The celebrity effect in developing markets
Driving in from the airport in New Delhi this week I was bemused to see posters of Maria Sharapova promoting Homestead (a new residential development in Delhi), my first thoughts were why on earth would she be linked to a real estate company in India when she is unlikely to be living in Delhi in the near future.
This then got me thinking about the role of celebs in brand management generally, it’s always a controversial issue with consumer raised questions like ‘do they really use the brand?’, ‘how much were they paid?’ For brand managers, there is always the agonised decision making to identify the right ‘face’ for the brand and for some the fear that their celeb of choice will do something that may not align with the brand values.
However whilst this may be true in developed markets, in developing ones, the use of celebrities is still a fundamental element of brand building with some obvious benefits:
- The relatively short TVC bursts in some markets mean trying to get propositions and benefits across in 15-20 seconds is a steep challenge –the use of a celeb at least develops some brand cut through within the time frame.
- In lower tier cities and towns in the likes of China and India, big brand names and logos are not necessarily recognisable to many consumers, but the big Bollywood star or Chinese movie star are known almost universally.
- With trust being a core element to build, use of a ‘known’ face tends to add authority that the brand must be successful if it can afford to pay for someone well known.
With the race for national penetration in some of the biggest growth markets, rather than top tier city penetration, it is creating brand connections with these consumers who don’t live in major towns and cities that is going to make the difference.
Having spoken to consumers about brands in China and India across various projects, the following guidelines need to be considered:
- Overnight celebs need not apply – The celebrity in question needs to have achieved success steadily through hard work rather than overnight success. This can range from athletes to actors – but consumers need to recognise that they have worked hard to achieve their fame. For example, a respondent in a 4th tier city in China said, “Jay Chou is top-of-mind celebrity and some think he is cool, but I think he rose to fame too fast”.
- Relevancy of the celeb for Today and Tomorrow – Celebrities need to remain relevant not just in the short term but also in the future. Katrina Kaif was known before the VEET campaigns in India. As the brand has become more successful she has too, but Katrina is still a great fit for the brand, relevant and still motivating to young Indian women.
- Brand Values need to be aligned - The values of what the brand wants to achieve is important when looking at choosing a celebrity – Maria Sharapova for Homestead may not on paper be a great match , but they are a lifestyle and property development brand who are targeting the aspiring middle class of Delhi, so there’s a natural fit with a glamorous and healthy athlete who is well-known and has achieved success through hard work.
- The power of ‘Celeb’ is amplified in lower tiers – If a celebrity fits with consumers in key cities and they are the hard working personality type recognised earlier , the power of this association is amplified in lower tiers where life tends to be more simple.
So Brad Pitt for Chanel no5 may not be winning popularity awards in the West, but for those marketeers in developing markets, think carefully about what the key job for you to do is in market… Create awareness? Develop trust for your brand (leading to consideration and trial)? Develop more emotional connections? Perhaps then, having a Sharapova for your own brand isn’t such a big risk after all.
By Charlotte Wilkinson, Managing Director Singapore