or worth. They have principles, values and professional focus – they insist so – and they wouldn’t dream of jumping on the ad-train, just for big bucks. They do not flamboyantly pose for a brand, irrespective of the fit. Sadly, the critics are mistaken here too. Horner, Proctor, Bonnie, Whiten and de Waal in a 2010 study proved that the key factor is prestige of the endorser (rather than, say, the fit). Of course, their research was done on chimps – to prove that even chimps get influenced by endorsements!

But it would be wrong to accuse just our own stars for walking away with big bucks for a pose. Hollywood too doesn’t come cheap for the advertisers, where exorbitant sums are charged whether or not there is an association of the celebrity with the brand/product. Here goes some of them... Leading the pack is the gorgeous Mrs. Michael Douglas – the Welsh beauty, Catherine Zeta Jones. Her alleged 11 million pounds contract with T-mobile, along with some other deals (including being the ‘face’ of a large cosmetic brand) is nothing short of being out of this world. The red-hot, always-in-the-news Angelina Jolie is up next. The hi-profile (Wanted) Tomb-Raider of a Brand Ambassador for causes and concerns for children of a lesser god, scooped up a cool 7 million pounds for her collaboration with luxury fashion label St. John. Before the birth of her twins, Pretty Woman Julia Roberts, was focused on her latest ‘production’, full-on. Afterwards, she consciously eased-off from the movie scene for a while to do the less strenuous and demanding ad-modeling. Her 5 million-plus dollars for Granfranco Terse was a case in point. The supernova Nicole Kidman isn’t far behind. She is said to have earned a whopping 7 million pounds for her appearance in one of Chanel’s ultra high-end perfume ad. Jessica Simpson with her tie-ups – Breath mints and adult acne products – attracted telephone number endorsement fee cheques too! Gwyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron, complete the list. While it is rumoured that the former was paid a beautiful 3.4 million pounds for an Estee Lauder fragrance ad, the latter pocketed 3.4 million pounds to front an accessories brand. The lone guy in this female trip appropriately was super hunk Brad Pitt. His engagement with Heineken Beer fetched him a spirited 2.3 million pounds. And as this issue goes for print, the word is out that 42 year-old Julia Roberts has just clinched a staggering 50 million dollars deal for endorsing the cosmetic range of Lancome. Sports stars in the US earn a gross $1.1 billion on celebrity endorsements. These sums added together only make our own star endorsers look far too humble and not too expensive to have them stand next to your brand!

So at the end of the day, one thing is clear: Endorsements are neither sinful nor dumb, neither life-transforming or soul-uplifting. It completely depends on the marketing focus, consumer profile and prestige of the brand personality. Yes, finally, it is totally the advertiser’s call. The sharper the understanding of the mix, more effective and meaningful is the final synergy. Encouragement with a high-degree of intelligence is key. Rest is well with Indian celebs and the cheques they demand. If anyone has a complaint, there are close alternatives available – go fetch