Omega watches remind us of George Clooney. Roger Federer always seems to break open a bottle of Moët & Chandon. Hugh Jackman gives you a call with his Micromax phone while Hrithik Roshan suits up in John Players. And Rajesh Hamal is insured with Prime Life, Sunya wa Teen. These are a few names that you cannot shake off that easily from a given brand. We call them brand ambassadors: names that immediately remind us of a certain brand. Let’s take a look at how relevant a name is to a brand.
The greatest achievement in advertising is believability, and nothing is more believable than the brand itself. Leo Burnett, a pioneer ad guru made this idea evident back in 1935. The world of advertising has bent a few rules here and there since Burnett’s time, but his notion about brand imagery hasn’t changed even a bit. Any brand, be it the biggest name in the world like Coca-Cola or a locally established trademark—they all play with the consumer mind to make them ‘believably sellable’. Brand, if we see it this way, thus thrives within the consumer psyche only. It lives in the realm of the senses—it cannot be seen or touched, it can only be felt.
There might be a quick question here. How do we know Denim is a jeans brand or Ford is a car? When we take these names, we are not only relating to the brand, but the product that the brand’s company manufactures. Here’s an equally relevant proof: if we say Samsung, some people can imagine a television, some can see a smart phone, or some can simply think about a vacuum cleaner. A product is tangible, yes, but a brand lives in the spheres of psychological illustrations. A brand is the source of ethos: to each individual, brand representation can exist the way they perceive it. Bourbon can represent a common chocolate biscuit to a Nepali consumer, while it can mean a drink to that same Nepali consumer who just returned from the U.S. San Miguel means a beer from The Philippines to the Eastern world, while in the West, he is a saint.
While the concept of familiarizing brand through individual perception is exciting, most companies across the globe take this notion as a risk. The biggest risk is the unwelcomed attention to the brand—Levi’s does not want jeans to represent clothing for children, Sony cannot advocate violence that Playstation games might promote to adolescents, or Dove cannot have the idea of men using shampoos. On the other side of the risk factor is losing the charm as well. A brand that attempts to remain without ‘visualization’ might lose its credibility within a few years of its existence.
This is where the role of a brand ambassador is pertinent.
“A brand ambassador is a person who can physically correspond to how a brand is,” says Saurav Karanjeet, Marketing Manager at Him Electronics Pvt. Ltd., “We generally appoint a brand ambassador to publicly give an outlook that best represents what a brand image should be.”
In worldwide advertising, brand ambassadors are generally celebrated figures—often film and television personalities or sportspersons take this responsibility of becoming a brand ambassador. It is no different in our industry.
Bidhan Rajbhandari from Makeways advertising agency takes a more definitive route to elucidate the role of a brand ambassador, “Appointing a brand ambassador is more about the higher appeal of the brand through which the purchasing decision of the product that the brand represents can have a precise recall value. Advertisers believe that brand communication messages delivered by famous personalities generate greater attention than those given by laypersons. Since brands are using the local appeal as a part of brand promise these days, appointing a brand ambassador in the market communication can be a significant approach where the appeal of a celebrity seldom goes unnoticed.”
Here is a point to be noted. Brand is a connotative term—it can only mean something colloquially. By this virtue, when appointing a celebrated public figure to carry the mantle of brand stewardship, it is important to select the figure locally.
Actress Priyanka Karki, brand ambassador to Himstar electronic products, TVS scooters and Dabur Herbal toothpaste says, “When I took these responsibilities, I understood very well that the brand is me, and I am the brand. That is what being an ambassador means to me. I am not merely a model that stands with a brush with toothpaste on hand and smiles at the camera. It means I am sparkly, I refresh people, and my face reflects novelty—that’s exactly how Dabur Herbal toothpaste is!”
