Dangers Of Pinning Your Entire Marketing Strategy On An Influencer

Ultimately, a celebrity endorsement is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. In order to mitigate the risk that comes with these sorts of associations, marketers must avoid putting all eggs in one basket

‘A heart healthy oil that gives you the power of immunity.’ A perfectly concise brand slogan. One simple sentence that tells you everything you need to know about a product. It includes the all-too relevant and timely buzzword that is ‘immunity’, ideal for a population suddenly concerned about their health in the wake of a pandemic, and even throws in a major influencer – former captain of the Indian side and national hero Sourav Ganguly – for good measure. To the outside observer, it seemed as though Fortune rice bran oil had ticked all of the necessary boxes for a successful, personality-driven advertising campaign.

All of that held true, right up until the moment Ganguly suffered a heart attack and underwent an emergency angioplasty operation last week. The response to this unfortunate turn of events has been swift, and predictably vicious. While parent company Adani Wilmar were quick to pull the campaign, social media users wasted no time in pointing out the inherent irony of the situation. Memes and jokes in poor taste immediately began to do the rounds, even as the brand went into crisis mode to try and contain the situation. Social networks can be fickle at the best of times, and this sequence of events has painted a target on the backs of both the advertising agency that conceptualised the campaign and the brand itself.

The true impact of these events will undoubtedly run deeper than a rough couple of weeks on social platforms, though. Tying one’s brand to a single influencer, especially one of Ganguly’s stature, isn’t a cheap proposition. Fortune will have spent a substantial proportion of their annual marketing budget on this tie-up. To then see it pulled due to the marketing equivalent of a black swan event – in addition to dealing with the fallout of the entire affair – will prove a massive blow.

But while the brand’s misfortune is a terrible thing to witness, it shouldn’t be wasted. These events should instead serve as a timely warning, and reminder, of the perils inherent with celebrity influencers. This is especially true when brands pin their entire marketing strategy on the back of a single individual.

We’ve seen this happen multiple times before – a brand signs on a high-profile celebrity in the hopes of standing out from the crowd, only to have their celebrity influencer’s personal beliefs or actions generate a storm of controversy and taint them by association. Sporting apparel company Asics learnt this lesson after signing on Australian cricketers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft as celebrity influencers, only to see them convicted of ball-tampering and suspended from the game in 2018. In a similar vein, the allegations of domestic abuse against actor Johnny Depp have seen sponsor Dior dragged into the middle of the debate.

In an age of social media, the chances of these situations arising are only amplified. A careless tweet, post, or image can quickly cause an uproar and damage the reputation of any person or company associated with the influencer, even if they have nothing to do with the matter. And the more closely the public associates a celebrity with a brand, the harder it is for the company to emerge with their reputation unscathed should the worst occur.

Ultimately, a celebrity endorsement is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. In order to mitigate the risk that comes with these sorts of associations, marketers must make it a point to diversify their strategic approach. To put it simply, avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. While a celebrity influencer is undoubtedly a fantastic asset when properly utilised, its effectiveness can be propelled to new heights when applied in combination with other marketing tools, such as consumer advocacy.

Consumer advocacy, in particular, is an especially effective counterbalance should a crisis with an influencer ever arise. A vocal fan base is worth its weight in gold, and the advantages it offers a brand are manifold. This is most apparent in the authenticity of belief and affection that a fanbase brings to the table. While everyone knows that the vast majority of celebrity and influencer endorsements have a transaction foundation, there’s no buying the loyalty of a fanbase. A brand has to earn that, and once it has, it’s very hard to lose.

This authenticity also serves to complement the sales driven by the addition of a celebrity influencer to a campaign. Research has shown that 92 percent of online shoppers trust feedback on a product from friends and family over any marketing material produced by a brand. Similarly, conversion rates for products climb up to three times higher when a consumer’s image is included when advertising a product. These figures can be attributed to the organic and unforced nature of this content, with consumers placing more trust in the unbiased opinion of a fellow customer over that of a distant celebrity whose opinion has undoubtedly been bought.

But perhaps the greatest contribution of a vocal and dedicated community is its ability to speak in defence of a brand under criticism. By acting as a barrier against social media trolls and external critics, these advocates deflect a tidal wave of negativity and allow a brand to focus their efforts on containing the crisis elsewhere. In this way, they truly are invaluable.

Marketing is a complex and volatile field, that requires the integration of a range of strategies to truly be successful. And while celebrity endorsements will continue to remain viable long into the future, the smart marketer will know to build this approach on the foundation provided by consumer advocacy.

The authors, Douglas Andersson and Pranav Kosuri, are Co-Founders of Brandie

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.