Brand Ambassadors or Brand Characters

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1943 , Published on 06 October 2014

Amul Girl, ZooZoos, Chintamani, Maharaja and Fido versus Shahrukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan. No, that is not the line-up for some fantasy brand power league, but is the prelude to a very interesting question. In the 21st century era who commands a greater public attention, and in turn, a greater marketing power- Brand Characters or Brand Ambassadors? The answer to that, however, might not be as simple as it looks. The core difference between the Brand Character and the Brand Ambassador lies in the fact regarding their realities. Brand Characters are creations borne out of the minds of ad agencies aimed at evoking a feeling in the customer. It’s this feeling that forms the building block of his sway towards or away from the brand. The task for a Brand Ambassador is often much simpler, he/she is already an established name and/or face and the point becomes more about aspirational value, in comparison. The desire of the masses to indulge in the same usage characteristics as their idol forms the deciding factor for hiring a brand ambassador to increase the reach of your product in the market, by companies.

Image Courtesy:, Suwit Ritjaroon

To examine Brand Characters we have to focus our lens on the most iconic of the lot. It was in the last 1960s that Sylvester Da Cunha, owner of ad agency ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotions) and his art director Eustace Fernandez came up with the concept of an innocent, pleasantly plump girl in a polka dot dress with a big smile only exceeded by her love of butter to promote Amul Butter. It was the gear that set everything into motion. To this day there are very few instantly recognizable sights as that of the Amul Girl tackling the latest political, economical or socio-cultural issues in her own humorous on the city billboards. To the millions, she became a part of their lives as very real as any other person in their family. For the brand, it provided an almost enviable connect to the masses. It’s estimated that she is alone responsible for revenues of over Rs. 500 crores, all by herself. Through the use of fictional characters like the Amul Girl or ZooZoos or the Hutch puppy, companies have discovered a rather unique way to advertise their products and services without relying on the word-of-mouth of a celebrity.

Another aspect which makes Brand Characters so much more desirable is the fact that they rarely come with expiry dates. If properly marketed the brand character can remain relevant for decades. It’s a testament to the imagination, creativity and drive of the advertising agencies which has resulted in the unnatural longevity of Ronald McDonald or M&Ms as a face for their respective brands to flourish without a hitch. A continual refreshing of the theme is the single most important factor which influences the survival of the brand character, and in turn the brand. The Marlboro Man has remained the same through the ages, but his activities have kept changing through the times. Sometimes he was seen taming wild stallions, other times conquering snow-capped peaks. However, a major issue for brand characters is the fact that it requires proper timing and placement for them to stay relevant otherwise it can feel like an assault on the senses.There has been a recent decline in the popularity figures of the ZooZoos which has been attributed to the fact that the ads which one carried a sentiment of an extraterrestrial and yet interesting event has now become a rehashing of a winning formula in 2012. In this century more brands have died out owing to a lack of innovation than any other factor. According to KV Shridhar of Leo Burnett fame, “An overdose of brand character themed ads can get quite monotonous and it directly leads to a fading charm.”

Brand Ambassadors on the other hand have to be looked at from an entirely different perspective.In general, brand ambassadors are celebrities, movie stars or other high profile individuals that have a core set of values that companies depend on to promote and expand their base and recognition among the masses. The assumption remains that having a certain person as the ‘face’ of the organization, product or service would automatically attach his ‘fan following’ to the company’s target base successfully and this segment would partake in whatever is being sold through the medium of endorsements at face value as to them, their idol’s approval instantly acts as the de-facto customer satisfaction example. Through the process of acting as a human front for the corporation the brand ambassadors present a blood, flesh and bone format which people can relate to with a much greater frequency as compared to a brick-and-mortar building. A very interesting graph showing the brand/customer relationships on social media format shows the following outcome:

These social media brand ambassadors (or ‘brand advocates’) present an opportunity of almost limitless potential to the companies. The most telling statistics are the last two. According to the report based on the survey, it is clearly stated that, “Marketers should be monitoring the 42 percent of consumers who use social media to share negative experiences with brands and products, as they are likely influencing the 32 percent who decide not to buy a product based on that negative feedback.” It’s the customers who act, or in this case don’t act as brand ambassadors on social media sites like facebook and Twitter and on e-retail outlets like Flipkart and Amazon which can sway the decision of prospective buyers depending on their reviews and the ratings which they give to the product. In the current market scenario, having a large online community of brand ambassadors who are aligned with your goals and vision can often be the best thing for a company. Through the use of the “like” and “share” function they will act as informal promoters and spokespersons for the products and carry an immense value in the sense that they believe in spreading the word all through their inter-connected friend circles which leads to possibilities of increasing brand influence in diverse chains.

Another aspect which makes social media brand ambassadors so important is the fact that they are everywhere. The company, more often than not, has a limited sphere of reach therefore, it becomes even more important to engage these customers, as they help in covering a lot of ground. Not only that, it is the content creation in the form of posters, memes, images etc. that act as surrogate ad campaigns for the company and its products. Properly harnessing the social media users, the company can virtually create a far-reaching web of brand ambassadors that believe in keeping it in the news and constantly on the fore-front of the market.

However, even after all this is said, the most significant contribution which social brand ambassadors make to the organization is establishing a constant feedback loop wherein the organization gets a stream of data from the users on its products which helps it in identifying the rapidly shift customer trends and helps it to stay ahead of the competition. A classic example of this is Samsung which constantly studied the failings and complaints of the iPhone users online to create the Galaxy range of phones which incorporated all those factors to create a more satisfying product and the difference today is visible in the increased sales of Samsung products over Apple ones, in regards to the smartphones market.

The importance of brand characters and brand ambassadors goes beyond the numbers. While the organization may measure everything in terms of sales targets achieved, the customers are often looking at something else entirely. It’s here where characters and celebrities step in and perform the all-important tasks of customer education, support and marketing. They hold public events, they speak on public forums and their words hold a special meaning to their followers. To a customer, more often than not, a celebrity is the “Single Point of Contact” between him and the brand. A feeling of wanting to be guided by the brand ambassador often takes the decision from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ for customers. And an ambassador’s job does not stop there, as often ambassadors lay down the foundation for what becomes a successful brand. Therefore, in these times, with the advent of social media the importance of appointing or creating brand ambassadors and brand characters respectively has never been more important. The message for companies is loud and clear: innovate, relate or die.

This article has been authored by Kumar Mayank & Kumar Atul from IIFT


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