What if your celebrity brand ambassador suddenly turns around and says your product is poison? That's a brand manager's worst nightmare and that's exactly what Pepsi is grappling with at this point. Here's how the events unfolded. Last week, Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan told an audience at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, that he stopped endorsing cola brand Pepsi after he was confronted by a little girl who wondered why he promoted a brand that her teacher has branded as poison.
The actor said he didn't have an immediate reply, but the incident got him thinking… if this is what people think there must be something terribly wrong with the product. "So, I stopped endorsing Pepsi," Bachchan was quoted as saying.
The reaction from Pepsi was immediate and obvious. Some executives at the company and its advertising agency wondered why the star, who has a sort of cult following in India and abroad, would be saying such a thing. Some others wondered (aloud) if he was saying all this because his association with Pepsi has come to an end and the company has decided against renewing the contract… But the fact is, the damage is done.
Ironical, because Pepsi has used celebrity endorsers with great success over the years, but this is a good time to question the whole celebrity ambassador-driven advertising model. Here's why you might want to get rid of the star ambassadors altogether.
They are simply too expensive
In a recent Nielsen survey, only 33 per cent of consumers said they trust paid advertisements, and a whopping 92 per cent said they trust peer recommendations. In a Crowdtap survey, 70 per cent of the respondents said that a suggestion from a friend or family member directly leads them to a purchase decision. Take these two together and they will corroborate what a lot of brand managers already know or are coming to terms with: that consumer scepticism is growing about paid-for advertising. One reason why there is so much onus on earned media now, but that's a different story. The bottom line is, while trust in ads is eroding, mass paid-for advertising no longer reaches as many people as cost effectively as it did earlier. This could be a result of the fragmentation of media or because the growth of online and social media, but it puts the onus back on everyday people who might be using your product rather than some sports or movie alpha male or female. So why spend that money?
Many is better than one
You really want to break through the marketing clutter? If traditional media advertisements are being tuned out, how do you get the mix right? Just think if you are reaching the right people and whether they are really listening to you. Work through people's social networks, both offline and online and see if you can influence that conversation. Be a part of the conversation as it were. A recent research by the Keller Fay Group shows that overall, only eight per cent of brand conversations are truly negative, and an overwhelming 66 per cent of brand conversations are positive. More importantly, the research finds that positive word of mouth is more credible than negative word of mouth. So try to serve your existing customers well, get them to start a conversation. Call it crowdsourcing ads, testimonials or whatever, it might be a good idea to turn your existing customers into your brand ambassadors. More long-term customers mean more brand ambassadors, less cost, more referrals, and, thus better online reputation. Experiences of brands such as Ford and Samsung show most of them are happy to be compensated with perks and discounts, and some will even do it for free, just because they truly appreciate what your business has to offer.
They may not know or care
Yes, in the short term, a Bachchan or a Dhoni might be able to rescue your brand if you are down in the dumps, but he cannot be an alternative to a sound strategic or creative idea. Today, the demand for product knowledge and excellence in customer care is greater than ever before. It is simply not enough to equip salespeople with product literature or the communications team with marketing collateral. Everyone on the chain needs to understand what the brand represents, the values the company stands for, and what makes its products and offerings distinct from what every other company offers. For all the hype around them, endorsements cease being credible when the endorser mouths "manufacturer speak". If you don't have an idea, the ambassador will only be parroting your claim, which will ring hollow.
Remember, in the long term, your brand has to be the hero.