x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Social endorsement a VIP invite to help sell company wares

With the economic downturn, many marketers in the Emirates are turning away from celebrity endorsements and to social endorsements to help sell their products, Manar Al Hinai writes.

Kim Kardashian during a dinner at Ahlan restaurant in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Kim Kardashian during a dinner at Ahlan restaurant in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

How many of us use, carry, or consume a product because it is endorsed or used by our favourite celebrities?

I follow Oprah Winfrey's recommendation of any new book. The coffee table in my bedroom is covered with Winfrey's sworn-by novels.

Celebrity endorsements are a multimillion-dollar business on their own. Big corporations, such as Mac Cosmetics, Nike and Tag Heuer, scour the likes of movie stars, socialites, and professional athletes in search of the perfect endorser to bump up their sales figures; in return, celebrities receive millions of dollars. For instance, in 2000 and again in 2005, Nike signed professional golfer Tiger Woods to a five-year US$100 million (Dh367.3m) contract to endorse its then newly launched Nike Golf Division.

Celebrity endorsement is a pervasive phenomenon nowadays, with starlets such as the American actress of Armenian descent Kim Kardashian supporting so many products that it seems almost impossible to keep track of them all. However, the practice has been around for hundreds of years and, as it has in the past, the approach continues to prove its effectiveness.

The case is not any different in the UAE. Well known figures are the perfect endorsers for many products - even when they are not really endorsing products or serving as official brand ambassadors for that matter. The mere fact that they are carrying or using a product influences Emiratis to give it a try.

Many young Emiratis are influenced by the Royal Family members' choice of vehicles and luxury products and often purchase the same. The Mercedes G55, which is the model driven by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, became a popular choice among young Emiratis. A stroll down Dubai's Jumeirah Road on weekend nights is enough to spot dozens of this car in different configurations.

With the economic downturn, many marketers in the Emirates are turning to social endorsement to help sell their products. A few days ago, I was invited to a corporate event where I met a Japanese car company's manager. He described how hard it had been for the company to introduce a popular global brand to a new market such as the UAE. It's been even harder to encourage Emiratis to purchase the cars.

He said people in the UAE often lacked the courage to be the first to try a new product, especially a car, because they could not predict how their friends would react to their choice.

In response to this observation, the Japanese car company's next plan is to have their product endorsed by key Emirati figures. Emirati sports racers, media figures and social influencers hold top positions on their lists. The manufacturer plans to offer them a car for a few days to test drive and hopefully spread positive feedback to encourage their peers to buy one for themselves.

I believe celebrity endorsements are one of the most effective ways to promote a brand, especially during an age in which the purchases of celebrities spread like wildfire across social media platforms. Small-business owners in the UAE realise the impact social endorsements have and jumped on the wagon.

I had never heard of Alhan Restaurant in Abu Dhabi until Kim Kardashian was invited to dine there. Thus, it is not surprising to learn the leading fashion bloggers in the UAE now consistently receive gifts from new fashion designers whose main goal is for the bloggers to wear, photograph and talk about their brands' latest offerings.

But the question remains: how much money is generated by endorsements? It is difficult to quantify exact numbers unless each consumer is specifically asked why he or she purchased a certain product. Further, many individuals may fail to disclose the real reasons or actually admit that they were influenced by a celebrity's choice.

Social endorsement is a smart approach and one I plan to try out for my clothing line.

Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter: @manar_alhinai