Do Celebrity Endorsements Work?

Advertisers are pouring millions into celebrity endorsements. How much bang are they getting for their bucks?

India has only two religions – sorry politicians, you don’t count! – cricket and Bollywood. Come what may, both guarantee excitement and eyeballs. Not surprisingly, advertisers, forever searching for the magic to engage audiences, have been crazily (even blindly) using celebrities to hawk their products.


Master Blaster and cricket’s hottest icon Sachin Tendulkar has always led the pack. Most recently, he was signed on by Kishore Biyani’s Future Group as Brand Ambassador for its upcoming range of products, including energy drinks, shakes, diet supplement powders, sports goods, Cricket gear, bats, balls, vitamin-enriched natural juices, treadmills, exercise mats, cycles and eyewear bindis. Pepsi signed him up to endorse the sports drink Gatorade. He also pitches Aviva’s Child Plan. The Comeback Guy Saurav Ganguly is the face of the consumer electronic firm TCL, the German sports lifestyle brand Puma and the broadcast channel INX News. Tennis star Bhupati hawks ApolloTyres, while Golfing ace Mikka Singh punts for Barclays.

But there is nothing like an endorsement from a Bollywood star. Deepika Padukone leads the youth brigade as brand ambassador for Kingfisher and watch-maker Tissot, along with Leci Strauss, India. Bipasha Basu peddles Kinetic’s Sym Flyte and Real Estate Developer, Emgee. Sushmita Sen is more likely to be seen in ads than in movies, pitching everything from Olay, Taug Huer and Kiah Diamonds to Pantene. Kajol is popping Perfetti’s Alpenleibe, while cousin Rani Mukherjee, Bollywood’s popular queen of hearts, is plugging the mosquito repellent Good Kinght, when she isn’t batting for Titan Raga, Fanta, Dabur Vaitka, Nestle Munch and Aveo. Bubbly Preity Zinta is refreshing Rexona Roll-On Deo, Godrej, Eon Airconditioners, BSNL telecom and the new airline Go Air. The fabulous Lara Dutta and cool Bobby Deol are the face of trendy fashion name Pantaloon.


Hrithik Roshan remains hot as ever with Acer, John Players, Parle, Tata Sky, Sony Ericson, and Radico Khaitan. Saif Ali Khan is the chotte nawab of Taj Mahal Tea, Royal Stag, Yamaha, Newport, Colgate, Lenovo and Aveo. Then there is Akshay Kumar pitching everything from Grassim Suitings and Thums Up to Microsoft’s X-Box 360. Finally, there are, of course Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, the reigning kings of endorsements.

Recent entrants include at least five hotties from Gen Next. Heading the pack are the newcomer Genelia D’Souza and Imraan Khan, stars of the recent hit Jaane Tu. If industry sources are to be believed, each command endorsement fees upwards of $200,000, higher than even senior stars like Preity Zinta & Rani Mukherjee. Jia Khan, the nubile, sexy Lolita who unsettled Big B in Nishabd has signed on for Wrangler Jeans for a reported $190,000. Even Harman Baweja whose debut film Love Story 2050 tanked at the box office, and Kangana Ranaut of Gangster fame, command endorsement fees that hover around $200,000. Image consultants and advertisers believe that since the demand is huge and the supply of stars limited, any new kid on the block who has captured popular imagination is on!


Kareena Kapoor recently struck a mega deal to promote Pepsico’s Kurkure brand for a whopping $1.4 million, overtaking her $1 million contract for Vivel soap, making her the most endorser among female stars. Following her are Mallika Sherawat ($700,000) Katrina Kaif ($600,000), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan ($500,000 to $600,000), Priyanka Chopra (300,000 to $400,000) and Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee ($170,000 to $200,000).

Adding spice, excitement and hi-drama to this crazy world of mega-deals is the war of the Khans. Shah Rukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Aamir Khan’s Ghajini are set to release the same month, setting up a deadly clash of the titans at a time when big films, such as Love Story 2050, Drona and Kidnap continue to ominously bite the dust. But the drama is even more intense in the endorsement wars. If SRK sipts Pepsi, Aamir is partial to Coke. If SRK zooms around in a Santro, Aamir zips about in an Innova. If SRK hawks Tag Heur, Nokia and Dish TV, Aamir champrions Titan, Samsung and Tatasky.

These insane, big bucks, glamorous endorsements are, no doubt, wonderfully rewarding for the stars and the insatiable star-hungry TV viewers. Industry experts estimate that celebrity endorsements jumped almost 50 percent in India in 2007. But do they work? Remember the aging dream girl Hema Malini hawking the mineral water Ken and the Bank of Rajasthan? And what do you make of high profile lyricist Javed Akhtar endorsing Jaypee Cement? Or Bipasha Basu hawking Real Estate? Or Big B waxing about Navratna hair oil?
A recent survey conducted jointly by IMRB and i-Pan of over 2000 respondents, across 12 cities ( small and big metros) found that 86 percent of those interviewed admitted that the ad they most remembered had a celebrity, but only 3 percent said it influenced their buying decision. The IMRB study found that “more than the celeb pull, factors like quality, price and experience ultimately drove consumers purchasing pattern” Furthermore, “only 22% of this sample believes that the celebs actually use the products endorsed.”


So, should celebs be dumped? “Not really” says IMRB’s Sanjay Pal. “At a primary level celeb endorsements help to break the clutter but beyond that… it is doubtful whether they add any real value.” In fact, the survey found that Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have so many endorsements across product categories that 15 percent associated the “wrong” brand with the former and 9 percent with the latter.

If they recall the brand at all, that is.

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