Karki isn’t too far off from the meaning of brand ambassador by the book. Saurav Karanjeet says, “Perception and acceptance of the personality helps us drive the brand. When a brand ambassador is selected to carry the responsibility of a steward, we are not making a common advertisement—we are ‘making’ the brand reflect exactly how the person is. Sadichha Shrestha is currently the brand ambassador for Samsung—and we roped her in immediately after she competed in the Miss World pageant. Her bubbly yet demure outlook is exactly how we wanted to characterize Samsung locally. As her public rapport gets redefined, Samsung goes parallel to that image.”
Commercializing the image of a public personality in Nepal has as long a history as advertising itself. A memorable example is Brighter toothpaste bringing in Kristi Mainali to endorse it. But that does not cut it to rightfully define a brand ambassador. While endorsing of a product has more than four decades of history in Nepali advertising, brand stewardship is still in its infant stage
Actress Namrataa Shrestha, who is brand ambassador for Berger paints, Index Furniture, Yamaha motorbikes and Shiksha Nepal shares her experience, “To know a brand through and through is the first requisite of a brand ambassador. Most times, it keeps me on my toes to whether I might cross a line here or there, and it could compellingly hamper the image of the brand that I back. But I am loyal to them because I believe in them. So I learn everything about them, try my best not to get involved in brands that compete with my own, and try boosting the mileage of the brand wherever I feel it is right to do so!”
Shrestha remembers a time when she recommended purchasing Yamaha product to a friend and giddies up about it, “I felt that even in the smallest part, I held up with the promise I signed with Yamaha. It was then I realized that I am not simply posing for some photographs for Yamaha print commercials or acting in TV commercials for them. The feeling of becoming a mentor to the brand overwhelmed me. It felt like I am not representing Yamaha alone, they are also shaping me into the stature that I have.”
There is yet another point to be noted here. The concepts of endorsing a product versus becoming an ambassador to a brand are as different as the proverb: all mammals are animals, but not all animals are mammals. Endorsing a product is part of the larger stewardship. Bidhan Rajbhandari says, “Endorsing a brand can be for a single or short time association with a brand for a specific purpose whereas a brand ambassador is a designation given for longer term association where the person has to be involved in multifaceted brand exercises. This is definitely not an easy task—and considering the size of the market here, brand ambassadorship has not flourished considerably.”
Priyanka Karki opines, “The association is elaborate on paper, but to be actively pursuant with the brand seems mostly lacking. I can only insist on the brand to involve me more in the activities being conducted but I cannot fabricate my own domain for the brands to shape up. Becoming a brand ambassador sounds like a normal job—whereas it should feel like a part of my lifestyle.”
Third and final point to be noted is that a brand is also a public figure just like the brand ambassadors that steward them. As such, both ambassador and the brand potentially run a high risk of either reinventing their image, or public disgrace, or societal positioning.
Saurav Karanjeet shares, “While working for San Miguel beer, I realized that as the public image of singer Nima Rumba changed from a young singer to a more serious artist, San Miguel started getting into selected circles rather than becoming a frivolous drink. This adverse play can not only introduce an entirely unrecognized target segment to which the brand does not associate, but has the room to alter the sales pattern as well.”
Karanjeet says that the avenues that are not ventured into might be so sudden that it hampers the brand for a long time, and gives an example of the measures to be taken, “When Coca-Cola started losing credibility in India as the masses staged an uproar for using unpurified water, Aamir Khan had to work for almost half a year just to prove it otherwise. Look how Aamir Khan got reinvented thereafter. The case of Coca-Cola might have influenced Aamir Khan’s career just a bit, but it did, nonetheless.”
While the risk of putting all eggs of a brand into one basket truly is a horrifying thought, brand ambassadors have helped advertising business to become facile on one hand, and on the other, brands have helped their ambassadors too. But like brands alone cannot uplift the image of celebrities, celebrities also cannot uphold brands for an entire lifetime. Bidhan Rajbhandari puts forward his end note, “Ambassadors definitely help to create mass appeal, which boosts the sales and maximizes brand credibility. However, long-term success of a brand is determined by the strength, demand, and sustenance of the product that the brand represents. Above all, consumer loyalty matters the most. The name of the brand is ultimately the product it represents.”