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The Great Indian Brand Ambassador

Ramesh Jude Thomas, President & CKO
Equitor Management Consulting Pvt. Ltd.

“Why is it that we see more of Amitabh Bachhan between programming than within it?” A smart young journalist quipped recently at a branding seminar.
Why indeed? The grand old man of Indian Cinema still endorses over 60 different brands. one for each of his vintage years. He in fact dethroned the mighty Sachin, who was the reigning monarch of the endorsements empire in India till a couple of years ago.
One is often publicly challenged on the role of brand ambassadors. They cost a packet each. According to industry, the average going rate ranges from Rs. 1.5 cores to Rs. 5 crores. They cannot be easy to schedule. They must have very stiff conditions for their contracts. What then explains their immense popularity in India amongst advertising agencies and their clients?
It might be worthwhile to consider how they fit in the older markets of the world.
If you think of the world’s 10 most powerful brands, not one of them uses Brand Ambassadors in those markets: Coke, Microsoft, GE, Intel, Nokia, Toyota, IBM, and Mercedes. Even in India, our most pervasive and arguably most valuable brand name does not use an ambassador.
Secondly, whenever used, there is always a clear connect between the brand values the message, and the ambassador. So Nike uses only those top notch athletes who obviously have a great self belief. Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Michael Jordan. This is only common sense. Brand ambassadors by definition are individuals who have mass appeal. Needless to say they come preloaded with their own traits that the audience already connects with. The silliest situation would be to use a brand ambassador whose public persona contradicts the brand message or indeed the brand’s essential character.
Cut to India circa 2001: An ex-Miss World in India is appointed brand ambassador for a corporate group just after she is invited to be on the governing board. Amitabh Bachhan is used as a “brand crisis” ambassador for a confectionery brand. He also endorses pain relievers, pens, suitings, banks, and anything else that you can think of.
Ditto for Rahul Dravid and Saurav dada.
If you think this is in the past, look at Sania Mirza’s bulging bag of labels. Our latest “creative opportunity” is signing up endorsements by the dozen for anything and everything: Tea, fuel, lubricants, jewellery, NGOs, et al.
Why do we habitually cling on to the latest sensation in town without the minimum application of any basic criteria? An answer I got years ago from a friend who had used Sachin to endorse his popular motorcycle brand was quite revealing. “But he can get attention can’t he?” That’s a bit like the logic for liquor brand calendars isn’t it? Damn the message. Or is there one?
The people who take these decisions are all very competent professionals with loads of experience. So I have forever wondered why in most cases brand ambassadors have become an easy substitute for good, old-fashioned application of the mind.
Which then begs the question: Do brand ambassadors have any value at all?
There is no short answer to that one. But fundamentally we need to evaluate a brand ambassador too with the same yardsticks as we would any communication device or idea. .Consider a couple of common sense ones that we would apply in most situations:
Does this brand require one at all? HDFC standard life is one of the most outstanding campaigns I have seen in a long while. Where is the brand ambassador.
What does the brand itself represent? Does the brand ambassador represent something else? Does it contradict the brand in any way? I know people who would switch off watching an outstanding program called Biography on History channel because it used to be anchored by a rather artificial, heavily accented former Miss World.
What is the messaging for a particular campaign? Does the ambassador strengthen the message? Does he/she dilute or contradict the message? Michael Schumacher was a brilliant fit in the Palio campaign.
Are there candidates that can be the medium for my message: Rahul Dravid is immediately and consistently associated with words like dependability and integrity. No financial Institution bothered to use him till a couple of years ago. When a nationalised bank finally did there was no sign of either sentiment in the messaging.
In essence, Brand ambassadors are not communications ideas by themselves. They have the potential to strengthen the power of the idea or the message through what they themselves represent. So if we want to use a brand ambassador at all, the match with the brand and the message must be the primary criterion for evaluation …ahead of face recognition or mass appeal.



When Creative guys are short of creative ideas for a brand-they fall back on a star, the brand manager and the advertising firm are not having a clear idea about a campaign they pull up the concept of celebrity.Stars twinkle only during the night..But we should agree that celebrity arrest attention..but @ what cost? whats your comment about multiple celebrity in a single endorsement.what a creative idea-by wasting 4 or 5 stars in a single advt...some one has to remind the creative guys that even a pug can attain celebrity status if presented well.