Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From crypto to whisky, women are breaking down walls in brand endorsements

Some marketers in India are following global trends and defying category norms to bring women brand ambassadors on board. It helps in not just being more inclusive but also opening up a whole new consumer segment

Published: Mar 14, 2022 05:28:45 PM IST
Updated: Mar 14, 2022 05:41:31 PM IST

From crypto to whisky, women are breaking down walls in brand endorsementsThe likes of Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Pernod Ricard India, Policybazaar, Blenders Pride, Equitas Small Finance Bank and many others have all added female celebrities to their endorsers’ roster. Representational Image: Shutterstock

When KFC cast Reba McEntire as Colonel Sanders in 2018, it made heads turn. But that was four years ago. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we have a long, long way to go.

Brands are slowly roping in more female celebrities across the world, and also in India, to promote products and services that don’t fall in the typical categories of home, fashion, and beauty.
In a bid to be inclusive and reach more independent women consumers, brands are roping in women ambassadors to sell everything from cars to crypto.

The likes of Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Pernod Ricard India, Policybazaar, Blenders Pride, Equitas Small Finance Bank and many others have all added female celebrities to their endorsers’ roster.

Besides dialling up the inclusivity quotient in marketing and advertising, and addressing women consumer segments growing in economic power, what’s also prompted this shift is the change in category definitions.

Santosh Iyer, VP-Sales & Marketing, Mercedes-Benz India, says they have seen increasing awareness and interest among their women customers for their product range and it reflects in their sales. The contribution of women buyers purchasing a Mercedes-Benz, he says, has grown up to 15-17 percent currently, compared to less than 5 percent 7-8 years back.

Brands aligning with the cultural shift

Brands are only reflective of what’s happening in the business economics, says Vijay Subramaniam, group CEO and cofounder of influencer marketing platform Big Bang Social and independent celebrity management agency Collective Artist Network.

“Those categories which were previously defined as male are witnessing change because of the change in the overall environment and democratization of the entire business metric,” he says.

“Brand marketing is always going to be a subset of what culture has to offer. If there are shifts in the culture, then the marketing brief will evolve as well, that's the beauty of it,” he adds.

Alcohol beverage brands have emerged as a prominent category onboarding women celebrities as their brand ambassadors. Blenders Pride recently announced Alia Bhatt as the new face of the brand. However, it is not just celebrities from Bollywood who are bagging these deals. Women athletes are also being signed by several brands. Jacob's Creek, for instance, appointed cricketer Mithali Raj as their brand ambassador.

The fact that Raj is a name synonymous with shattering the glass ceiling in a male-dominated sport attracted the brand.

“Mithali has been the guiding light for women’s cricket in India for over two decades and we believe that her authentic spirit perfectly represents the values which Jacob’s Creek represents,” says Kartik Mohindra, chief marketing officer at Pernod Ricard India.

Alongside being the face of many other brands, the Indian women’s cricket team’s captain is also one of the ambassadors of the Association of Mutual Funds in India, along with others like Sachin Tendulkar.

A host of other BFSI brands are also engaging women celebrities as their brand ambassadors.

More access and offerings for women consumers

And as it turns out, these brands are not simply jumping on the bandwagon of having women celebrities as ambassadors. More often than not, the decision aligns with brand targets like providing women consumers access and options.

When Equitas Small Finance Bank announced women hockey players Rani Rampal and Smriti Mandhana as their brand ambassadors, it was done in sync with their business philosophy of facilitating banking for women and empowering them. Auto brands also subscribe to the same point of view.

“As a progressive brand we focus a lot on the evolving preferences and choices of our women buyers and celebrate their achievements and all these reflect in our overall social media campaigns,” says Iyer of Mercedes-Benz India. Celebrities are being reeled in based on their merit and marketers are not looking for extra credits or brownie points for bringing in a female celebrity. Getting women ambassadors to represent their brands is a natural choice.

How influencers changed the endorsement game

“Regardless of gender, we have been engaging influencers and bringing out their real stories,” says a Hyundai Motor India spokesperson.

Hyundai Motor India recently signed a one-year partnership with women cricketers Smriti Mandhana, Jemima Rodrigues, Taniya Bhatia, and Shafali Verma. The brand also got golfer Aditi Ashok on board as an ambassador. However, for the South Korean automotive manufacturer, these celebrities add value to the brand irrespective of their gender.

According to the company’s spokesperson, the celebrities are onboarded purely for their talent and the value addition that they bring to the table.

There is no denying that Priety Zinta looked pretty sporting neon green swimwear for a Liril ad and so did Liza Ray in the bathtub ad for Sprite. Let’s not forget Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Prestige cookware ads. But women celebrities are now adding more than just the glamour factor to endorsement deals. While they are still the faces of many beauty, fashion, and FMCG brands, they are now also playing a bigger role outside the shower, the kitchen and the closet.