Now brand dominates superstar in advertising


There’s a new trend in advertising— it’s a reversal of sorts, where superstars are willing to play second fiddle and be upstaged by the brands they are promoting.

Though some of the most enduring brands are people, like Mahatma Gandhi and his Gandhigiri, brand ambassadors today seem to be more than happy to play second fiddle.

Take for instance the Motorola advertisement currently running on the idiot box, where megastar Abhishek Bachchan lets a small cell phone take centre stage. Or take Unilever’s Axe body spray TV commercial in which Hollywood hunk Ben Affleck concedes that an ordinary liftman could have more girls hitting on him

The spot features Affleck clicking his way through the day counting each time a woman checks him out. At the end of the day, he’s quite pleased with his click total, that is, until he gets on the elevator.

With just 103 clicks on his click-o-meter, Ben Affleck grudgingly bows to the 2,372 clicks on the liftman’s click-o-meter—made possible because of the liberal use of Axe body spray.

“It is a tweaking in the creative strategy. When a brand ambassador truly endorses a brand and believes in what he is doing, it comes across clearly. Even when the hero is saying that the brand has more features than himself. That is true endorsement,� says Sanjay Bhutiani, business head, BR Films.

Creative fine tuning or otherwise, focusing the spotlight onto the brand is back. Ad agency JWT CEO Colvyn Harris, however; maintains that “Stars are not being relegated to playing second fiddle. Instead they are playing top-dollar and are being paid that much too.� According to reports, Affleck signed a $1.8 million deal with Lynx (better known as Axe in the United States and in India) for the clicker spot.

Harris goes on to add: “These creatives ensure that the hero is no star, but just a normal guy. They actually end up promoting the brand. The philosophy is to run away with the brand , but most marketers know that they can’t substitute a bad idea with an expensive celebrity . It just doesn’t work. The consumer is not fooled.�

If there are issues with the product, no number of celebrities will be able to promote it. Case in point: Sachin Tendulkar promoting Palio and TVS Motor bikes. While the former didn’t quite move to first gear despite the earnest appeals of the cricket sensation, the picture of a denim clad Tendulkar sitting atop a stationary TVS bike zoomed onto the fast lane.

“The consumers is evaluating all the time ,� explains Harris. “Appraising the merits of the Palio against cars in the market is a given. There were issues with the product, as there are with other products and though the celebrity is expected to bring in the aspirational value and get salience for the brand, it is a thin line that marketers have to learn to tread.�

For marketers, it’s like skating on thin ice. And when fire-fighting issues are involved, they have to ensure that distinctions do not blur. Like I the case of the ad with the chairman of Pepsi, Rajeev Bakshi, and Aamir Khan for Coke.

“What Rajeev Bakshi, chairman of PepsiCo India did was for tactical purposes. He had to address an issue as did Aamir Khan for Coca-Cola Research indicated that Aamir Khan would be the best bet to take on the pesticide controversy, whereas Bakshi took upon himself to promote the brand,� says Harris.

Adds Bhutiani, “There have been many cases where celebrity emdorsement have been effectively used and have helped brands grow. No one knew Rajeev Bakshi till the ad broke. Today, the consumer knows who the man is, especially when he says that he would ply his family and kids with the drink. He has brought credibility to the brand.�

What megastar Amitabh Bhachchan managed with Cadbury , after the worm infestation controversy, has gone down in marketing history as a success story. Most marketing mavens llude to the near-demise of the chocolate brand with the same reverence that they would afford to the story of Lee lacocca and the American classic, the Ford Mustang.

The tough-talking CEO of Ford, better known as the father of the Mustang, reportedly bagged $1 million for the commercials in which he endorsed the brand. The marketing success replicated by Akio Morita , the founder member of Sony, whose ‘Made of Japan’ sold like hot cakes, is another case in point.