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BYJU’s, Messi and FIFA: What to do and not to do when picking a brand ambassador

Edtech major Byju's got a lot of flak for signing footballer Lionel Messi as its global brand ambassador. Experts weigh in on what factors to consider and mistakes to avoid when selecting a brand endorser.

By  MoneycontrolNov 14, 2022 10:30 AM
BYJU’s, Messi and FIFA: What to do and not to do when picking a brand ambassador
Edtech start-up Byju’s sent shockwaves across the country when it announced star footballer and GOAT Lionel Messi as their global ambassador. After Byju's debacle, brand managers, image consultants and digital marketing agencies are being more cautious than ever when it comes to choosing a face for the brands they handle

By Deepansh Duggal

For brand managers, choosing the right brand ambassador for their product can be a difficult line to walk. In addition to being the face of the brand, this ambassador must align with the company’s vision, project their product in a positive light, increase brand awareness among the target audience and have a good social media following, among many other things. However, in 2022, as industries change rapidly owing to dwindling economy, inflation and layoffs, the criteria that an ambassador must fulfill to be hired by a brand is also evolving. Last week, edtech start-up Byju’s sent shockwaves across the country when it announced star footballer and GOAT Lionel Messi as their global ambassador. No points for guessing, the announcement was a bitter pill to swallow for many, especially since the start-up had reported a loss of Rs 4,589 crore in FY 2021.

After the BYJUs debacle, brand managers, image consultants and digital marketing agencies are being more cautious than ever when it comes to choosing a face for the brands they handle. What do some of the prominent digital-marketing agencies across the country in addition to some brands who’ve had popular sports stars as their representatives to know from them the dos and don’ts of choosing a brand ambassador in 2022:

The perfect match: Cricketers and endorsements

Cricket stars endorsing fantasy sports and gaming apps has become quite common despite the ethical and legal concerns around it. With the younger lot of cricketers such as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli endorsing Dream11 and MPL, respectively, the Gen X cricketers — Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni are diversifying their endorsement portfolio by going for insurance companies, mutual funds and, most recently, Oreo cookies. Little known fact — Dhoni is also the brand ambassador of a diagnostic and healthcare provider Neuberg Diagnostics, among other brands. “We were looking for someone with a pan-India appeal and MS Dhoni fit the bill,” says A Ganesan, group vice-chairman at Neuberg Diagnostics, on choosing Captain Cool as the face of their brand. “We needed someone who appealed to Indians in all regions. For us Indians, cricket is a great unifier. Any cricketing icon is a good choice for brands at this point,” he adds. “We were looking for penetration in smaller towns and cities. For our wellness segment, sports stars who are fit, young and energetic were a better choice as compared to film stars and other personalities.”

Pratik Gupta, co-founder, Zoo Media, says, “In India, cricket is a religion. Sports stars have mass appeal which helps the brand get the desired result from them. We see sports stars making fun reels, engaging with followers on Instagram which makes them relatable to the younger generation.” Zoo Media is a homegrown digital-marketing agency which directed and produced Sachin Tendulkar’s Masterclass Series with Unacademy and marketed CRED’s viral Rahul Dravid ad. On an off-note, Gupta adds, “When cricketers are hired as brand ambassadors, it also increases their visibility to the retailers and distributors. Brands that have large distribution chains benefit from having them as their ambassadors as it helps them get noticed."

However, Shouvik Roy, chief of brand marketing, G.O.A.T Brand Labs, feels having a sports star or cricketer as a brand ambassador is half the battle won. “What also matters is how these sports stars are connected to the brand via writing. For instance, if I am writing an ad for Thums Up, I would, perhaps, go for a fast bowler or someone with similar strengths. This will make the brand connect stronger,” he says. “Who would have thought Rahul Dravid’s CRED commercial would go viral? It is not just who you use as a brand ambassador, it is also how you use them that makes all the difference.”

Keeping up with changing times

As years pass, the needs and the requirements of the industry change dramatically and so do brand requirements. Sometimes, the products are revamped and relaunched, other times, the vision of the brand changes and evolves over the years. Therefore, a brand ambassador who fit the bill a decade ago might not be relevant to the brand any more. Is it essential for brands to constantly change and experiment with fresh faces as times change? Rajni Daswani, director, digital marketing, SoCheers, feels the choice of brand ambassadors should evolve but not change entirely. “For instance, Myntra has always chosen popular cricket and Bollywood celebrities like Hrithik Roshan and Kohli as their brand ambassadors. Now, with the rising popularity of Vijay Deverakonda and Dulquer Salmaan, they, too, were added to the Myntra family.” Daswani also feels that keeping up with emerging industry trends is of paramount importance for all brands. “For example, Myntra also read the digital wave right and got Bhuvan Bam as their first digital ambassador in 2020. One must keep up with the changing times,” she says.

Sreecharan, global head, brands and marketing at Aditya Birla Group’s apparel brand Navyasa by Liva, is on a different page though. He feels not all brands need to change their ambassadors from time to time. “Shah Rukh Khan has been endorsing Hyundai for the longest time. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, too, has been the face of L'oreal Paris since forever. These products need not change their brand ambassadors as often because their product category and vision has been the same through the years. However, there are some product categories where there might be a need for fresh faces every year. This is the case particularly for tech products such as gadgets, laptops and wearables since their tech is constantly evolving.”

Something like Colonel Sanders, the face of KFC Chicken, need not be changed because that is their property, says G.O.A.T’s Shouvik Roy, adding that, however, "for other brands where their ambassador is not the product, they might as well evaluate their ambassadors every year."

“It will only help them tap into newer audiences and demographics,” he says.

(This story first appeared in MoneyControl)

First Published on Nov 14, 2022 10:30 AM