How much do the personalities behind brands influence their prospects?

Finally we're done with IPL 5 and hopefully we'll start getting our respondents' responses faster (and hopefully more research will be discussed in the office than the last over of the previous night's match). But I cannot look at the cause and effect of IPL on office productivity in a bad light as the finals provided us with the subject matter for cool-hunting this time.

Lots of people wanted Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to win because a guy called Shah Rukh Khan owns it. There were some people who badly wanted KKR to lose for the same reason. So this time in Cool Hunt we went about examining how much the persona of the promoter matters to the cool folk (people in the age group of 14-34 years)?

There is a certain character that heads of companies (and even countries) lend to the image map of the entities they manage. Would Apple be the ‘apple of everyone's eye' had it been headed by anyone other than Steve Jobs? Would Virgin Atlantic be what it is perceived to be if it had a promoter other than Richard Branson, or, why was GE not ‘GE' till Jack Welsh came along?

It is not rare to refer to World War-time Britain as Churchill's Britain or India of the Fifties as Nehru's India. So do cool folk get swayed by the personality of the brand promoter or its chief executive? And, more importantly, does it all really influence their buying approaches? Do such heavy-duty or much-hyped or much-admired personalities push the brands into the consideration set of the target audience?

First, let's have a look at what a marketing purist would say. Most purists feel it certainly helps if a new entity has a celebrity or a renowned person heading it but eventually it turns counter-productive as it cannot scale up. Added to this is the risk of making the company susceptible to tittle-tattle. So while it gets traction, it need not deliver in the long run. Kapferer, however, gives the promoter stature and significantly treats him or her as a ‘source of brand identity'.

Consumers, and cool folk in particular, in India apparently have a different take, as we found out in our research.

While in our earlier research impressions of the promoter did not come up in the top four factors that push a brand in the consideration set (we had relevance, arouses need or desire, functionality and price – in that order), it featured nonetheless. Not to ignore the fact that it was a compilation of unaided responses. However, this time when we went out probing the impact of a well-known promoter on affinity or purchase intent – we found a significant 45 per cent of our respondents admitting to getting influenced by the celebrity or a well-known person who is at the helm of affairs.

Our psychologist on board finds nothing abnormal about it. She says we are a society that is fascinated by individuals and individuals' deeds. A large number of us believe that the company's karma is a subset of the promoter's karma. So Ratan Tata is trust personified as was JRD and this got embedded in the brand value of Tatas.

Similarly another business house that has had a fantastic run in modern India is ‘not to be trusted as much' despite its size and success because the means deployed by the promoters in establishing the company and running it were apparently dubious.

When a Bajaj or a Birla or a Premji is mentioned, there is an image that comes up in our minds and the personality traits are viewed as attributes of the products or services their respective companies offer.

So an Oberoi hotel is an extension of the hotelier Bikki Oberoi's persona and L&T that of Naik's. So if folks take KKR's victory as SRK's personal triumph they are just being their natural self. Didn't we say cool-hunting is intriguing?

(Giraj Sharma is an independent brand consultant who’s also a compulsive cool-hunter.)

(This article was published on June 6, 2012)
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