#InDepth Pulse Polio awareness or Downloads for CRED - Why celebrity endorsements work on about everything?

Aishwarrya Chakraverty
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Celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

As IPL 2020 is ready to come to an end, we speak to the experts on the plethora of celebrity endorsements for brands at the marquee event and how it still works despite crises and challenges.

Brands have been betting big on IPL 2020 - be it because of the league's timing around the festive season or the huge break the Live sporting content faced. Viewers, too have been responding to the content. According to a tweet by Jay Shah, Star Sports and Disney+Hotstar garnered a combined viewership of 20 crores on opening day.

As sentiments soar, brands have done everything in their capacity to stand out, more so in 2020 and a common theme to have emerged among these campaigns, however, has been the rise and rise of celebrity endorsements. TAM IPL Report suggests that celebrity endorsements increased by 92% this season, as compared to 2019.

One of the most spoken about celebrity-laden campaign has been CRED's #NotEveryoneGetsIt. There are also brands such as BharatPe that have signed 11 cricketers for the season.

What is it about celebrity endorsements that clicks even in 2020? Especially, now in IPL when we have seen a spike in celebrity campaigns. We speak to an array of experts to find out.

Celebrity Endorsements in IPL 2020 - Why it works?

TAM report points towards 48 Celebrity endorsements in the latest season of IPL with a mix of Cricket & Bollywood personalities. The inherent spike in the numbers could be due to many factors, experts opine.

Sujay Kar on celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

Sujay Kar, Group Director and Lead – Commerce, VMLY&R SEA, and INDIA, believes that the rise of Celebrity Endorsements at IPL season 13 is primarily due to 3 reasons:

  • The economic downturn due to the pandemic, and Bollywood receiving flak due to various reasons against imminent celebrities, has dampened the market for celebrities, which in turn means more artists competing with aggressive price tags to stay afloat. As a result, brands find them a bit more affordable to go with, for short term advertising bursts.
  • Brands too face the heat of competition due to the slowdown in the past 6 months. To increase the output during the festive season when there is heightened competition, they need to score heavily with their marketing budgets and IPL works as a boon as it coincides with the festive season. Brands need their advertising to deliver far more impact in less build-up period, and celebrities have traditionally been good solutions for low build-up, high-intensity campaigns. Add it to the competitive pricing from the point above, and it starts making a lot more sense.
  • IPL 2020 comes at a time when more users are hooked onto content consumption, online shopping, and a re-opening of several businesses in Cat B & C Towns. This means spending higher budgets on Celebrity endorsement will be more fruitful, especially for online-centric businesses like Cred, Swiggy, Dream 11, MPL, and Online Learning Platforms.

Experts also think that there might have been a dearth of new content that made them bank on celebrities for ad campaigns.

Ayesha Ghosh on celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

Ayesha Ghosh, EVP & Head of Office, Taproot Dentsu, explains, “IPL is the first big advertising opportunity in a long time and brands who can afford to do so will want to associate with it.

To stand out from the advertising clutter, apart from creating inherently memorable ads, using celebrities is an easy (sometimes lazy) way to get noticed.”

Dheeraj Sinha on celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

Dheeraj Sinha, Managing Director - India & Chief Strategy Officer – South Asia, Leo Burnett opines, that associating with a celebrity immediately creates instant recollection and amplifies reach.

It especially happens when there are several other brands also vying for attention on the same platform, he shares.

Celebrity x Brand Resonance

While MS Dhoni appeared as the most bankable celeb for endorsements at IPL 2020 as per reports, more and more prominent celebrities featured in the top ad campaigns. Now, how do brands and agencies decide on roping in celebrities?


To this,  Ankit Sharma, Creative Director of Jio Creative Labs highlights that it is not just about getting a popular face to stand alongside the brand, there is a lot of thought that goes behind WHO and HOW of it. “The very advantage of having so many eyeballs noticing your brand can cause a lot of harm if there is a misfit. So yes, a celebrity face helps, but needs to be chosen and leveraged wisely, he adds.

Reliance Jio roped in Ranveer and Deepika duo for their campaign as both reflect the brand attributes, shares the spokesperson.

Richa Sharma on Celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

In tandem with this thought, Richa Sharma, Director, Brand Marketing at PhonePe, believes that leveraging celebrities who reflect the brand values helps in communicating the brand’s story.

This year, the brand has launched a nine-film campaign featuring Aamir Khan as a police inspector, depicting several instances where he gets to explore and experience the various features of the app. Some of the films in the series also feature Alia Bhatt.

“For us, our association with Aamir Khan has been fruitful and helped build awareness around digital payments as well as a higher top of the mind recall for PhonePe," Sharma tells us.

