It is nobody’s case that the sins of a son should be visited on his father just as it is unfair for a son to reap the bitter harvest of his father’s foibles. Indeed Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan’s culpability in the L’affaire cruise drug bust is yet to be established. But that does not mean Byju’s app should not have dropped Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) as its brand ambassador. An anchor of an English news channel was heard saying it was disloyal on the part of Byju’s to have dropped SRK like a hot potato when he had catapulted it into a leading educational brand with his endorsements over the last three years. Really?
A brand ambassador is like Caesar’s wife. A whiff of scandal or wrongdoing direct or indirect can besmirch his image and by extension the image of the brands he is endorsing. If a celebrity can be feted, placed on a pedestal and deified when he is on a song, he is equally vulnerable to falling with a thud when such image gets sullied. Usually, the contract contains a clause permitting the brand to dissociate itself from the celebrity in such circumstances. Byju’s thus was a natural and not a knee-jerk or motivated reaction. That LG, the consumer durable brand, has not chosen to follow suit is entirely for LG to answer.
A celebrity is paid mind-boggling sums as endorsement fees under the facile and presumptuous notion that he can influence the purchasing choice of the customers. Professional models and satisfied customers, as well as domain experts, are paid far less. Caesar’s wife should be beyond reproach if the dollops of hefty milestone endorsement fees should continue unabated.
More fundamentally, the moot question is whether SRK catapulted Byju’s app into a household name. The rational answer is no. A satisfied customer is the best brand ambassador for a brand. That is how Lalithaji’s (a typical housewife next doors) endorsement of Surf became a smashing hit some four decades ago, and a few brands in its wake saw the wisdom in not splurging on celebrity advertisements but rope in satisfied customers.
In Byju’s case, it can be said without equivocation and hesitation that satisfied customers were instrumental in making it popular especially in the lock-down era when schools and colleges were shut. Parents perform the dual function of parenting as well as teaching at home. They are the ones to assess the utility of a teaching aid. Byju’s is nothing but a ‘smart class’ of the virtual world away from the bricks and mortars classrooms. Even before Byju’s made a mark on the Indian education firmament, smart classes had won almost universal acclaim both by students and their parents.
A soft drink might be amenable to pester power. A child may insist on asking for a soft drink brand his favorite cricketer endorses and getting it but not an educational app which is not only a lot more pricier than a soft drink but whose utility appraisal cannot be left to the tender minds. Indeed parents make quite a few decisions for their children during their formative years. Intuitively they must have found Byju’s thoughtfully designed teaching materials highly useful to their wards. And it is they who intuitively must have made Byju’s what it is.
Indeed impulsive purchases (amenable to pester power) that do not cost much and the purchase of which cannot inflict a long-term loss alone are amenable to be influenced by celebrities. It would be stretching credulity to assert that a family purchase of a car was influenced by a celebrity. More rationally it is likely to have been influenced by rational considerations such as price, safety features and above all fuel efficiency. Emotional connect cannot influence long-term and far-reaching decisions.
BTW, there are companies that do not as a matter of principle engage celebrities to endorse their brands. Raymonds was one such. Implicit in their principled stand is the truism that the quality and affordability of a product are their best advertisements. In fact companies confident of their superior products and services take on their rivals with comparative advertisement which is the advertisement world’s version of naming and shaming, a tactic associated with lenders in the context of defaulters. Of course, it can boomerang if you are not confident of your grounds or if your rival turns the tables on you.
— S. Murlidharan is a CA by qualification and writes on economic issues, fiscal and commercial laws. The views expressed in the article are his own.
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(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)