Why Brand Ambassadors Were Under-Utilized at the India Auto Expo 2012

Katrina at the Audi launch

Here’s a quick ‘image’ exercise to test your marketing/Bollywood quotient. Simply match the celebrity with the auto-brand they endorse.

Amitabh Bachchan                 ——                       Audi

Ranbir Kapoor                       ——                       Mercedes

Katrina Kaif                           ——                      Nissan

Irfan Pathan                         ——                       Yamaha

John Abraham                       ——                       DC Design      

.rettam yllaer t’nseod tI :yek rewsna ehT

(Read right to left)

Except for well known and passionate biker, John Abraham who endorses Yamaha, the remaining celebrity-automobile tie ups, are just as easily considered pointless as they are interchangeable. Take for example Mercedes’ ability to perfect the timeless art of combining the contemporary, with panache and power. Does Irfan Pathan really fit that brand description? Or DC’s sleek, cutting edge and extremely swift, Avanti – India’s first modern supercar. Do those characteristics really exemplify Bollywood life-time achievement award winner, Amitabh Bachchan?

While their first missed-opportunity occurred during the process of selecting an appropriate brand ambassador; their second missed opportunity was at the unveiling of their new models during the Auto Expo 2012. Rather than just having had Katrina Kaif pull the cover of a new Audi Q3, Ranbir Kapoor pose for fans at the Nissan Pavilion or have Amitabh Bachchan recount the story of how he met Dilip Chhabria, simply to draw a connection with the brand; auto manufactures could have come up with some far more crowd-pleasing and memorable moments for fans, involving their brand ambassadors.

Here are three thoughts that might have made things better:

  • It’s been a few months, but Formula 1-fever is still running rampant in the Capital. With the Buddh International Circuit located just a short drive away from the Auto Expo, car manufactures were in the fast lane to capitalise on some easy brand association. Sadly, only one was quick enough to react, and the Mercedes-Benz JPSI Performance Driving Academy was launched. The group invited a handful of journalists, from across the country to test-drive the Mercedes SLS AMG, on the Buddh Circuit, while sneaking a peak at some of the other cars that were to be unveiled in the days to come. It was a clever move that resulted in quite a bit of individual, and controlled coverage for Mercedes, at the Expo. Adding our two cents to the event, perhaps having had Irfan Pathan or Fahran Akhtar (their ambassadors for the Expo) flag off the journalists, as they zipped around the circuit, might have made for some more eye-catching photo opportunities.
  • Get the brand ambassador involved. Rather than just cutting a ribbon or posing next to the vehicle, fans could have been allowed to interact with the celebrity. Organisers could have put together an informal Q&A with Katrina Kaif, on why she loves Audi so much and what the Q3 meant to her. Perhaps a bike-ride with John Abraham for one lucky fan / spectator, at the event. Or maybe even a test drive of the new Nissan Evalia with Ranbir Kapoor – for interested parties, the day before the Expo. The photo-opportunities, social media impact (post event) and general hype would be priceless.
  • If the limited edition Fiat Palio, signed by Sachin Tendulkar, was anything to go by – imagine your very own ‘one-of-a-kind’ Audi Q3 with a Katrina Kaif lipstick mark on the dash board. Or a biker jacket worn by John Abraham, had you booked a Yamaha, at the Expo. In fact, a celebrity touch does go a long way. One could have possibly booked a DC Avanti, with custom leathers, a unique paint-job and matching interiors – all picked out especially for you by Amitabh Bachchan.

2 creative examples of using brand ambassadors

While the India Auto Expo 2012 gave us several run-of-the-mill photo ops, here are a couple of examples of auto brands that found creative ways to use brands to leverage their celebrities!


Mini Rocks, and how!

At a Mini event in New York, the rock band KISS – in their typically wild costumes – surprised the audience and press by appearing alongside special KISS-modified Minis. Their appearance not only built on the Mini’s image by lending it some of their edgy image, but their enthusiasm and high adrenaline performance was always bound to get shutterbugs clicking.

Roger with his fans

At a Mercedes event, Roger Federer not only played some indoor tennis, posed with the car, but also took time to interact with the crowd – and sign large tennis balls for his fans. The event produced several lasting images of Federer meeting his jubilated fans, showcasing a level of audience interactivity and consumer connect that auto brands clearly missed at the India Auto Expo 2012.

– Written by Suhail Bhandari for Image Management

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