As per the brand, Aamir Khan is synonymous with perfection, credibility, and dedication with his appeal ranging from the smallest of townships to big metros. She further points out that these very values are in-sync with PhonePe’s ethos, making him a viable option as the brand ambassador

Manasi-Narasimhan on celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020

Emphasizing on the importance of celebrity and brand resonance, Manasi Narasimhan, VP, Marketing & Communications, South Asia, Mastercard sheds light on the reasons behind roping in MS Dhoni for the brand. “The idea behind roping in MS Dhoni for one of its campaign is his representation of a progressive ‘Bharat’.

Having been brought up in a small town, he could relate to the challenges due to the lack of digital infrastructure,” she shares.

Kar further elaborates on how brand-agency duo finalize on celebrities. When a new brand comes in, celebrity endorsements work far better in establishing their credibility and brand stature. For example, ‘Khatabook’ starring Dhoni.

For existing brands, where brand awareness isn’t the biggest challenge, there are more options to experiment and create unique interpretations despite no celebrity endorsements.

He further explains that brands and agencies decide upon the right marketing strategy after analyzing all trade-offs that exist between a creative experimentation route that could attract the audience vs impact on brand’s equity if a celebrity is used.

In a sports league, using celebrity works especially if it’s sports-related brands, share the experts. For example, My 11 Circle, leveraging Saurabh Ganguly as their ambassador, who brings the history of sports acumen and thinking to light, lending instant credibility to the brand.

Ghosh shares a somewhat neutral perspective on how celebrities are roped in. "There isn’t an exact method by which clients decide whether or not to associate with a celeb. One possible scenario which we’ve noticed with a couple of IPL related pitches is when the client is focusing their annual budget on this one property, in which case they’ll go all out and invest not just in an expensive media property but also in an expensive celebrity."

The challenge in celebrity campaigns however, is to ensure that the brand doesn’t get overshadowed. “After all, celebrities are brands too and we want the celebrity brand to propel the client brand forward and not to steal their thunder,” Ghosh puts forth.

Also read: #SSIPLWatch: IPL 2020 – Brands pave the path to revival with shorter edits and strategic spends

Celebrities vs Influencers

The battle between celebrity endorsers v/s micro or macro-influencers is in no way new. While influencer marketing has been on the rise, so has celebrity endorsements. We narrow it down by asking experts - what works better for which brand?

Ankit Sharma shares, while there is no radical answer to this but to 'create a balance', could be the formula.

"Celebrity endorsements create a far larger impact on the brand's imagery, which even the total of several influencers can't create. On the other hand, the amount of engagement that a brand can generate with influencers is hard to achieve through celebrities."

Experts suggest that when with influencers, brands can innovate with content and media channels. However, the value that a celebrity brings to the table can be seldom challenged.

Sinha concedes that the hero of the campaign is always the central idea – the creative thought process behind the campaign and how you use the characters create an impact.

Rohit Sakunia, Co-founder & Chief Business Officer, Art-E Media, reiterates that influencer marketing cannot have the kind of reach a celebrity has. Just the sheer amount of intensity with which the celebrities get followed everywhere could work favorably for brands.

Celebrity Endorsements - The Right Media Mix

For Celebrity endorsements to work, the focus on the relevant media mix becomes crucial.

With the pandemic and the rise of social media, people gravitated towards their laptops and mobiles for entertainment, changing their dynamic with all mediums. Ghosh shares that even when things go back to complete normalcy, this forced gravitation towards online may make it the preferred way to do many things. Though TV still holds mass reach.

For a lot of brands, the choice of media depends on the audience mix, efficiency, and storytelling opportunities they have to offer. Richa Sharma, shared, "Our choice and use of media is across TV, Print, Digital, OTT, Social, and OOH. Wherever our consumers and partners are, we would want to engage with them using the right channels."


Subhasis Beura, Head- Brand and Commerce, BharatPe, mentioned that with the media-mix expansion on streaming platforms and social media, Bharatpe has now started investing equally across online & offline media.

Sakunia highlights that a healthy multi-channel approach usually provides the necessary traction for brands, which includes TV, social media influencers, and ads on social media, e-commerce, and OTT apps.

While the relevance of a holistic media mix, continues, the pandemic seems to have fast-tracked the digital transformation across sectors.

Summing it up

Since this IPL season drew a lot of attention, brands prefer lapping on to the occasion for optimum screen-time. Many experts share that they would continue to scale-up existing campaigns while many look at brighter hues with the ongoing festive season.

To sum it up, celebrity endorsements at IPL 2020 are time-tested, garner mass-appeal, and would be continued to be leveraged by brands. At a time of crisis, celebrities help establish an instant connect with the target audience.

A few takeaways for celebrity brand campaigns, IPL or otherwise, would be:

  • Value-added association with the celebrity for brand resonance
  • Breaking the clutter of competing brands by leveraging celebrities with wider reach & acceptance across demographics
  • Established brands are more malleable to experiment with concepts. Newer brands can leverage celebrity endorsements to create awareness
  • Use celebrities imaginatively, ultimately it needs to show in the RoI
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