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Cultural hierarchy boosts celebrity endorsements in India: IIM-A study

Vinay Umarji  |  Ahmedabad 

The existence of class and caste in the Indian society manifesting inequality has at least one upside - that of facilitating celebrity-consumer relationship in brand endorsements.

According to a working paper by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), the culture of high power distance in India where lower classes have deference or submission towards people of higher ranks has actually helped celebrities find consumer connect in brand endorsements in the country. In other words, the more hierarchical a society, the higher is the probability that celebrities will have effectiveness.

Co-authored by Prof Abhishek and Prof Arvind Sahay, faculty members at IIM-A, the working paper is titled 'Role of Culture in Celebrity Endorsements: Brand Endorsements by Celebrities in Indian context'.

Talking about the paper, Prof Abhishek and Prof Sahay say that culture is the sum total of all the collective mental programming that we have as individuals that makes us behave in certain ways.

"For example, Indians identify more with their groups (caste, community, extended family, etc) and this group is important is important in their individual decision making - unlike most Americans who tend to be more individualistic. Also, Indians are more comfortable with and accept hierarchy and differences in status. Our paper suggests that these two dimensions of culture called individualism - collectivism and power distance influence the impact of celebrity on customer behavior," the authors say.

According to Prof Abhishek, "Celebrities will be able to successfully endorse products that do not have any direct connection with their professional expertise (Shahrukh Khan for cars or Amitabh Bachchan for cement)." The authors state that there is a tendency in India to look up to those in power, to stand up as a mark of respect when someone higher up the hierarchy status comes into the room, give people titles such as Sir, Ji, Sahib, Garu, or Hukam.

"Since we are a more collectivist society, we will identify with celebrities who are from our region/place of birth, etc. and be more willing to buy products endorsed by him/her compared to societies that are more individualistic. A culture that has a collectivist approach and is more long term oriented will forgive more transgressions in their celebrities and will give them greater credibility - enabling a higher level of celebrity effectiveness," adds Sahay.

The paper, therefore, is about contending that celebrity endorsements are likely to have a higher success rates in cultures that are collectivist, and that have a higher level of acceptance of hierarchy and have a long term orientation compared to other cultures that are lower on these dimension.

Meanwhile, the paper states that as against US, measuring the success of celebrities in India will require cross cultural empirical work to validate the hypotheses.

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First Published: Tue, July 30 2013. 20:10 IST