Gaurav Bhatia: Sotheby’s Ex MD’s guide to celebrity endorsements in the growth of luxury brands


Luxury brands weave dreams. These dreams have a dimension of fabulousness and a lack of access yet remaining at a close quarters. The role of advertising in luxury is not merely to sell. Its to create pure desirability They create aspiration and avarice unlike FMCG brands that often dial up the functionalities of the product. Having said that, celebrities play a vital role in the growth of a luxury brand. Gaurav Bhatia, ex MD Sotheby’s India and head honcho Maison India talks to us about what makes these celebrities often irreplaceable with Luxury. Why do companies invest money in celebrity endorsement? His general guide differentiates labels by their market position and decodes the potential of celebrity appeal in brand extension.

Gaurav Bhatia says, “From Madonna, Rihanna and Uma Thurman and Kanye to Connery, they’ve all shown brands lots of love. Luxury advertising is not only to build awareness but instantly peg the brand with the swish set and the aspirational set. To make consumers dream a dream they can’t live beyond. Celebrities give instant legitimacy and immediate recognition to a brand. And add a glamour quotient that many luxury brands especially in Fashion want.”

Luxury sets the price but the price does not set luxury. This is the reason why many people misunderstand expensive products as luxury goods. When an imagined price is higher than the actual price, it creates value. Normally, if people don’t have an idea of the cost range for luxury brands, they imagine a higher price than the actual price. This is the endeavour that these labels approach for in order to make consumers feel that the goods are precious.

Celebrities hold enormous power and can make or break a brand.

“It’s extremely important to choose a celebrity that communicates your brand DNA with the target audience and speaks the language of your label,” says Gaurav Bhatia, the CEO and founder of Maison India.

There’s no doubt that celebrities wield individual images to themselves. People are fans of this image or personality they carry more than anything else. It becomes essential for a label to dedicate time and energy to a celebrity who fits well with the objective.

Gaurav answers the most important question, who are celebrities? He says, “Celebrities are people who excel in their respective fields and are famous, be it in entertainment, art, sports, etc. We address them as stars because they are extremely virtuous. At their height, they influence and inspire the rest of us.” 

Why are we obsessed with celebrities? Somehow people can’t look away from them. It’s because we have come to a point where if we want to get attention to almost anything, we need to start with a celebrity. For example, to bring attention to problems in Africa, get Madonna to adopt an orphan. Having a famous person associated with an event has become a sign of heed. Celebrities bring credibility.

Bhatia says, “People get attached to the stars they are fond of. When they see them using a product, it instantly connects them with the brand and arouses a curiousity and desirability for the brand. Seeing a celebrity attach their name to a brand also ensures customers of its quality.”

The number of celebrity endorsement and advertisement has doubled over a decade, recent statistics show. As opposed to one in eight advertisements in 1995, one in four features celebrities. This is because they make a brand stand out. They have a global trendsetting reach. Using a celebrity helps to differentiate labels from their competitors. Gaurav Bhatia elucidates, “Famous personalities help in ad-recall, making consumers remember a particular ad and hence the brand connected to it.”

Choosing the right celebrity helps open up a luxury label to new markets. For instance, the Nike-Jordan partnership has blossomed into its own multi-billion subsidiary company called Air Jordan. 

Multiple factors drive the purchase intention of customers that respond to celebrity-endorsed activities. The label gets benefitted as it conveys the strong message of reliability and success. The feelings of customers get persuaded by celebrities. They often forget most information in the ad but they always associate the celebrity with the product. Hence, celebrities gap the bridge between the buyers and the brands. 

Gaurav Bhatia, an art connoisseur and luxury expert, led Sotheby’s India for more than a decade until 2016. His position as an Ex-MD of Sotheby’s India and current CEO of Maison makes him an expert. Prior to this, he managed leadership roles in several companies. Reflecting from his experience, Bhatia says, “There has to be a congruence between the celebrity’s perceived image and the products they endorse.” Customers should believe the celebrity uses it. The only reason they must be chosen is due to being the best match for the company. In the case of a luxury beauty label, the appropriate match has to be a famous model or a beauty influencer. For example, Gigi Hadid on the covers of Maybelline sends out a message of reliability. Being a model, it’s easily plausible that she uses the products herself. 

According to Gaurav Bhatia, the four main dimensions a brand must employ during endorsement are physical attractiveness, credibility, trustworthiness, and celeb-expertise. In general, attractive endorsers are the most effective promoters. Celebrity endorsed commodity advertisements are more engaging because of the attractiveness of the stars featured. Therefore, labels that are associated with luxury beauty and physical attractiveness such as facial kits, make-up, hair colours are highly influenced by the visible appeal. 

Customers believe that celebrities are a trustworthy source of information because they have the relevant knowledge and skills to assess the quality of goods. They feel that the information communicated by the endorser is unbiased. If the commodity corresponds with their image and relates to lifestyle, they believe the stars are experts in the field from which the product comes. 

Keeping in mind the several merits of celebrity endorsement, it is extremely necessary to count the various demerits it brings along. The fact that celebrity endorsement is not all rosy cannot be overlooked. While several risks are associated with marketing and communicating strategy, luxury labels should deeply evaluate all the risks and demerits connected to this approach. 

When a label signs a celebrity for endorsement, it signs onto everything that comes with them. While this usually means bringing in the fan base as customers, it can lead to disaster when a scandal occurs. 

A prominent example of this is Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul, Indian cricketers who were entrapped in the eye of a storm for making negative comments on a show anchored by Karan Johar. As a result, Hardik Pandya lost his endorsement deal with Gillette. 

Sometimes when celebrities are too famous, their popularity might instantly overshadow a brand. Gaurav Bhatia suggests not to focus too much on the celebrity in the advertisement, as it can cut on label recognition in the minds of consumers.

“Make sure the star you have chosen does not have multiple endorsements at the same time. In the world of excessive content production, consumers might confuse the association of the celebrity with your brand. To stand out among the rest, proper management is the key.”

Lastly, celebrities and their teams work hard to identify the advantages inter-connected with the endorsement. They are wise enough to recognise their appeal power and influence of personal branding. As a result, they have ventured into the industry of luxury production. These brands not only presuppose higher revenue income but also pave a separate way to stand out in the clutter of celebrity endorsement environments. 

In conclusion, the brand is more credible when they have a celebrity endorsing their goods. Customers are positively affected and inspired by viewing celebrities in advertisements. The target audience believes endorsed products will make them better off than normally advertised commodities. Using celebrities as a marketing and advertising strategy can yield long term benefits. To become one of the pioneers in the luxury goods sector, managing this strategy brings higher sales turnover and label value.