Cinema and cricket are the two great loves of the country. The 2C’s have seen the strongest emergence of the third big C, Celebrities. India swears by star power. What’s the testimony of it you say? The crowd that throngs Mannat every day to catch a whiff of the air that their favorite star breathes, the way the believers and atheists of the nation alike joined forces only to pray for the megastar Amitabh Bachchan’s recovery from the infamous accident he suffered on the sets of Coolie. The influence extends itself to people’s perceptions and buying decisions. When Sr. Bachchan told the country that Cadbury is now safe to eat, it almost erased the worm episode from the collective memory of the nation and the brand went back to being adored. This was a fairly nascent and evolving phase in the life cycle of celebrity-led brand endorsements. 

Today, celebrity endorsement enjoys a very special place in the Indian marketing hall of fame. Close to 50% of endorsements in India feature celebrities as compared to around 20% in the U.S. The marketability of celebrities has spiked even further in the light of digital TV and social media penetration. The celebrity space is also skewed towards movie stars, dominating about 76% of the share of marketing. A lagging second is sports celebrities that occupy 12% of the same market.

FMCG brands form the largest slice of the celebrity campaign pie with 33%. Within this, personal care, jewelry, and banking segments are dominated by female endorsers, the e-commerce, auto, real estate and smartphone segments primarily feature male celebrity endorsers.

TWO’S COMPANY

Every person of public interest in India enjoys its own set of followers with their own set of ideologies. They come handy at different points in a brand’s life depending on the virtue the brand is trying to build for itself.  But what could possibly be more powerful than a larger than life celebrity? 

A celebrity power couple 

When two enigmatic personalities come together, the joint force is definitely a force to reckon with. It’s the decade of the poised Deepika and an eager Ranveer, a chirpy Anushka and a dapper Virat, a mesmerizing Kareena and a jaw droopingly royal Saif and the brand new duo on the block, a spunky Alia and a brooding Ranbir. They all command admiration individually. But as a real-life couple, they just grow their base manifold not just in numbers, but also in the mystery and reverence surrounding them. One only gets a sneak peek into their love lives through the relentless paparazzi clicking them in their airport looks or through their strategic interaction on each other’s social media handles on birthdays or karwachauths. These bite-sized previews and make the audience go even more excited to know about what is going on in their lives.

The closest simulation of how would they be in the confines of their domestic lives, raw and unfiltered is their presence in commercials where they are their real selves and not a character i.e. Deepika as Deepika and Ranveer as Ranveer that makes it a very different experience from seeing them in a movie together. Therefore the expectation from a brand commercial is high. 

Another interesting trend in terms of couple endorsements is getting them on board after their split. The dynamics between a public couple post their break up is also an extremely interesting phenomenon for the audience. Brands are quick to leverage this, bringing the forgotten chemistry in a new bottle through the likes of Ranbir and Deepika recently

From Manyavar to Airbnb, from Dawat Basmati to Lloyd, from Flipkart to Google Duo, the list of brands jumping on this bandwagon is ever-growing.  While the formula of success seems pretty foolproof, it is not as simple as it sounds. The role of these power couples is not just to add glamour quotient to the brand but add substantial value to its equity that does justice to the dual cost of getting two celebs onboard. What could be the potential death of great leverage like this? 

FAILING THE LITMUS TEST 

The couples that intrigue us are sometimes best left alone as intrigue. The lack of chemistry between real-life couples on the reel can completely defeat the purpose of using them for the campaign. A glaring example of one such power couple is Gauri and Shahrukh Khan. The former a successful producer in her own right besides being the first lady of Bollywood and the latter being the undisputed king together form a very formidable unit with a fan base of its own. D’Décor got them featured in a series of brand films that take us into their lives from the bedroom setup to intimate parties. While it packs a punch in terms of context, the lack of chemistry is apparent. Also, one of the partners not being an actor is a shortcoming for the narrative unless it’s kept candid.

The Dhoni and Sakshi Colgate ad is a case in point. Both are non-actors. So to reflect the camaraderie in a breezy way, the setting is of an interview with the shots kept candid instead of asking them to act out a script. It captures the couple in their real essence. 

UNDUE EMPHASIS ON FACE VALUE

Campaigns leveraging celebrity couples have to be made in a way that it should be impossible to remake the campaign with generic models. An ideal way to do this is developing the story around the duo, making sure that the brand is the right fit for the couple. While it is very tempting to recruit a trending celebrity couple on instinct, the final product is sure to be shabby if the brand doesn’t do its homework well of aligning the collective energies of the individuals, the unit and itself. 

One of the best of the worst in this category would be Prestige Pressure Cooker. The ad explores the relationship between Aishwarya and Abhishek in a kitchen setting. “Jo Biwi Se Kare Pyaar, wo Prestige Se Kaise Kare Inkaar” just doesn’t sit well with the Rai-Bachchan couple characteristics. First of all, it is difficult to believe them in the middle of banter about kitchen appliances. Therefore, it was very easy to visualize the ad with any other two people because Abhi-Ash as a unit was not integral to the brand campaign.

In the same breath, Airbnb created an unforgettable association with Saif and Kareena. The couple is a quintessential representation of well-traveled, well-read and well-rounded modern-day couples.

One of the campaigns explores them looking for a perfect Airbnb at their next holiday destination and the other captures their raw self in England at their Airbnb, living the experience. It is an exemplary case study when it comes to seamless marriage between a power couple and a brand. 

IGNORING THE CORE PRODUCT NATURE

Celebrity couples bring with them a lot of emotional baggage by the nature of their relationship and their connection with the audience. When functional products get these power couples on board, it is fatal to get carried away by the urge to make emotional connection between the brand and the celebrities. Lloyd tried to experiment with the star couple format, taking Ranveer and Deepika to endorse their air conditioners with the campaign Khayal Rakhenge, Khush Rakhenge. It harped unnecessarily upon the shifting dynamics between a couple after marriages with the context being that of an AC. When it comes to such functional products, the temptation to get into sappy storylines in an attempt to bring out the chemistry might not go well with the brand. 

LAST WORD

With the brewing romances amongst today’s pop culture icons, some being true and some amplified as gimmicks and publicity stunts and the air of a flirtatious intrigue around them, brands are going to continue to use it to their advantage. An exciting trend to watch out for, it can either make the brand lose its sheen or add a dash of magic that completely transforms the fate of the brand. 

We’re all for an awesome twosome, provided brands don’t get smitten by the phenomenon to an extent that they lose track of where they are headed.

 

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