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The Perils Of Celebrity Endorsement

The Perils Of Celebrity Endorsement

Sourav Ganguly Ad

When Sourav Ganguly, former cricketer and Team India captain and current BCCI President suffered a heart attack, it put Fortune Rice Bran Health Oil at the mercy of trolls

By Dr. Debapratim Purkayastha

The news that Sourav Ganguly had suffered a mild heart attack on 2 January 2021 and had to undergo angioplasty came as a shock to cricket fans as he was just 48 years old and known to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The news came as a bigger jolt for Fortune Rice Bran Health Oil since Ganguly had been its brand ambassador since January 2020.

Having positioned itself as a ‘heart healthy oil’, its brand ambassador suffering a heart attack was the worst possible nightmare for the company! Thus, the brand faced a backlash across social media platforms and was widely lampooned and pilloried by trolls.

People also questioned brand endorsements and asked whether celebrities themselves actually used the brands/products they endorsed or were truthful in their communication about the brands. Soon news surfaced that Ganguly underwent another angioplasty on January 28, 2021. This led to the crisis worsening for Fortune Oil, and criticism got shriller.

This is not the first time a brand has been singed by their association with a celebrity endorser. In fact, there is an ever-growing list. Brands like Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors, Gillette, Nike and TAG Heuer faced huge trouble when in 2009 it came to light that their brand ambassador golfer Tiger Woods had been involved in extramarital affairs. Likewise, a photo of the celebrated Olympian Michael Phelps smoking marijuana went viral in 2009, putting brands such as Kellogg’s and Visa in a quandary.

Tiger Woods Endorments
Brands Tiger Woods endorsed

Scandals or indiscretions apart, brands have even got into trouble when their celebrity endorsers get embroiled in controversies which are perceived as negative association for the brand. Closer home Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh, the first brand ambassador for Ranbaxy’s Revital H Capsule, was replaced in 2012 with actor Salman Khan after Singh was diagnosed with lung cancer. In 2020 Dabur Chyawanprash replaced megastar Amitabh Bachchan with Akshay Kumar after Bachchan contracted coronavirus.

For Fortune Oil, a brand that positioned itself as a ‘heart healthy oil’ for the 40 plus group, Ganguly suffering a heart attack was a disaster. Back in January 2020 enlisting Dada, as Ganguly is fondly called, had been nothing short of a coup.

During his playing days, Ganguly was a swashbuckling batsman and all-rounder with many records to his name; and as a captain, he is credited with changing the face of Indian cricket by turning the team into a combative unit. He is considered a great leader for bringing out Indian cricket from the shadows of match-fixing scandal in 2000.

Ganguly continued to be an inspiration for fans more than a decade after his retirement from cricket as he had shown tremendous grit during his career. After being sacked from captaincy and then unceremoniously dropped from the team in 2005, Ganguly came back stronger to script a glorious end to his 16-year career. And ever since, Ganguly has made a name for himself as a widely-respected cricket administrator, cricket commentator and TV host for the popular Bengali reality show Dadagiri.

dadagiri ad

In the Fortune Oil ad with the tagline, ‘Dada bole welcome to the 40s’ Ganguly is seen urging people to eat deep-fried savories. ‘Will you stop living if you’ve turned 40?’ he is seen asking and urges others to shift to a healthier oil instead. He is seen saying ‘Fortune Rice Bran Health is healthier than healthy oils.’ Ganguly also promoted the ad on his Twitter handle.

Companies often rely on such celebrity endorsements to grow their brands. Celebrities like Ganguly have huge fan followings that trust them and try to emulate them by using products that they endorse. So brands can build credibility and stand out in relation to rivals through their association with a celebrity. The brand can also gain huge visibility (which helps create brand recall) and may even get access to new markets through such associations.

Ganguly with his cult status in a cricket-crazy nation seemed to be an ideal choice to represent the image and promise of the Fortune Oil brand. Ganguly’s unconventional image, being forthright and outspoken, largely staying away from controversy, his emotional attachment for the game and never-say-die attitude are qualities that brands look for in an ambassador. He was a role model for many, in the right age group and life stage as the target audience for the Fortune Oil brand, and personified the values that the brand wanted to associate with.

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Sourav Ganguly Fortune Oil Ad

On the flip side, celebrity endorsements are very expensive and, at times, run the risk that the popularity of the celebrity may overshadow the brand. So despite shelling out an obscene amount of money, the brand may not always gain much if the ad focuses more on the celebrity than the brand or when the celebrity endorses multiple brands.

Still, brands often quickly dissociate themselves from the endorser when he/she gets embroiled in a controversy that may affect their brands. In this case, it was an unfortunate incident which could have only attracted sympathy for Ganguly if not for the fact that he was endorsing a brand that claimed to be healthy. So, the potential effect on the brand was quite damaging.

Following the news of Ganguly’s hospitalization, Fortune Oil immediately stopped its existing ads featuring Ganguly but decided to stand by its ambassador. On Valentine’s Day, Fortune Oil was back with a new ad featuring Ganguly. In the print ad, Ganguly assured that his ‘heart is just fine,’ and tried to dispel popular myths surrounding heart attacks.

He went on to explain that it was a family history of heart troubles that led to his heart ailment though he was ‘fairly young and fit.’ In the ad, Ganguly urged people to take good care of their heart – follow healthy habits, exercise, increase intake of antioxidants, rest and go for regular tests and checkups.

Disassociating itself from Ganguly would have had little benefits for Fortune Oil, as a heart attack occurs not just because of the oil people consume but many other factors. So, it made more sense to take this incident as an opportunity to educate the customers on the risks of heart attack; an opportunity to promote further conversation and raise awareness. Moreover, any knee-jerk reaction of dropping Ganguly as the brand ambassador could have proved to be counterproductive, eroding the brand’s credibility. Continuing with Ganguly seems to be a win-win for everyone. Whatever the eventual outcome, the incident goes a long way to show perils of celebrity endorsement.

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