The name of the game
A celebrity endorsement can be a powerful thing. Hafsa Lodi goes behind the scenes of a burgeoning industry to discover that even seemingly impromptu posts, pictures and appearances have o en been elaborately staged by brands, working with third-party exp
Arabic music plays in tune to the dips and dives of The Dubai Mall’s dancing fountains. The crowd at the nearby Burj Park is so mesmerised by the sight that they fail to notice the small crowd and camera crew tailing an attractive Indian woman in a striking striped dress. The woman, who also carries an embellished Gucci Dionysus bag, is none other than Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, who, while visiting the UAE to promote the Dubai Shopping Festival, is being led through the park during Market OTB, where about 100 home-grown brands are showcasing their wares. Once word gets out that the woman is, in fact, one of Bollywood’s best-known figures, who has more than 8.6 million followers on Instagram alone, exhibitors across fashion, accessories and home decor are quick to react, making their way through the crowd to hand their products to one of Kapoor’s crew members – or, if they’re lucky, to Kapoor herself. The cool air is brimming with high hopes; knowing there’s even the remotest of chances that the actress might wear or post a photo of one of their pieces is enough to send the vendors’ imaginations into overdrive.
A celebrity endorsement can be an invaluable marketing asset for a brand. When Kapoor posts a photo on Instagram, for instance, she averages more than 100,000 likes, and her videos can get more than 500,000 views. Dubai-based jewellery designer Vinita Michael is fortunate enough to have had Indian actresses, including Kapoor, wear her pieces.
“It definitely has a huge positive influence, both on sales and your social-media presence, when a celebrity sports one of your designs at an important event,” Michael confirms.
But very few brands have access to A-listers and “influencers”, the term currently being used to describe social-media personalities who have large followings and publish virtual posts in return for free products and/or payment. Because Michael previously worked in India and has maintained connections with key editors and stylists, she has been able to adorn Bollywood actresses, but is now looking to expand into the American market. As a result, the designer recently signed with Create Consultancy, a new enterprise that helps designers, particularly those based in the Middle East, to connect with celebrities in the United States.
Lisseth Villalobos, founder of Create Consultancy and global director of events production and management company The AZDEF Group, started recruiting her first batch of brands in November, right a er she facilitated the first overseas edition of the US-based Simply Stylist conference in Dubai. She noticed that many designers who were pursuing celebrity placements overseas were paying exorbitant amounts of money to United Kingdom- and US-based PR agencies. “They think of the Middle East and they think of money, which is fine for the designers who are established, but what about those who don’t have that kind of financial backing?”