When brands stand by their ambassadors

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani New Delhi | Updated on October 31, 2021

Unless there is an ethical issue, brands are largely standing by celebrities who are in trouble

Bollywood bashing seems to have become quite the trend, if you scroll through social media posts. Especially as A-listers from tinsel town are increasingly getting embroiled in controversies.

Yet, interestingly, when it comes to lucrative brand endorsement deals, many of these stars seem to be largely unscathed.

Brand value

Take Shahrukh Khan, whose son Aryan’s drug-related ordeal has been hitting headlines or Shilpa Shetty, whose husband Raj Kundra was arrested and then released on bail in connection with an adult film racket.

Other stars such as Deepika Padukone and Sara Ali Khan too faced tough times last year due to the Bollywood drug probe.

Yet King Khan’s brand value seems unaffected. Companies such as Byju’s, Vimal Pan Masala, Mondelez India and LG India have not hesitated to either continue with existing campaigns or launch new campaigns featuring him.

Ditto Shetty; she has landed a new endorsement deal with Godrej Consumer Products, for its henna-based hair colour brand Godrej Nupur.

Some experts believe that brands increasingly do not want to react to unproven allegations or take knee-jerk actions when it comes to commercial deals, instead focussing on short-term and long-term measures, depending on the nature of the allegations.

Brand strategist Harish Bijoor says, “Brands typically do a gain-loss analysis and try to understand what would be the gain or loss in dropping a star. If the brand tends to lose more by dropping the celebrity, they would rather retain the brand ambassador. There is no charity here. They retain and stick to their endorsement deals with the celebrity because they have paid out valuable monies for the deal.”

Bijoor added that brands also do not tend to react to unproven allegations or rumours unless it’s a very serious issue. “They usually reduce the exposure of their campaigns for a short time and wait for things to cool down and restart their campaign,” he says.

In fact, BL Agro Industries, which had roped Shetty in March to endorse Brand Nourish, came out in strong support of her last month. “ Brand Nourish onboarded Shilpa Shetty as its ambassador since she is a fitness icon, a yoga practitioner, wellness influencer, and above all, a doting mother. All these characteristics still stand true to her. We believe that it’s unfair to vilify her and subject her to a media trial. We find no reason to distance ourselves from our celebrity brand ambassador and we support her in these tough times,” a company spokesperson had said.

Analysing damage

Experts said that brands often focus on how their real consumers will react to a particular controversy, instead of social media users.

Shripad Kulkarni, who is the marcom advisor for many challenger brands said, “The first reaction of the brand in such a situation is to analyse whether there is a need for damage control. The second aspect that brands try to assess is whether the issue will be perceived as morally or ethically incorrect. Finally, they look at whether the controversy that has impacted their brand ambassador will have a negative rub-off on the brand.”

He points to the multiple trends emerging in the current landscape such as wokeness or the cancel culture. “Some of these issues may not influence the brand’s real consumers,” he says.

Jessie Paul, CEO, Paul Writer, believes celebrities are held to different standards and are often exempt from social norms that apply to the common citizens. “Brands generally follow eyeballs as their first priority, then look for a fit with their product. A brand targeting children cannot ally with a celebrity in the spotlight for consuming drugs, at least not until it is forgotten. But a shampoo brand probably can. The brand owner has to take a call on whether their celebrity is actually being perceived negatively by their mass audience,” she says.

Take for instance, Deepika Padukone, who bagged new deals with brands such as Levi’s and Adidas this year, even as social media trolls continue to be unkind to her.

Paul says there is also a dearth of mass appeal stars in the country, and if they keep pumping out hits then the celebrity endorsements deals will continue.

Published on October 31, 2021

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