Indian Celebrities: A Cultural Phenomenon?

– Prof S Ramesh Kumar

Celebrity usage is most utilized when there is a long-term plan. The goal of the consumer and the goal of the brand needs to be served well, over a period of time. It may be a surprise if any other country in the world can become comparable to the usage of celebrities, across categories and such a long period of time…

Glucose D biscuits during the seventies had used the role of Gabbar Singh in the film Sholay (played by Amjad Khan).

We may be curious to know if there is another example of cinema villain’s role that was used for a brand endorsement. (Amrish Puri, Prem Chopra and Prakash Raj may be other film villains who have
endorsed brands). This makes one wonder if Indian celebrities are indeed a phenomenon?

World economist Shrayana Bhattacharya’ s survey, “Desperately Seeing Shahrukh”, on the plight of millions of women who are lonely, unloved and marginalized in India, reflects the secret of India’s eternal success with celebrities. The psychological and emotional outlet provided by film celebrities to women who struggle to make both ends meet, is associated with what psychologists may term as “self –

A psychologically incomplete individual will complete his/her perception of the self by a symbolic association with a brand / object / group or any other aspect that will provide the necessary anchor.

It may be a surprise if any other country in the world can become comparable to the usage of celebrities, across categories and such a long period of time. Film and cricket celebrities have ruled the roost. If we consider Amitabh, we may lose count of the categories and brands he has been associated with over the years.

Psychological literature names three important factors that form the core of the celebrity associated brand usage- trust (attributed to the celebrity ) , credibility (does the celebrity have the credibility in the perception of consumers) likeability (an emotional connection ) and expertise (a sports celebrity endorsing a milk additive on energy, should know what works for a sportsman to provide energy or a sportsman endorsing a low calorie snacking brand with respect to healthy snacking).

An actor with an image like that of Amitabh scores on all the three factors – Cadbury had used him as an endorser to control the damage after its unsavory episode. Recently MeddiBuddy, used the actor as a kind of metaphor, aiming to become what the actor is to cinema, the brand should be to the Indian health care.

Mechanism of celebrity associations

Do we, as consumers not know that celebrities are paid huge money? Hence, if our evaluations are logical, we should not attach much importance to them (unless there is a strong functional fit. For instance, Lata Mangeshkar had endorsed Glycodin cough syrup, suggesting that she could afford to lose anything but not have a sore throat. Our mind is governed by correspondence inference, meaning that our behavior is largely because of our beliefs and underlying dispositions, rather than due to situational variables.

In addition, if the cultural connect also serves to transfer the cultural meaning, the endorser is even more effective. Cricket and films are a part of our culture.

Pointers from the past

  • Celebrity usage is most utilized when there is a long – term plan. The goal of the consumer and the goal of the brand needs to be served well, over a period time. Lux soap, had introduced celebrity advertising in 1929 and even a decade back , about 50 film stars had starred in the ads , over a period of time (source ET edition of 2011). Lux continues to be an aspirational brand generation after generation and the connect is being sustained by the reigning actor who is popular at a given point of time. Boost milk additive mentioned follows, a similar strategy.
  • Brylcream, the hair cream that was a part of the Indian context had used dashing wicket keeper -batsman from cricket and the tagline had suggested “You live only once, do it in style”. The point to be noted is that while the recognition and recall of a brand may be enhanced through such ads (and they are sometimes useful like a bulb having used a celebrity), a lifestyle product may require sustained celebrity association with a clear competitive brand strategy
  • Nestle had introduced glucose under the brand name “Nesfit” during the nineties and Sachin was one of the celebrities, who had endorsed it. While the fit may have been appropriate (sports person-energy), the pack was predominantly white in a category that has always been associated with green Do several important factors play a role, even if a celebrity is used?
  • A brand may use a celebrity to signal classiness like Royale paints had used initially Pataudi and later his son Saif had been associated with the brand . Taj tea for decades was associated with classical music expert Ustad Zakir Hussain.
  • Cultural values slowly change and one of the examples of heralding it was the usage of an appropriate celebrity (Priyanka Chopra) by the scooter brand Pleasure with the proposition “Why should boys have all the fun?” with a narration that broke the stereotypical associations of a pre-matrimonial ritual.

The Digital twist

A journal paper published in the consumer behavior domain, makes a fascinating point. Tiger Woods, who was associated with high credibility as a celebrity before the scandal involving him , even had better credibility after the scandal; it happened with an interesting twist in the study – respondents had attributed better credibility to him, while being exposed to a 35 % morphed image of Tiger Woods , without consciously recognizing him!

The cultural phenomenon is only likely to go to the next level with developments in virtual reality/metaverse in the world of make believe.

Source: Economic Times