Brand Characters vs Brand Ambassadors-Two approaches of Brand Promotion

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 2708 , Published on 27 November 2014
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The Pillsbury Doughboy, along with the Duracell bunny, has made us smile for years. Ronald, the McDonald clown and the Amul girl have a loyal fan following. These, along with numerous others, have carved a place for themselves in our heart.


image courtesy:freedigitalphotos.net, Stuart Miles

  

A brand character is an alluring symbol, a representation of all that the brand stands for. It might come to stand for the idea and at times, be underwhelming. The Burger King’s “king” is a great example as it had to be scrapped after 8 years.


On the other hand, a brand ambassador is chosen to represent the product or service in a way they appear to the public. They are chosen because of star value amongst the target audience and values that they represent. Over the years, Lux has traditionally chosen the leading ladies of Bollywood as its ambassadors. They stand for what the brand is all about; a beauty soap intended to give benefits such as fair skin and freshness. Celebrities from all walks of life are chosen to advertise and market products, sometimes eclectic choices are seen too! The public loves looking at its heroes and champions. They find a reflection of their aspirations and dreams. The captivation, the charm brought about is immense.


Brands put their trust in a celebrity to increase market share or increase reputation whereas in the case of a character, it is more about the uniqueness of the idea. In our view, a celebrity is a better bet to let the brand find its target customers because of the instant recognition that comes along. No doubt, a character has appeal and distinct charm that is ageless but at the same time, these need time to find their footing. A brand ambassador has multiple things going on at the same time; the audience implicitly connects their image with the brand, their achievements as being synonymous to their views on the product. Sachin Tendulkar endorses Boost while saying “Boost is the secret of my energy.” The target group, mostly teenagers, have grown up idolising this man. They have relished every personal victory of his as being one of their own. When such a hero of yours says on screen that a particular health food drink is the secret of his herculean strength, you believe it almost instantly. Another example might be Aishwarya Rai endorsing L’Oreal. Arguably the most beautiful woman in the world, she says something, you sit up and take notice. That is the power of a celebrity. The Britannia Tiger is legendary. It has been representative of the particular brand for a long time. Does it have the same connect with audience? We think not.

 

An argument that goes against celebrity endorsements is that they tend to be exorbitantly priced. The celebrity tag does not come cheap. What is the reason that so many deals are signed regularly?


We believe that the investment is well worth it. Celebrities or sportspersons are extremely popular people. They have an outreach which far outweighs the requisite costs. Roger Federer endorses Rolex watches. The cost of getting him as a brand ambassador must be astronomical, given his prowess and achievements. The benefits on the other hand, stand out. He represents timeless sophistication and style, precisely what the brand aspires to appear to customers. It is a luxury brand which is adequately represented by a master tennis player. The synergy is complete in the mind of a viewer. Roger Federer stands for Rolex.


Also, the provisions for the morality clause usually inserted into a contract agreement with any celebrity make it even. Any act on the part of the person, which can harm or subvert the brand image is considered to be the termination for the contract. This was exemplified in the case of Tiger Woods and Nike. After the scandal hit, Nike was forced to salvage its reputation from the ashes of the “first billion dollar athlete”.

 

The fact that ambassadors are real and endorse a particular brand or product does not seem to have that great an impact. Their “reality” comes from their persona and popularity. A brand ambassador is chosen for an advertisement depending on the values he stands for. Amir Khan is chosen for Godrej Properties because he symbolizes trust among the people which is the exactly what Godrej wants to portray. A person who wants to buy a house which is safe and secure; Amir Khan provides the sense of safety and security. Hrithik Roshan is a fashion icon for India; a person who is considered very stylish and attractive. This is precisely the reason why he is chosen for endorsing a brand like John Players. Hence the most important reason of having brand ambassadors is to make sure the brand ambassador stands for exactly what the brand stands for. This is the rationale behind choosing Hrithik Roshan for John Players and not someone like Amitabh Bacchan. Though Amitabh is the undisputed king of Bollywood, he does not stand for what the brand stands for.


Right from the days TV endorsements began, using brand characters for endorsing products has been prevalent. The concept of brand characters still remained dormant as advertisers preferred brand ambassadors because of the mass pull they possess and the connect that they can establish with the target audience. Though there were very successful brand characters like the Amul girl, the number was very less compared to the brand ambassadors.


In the last decade, the concept of brand ambassadors became so popular that these endorsements started becoming an integral part of the life of all celebrities. They started charging humongous amounts of money for the products they endorse. Recently rapper turned businessman Jay Z is rumored to have charged a whipping $20 million for endorsing Samsung Galaxy phones. The fastest sprinter on Earth, Usain Bolt signed a $8.6 million contract with Puma after winning the World championship. David Beckham has a $150 million life time endorsement contract with Nike. When such sums of money have to be paid by companies for brand endorsements, there always arises a question if they are really worth it. To answer these, analysts sit down to calculate the return on investment that these advertisements provide. When companies find it too expensive, they look for alternatives; the obvious one being brand characters.


Brand characters provide certain distinct advantages. They are relatively inexpensive and they also provide more flexibility to the content and type of advertisements. Brand characters could not be very effective before. With the advent of technology, they are becoming increasingly real. The fact still remains that these brand characters still lack in certain aspects when compared to real celebrities. The main aspect being that the target audience tend to relate to the products depending on the person endorsing it. Even though brand characters do not really pose a threat to brand ambassadors as of now, with the price being charged by celebrities and the extent to which graphic technology has metamorphosed, they may pose a great threat to brand ambassadors in the near future. The trend has started with the Vodafone ‘Zoozoos’ but it remains to be seen how the future turns out.


Celebrity endorsement deals are risky propositions, usually dependent on the mercurial nature of the famous partners. It, always, is a gamble but one that pays off handsomely.


This article has been authored by B Vijay Sandilya and Mihir Anand from IIFT-Delhi



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