Saturday, November 12, 2011

The rise of non-cricket Sports Celebrities- Marketers just can’t ignore them

Kumar Raunak | IIFT Delhi
The rise of non-cricket Sports Celebrities- Marketers just can’t ignore them

With India winning the ICC cricket world cup and a good viewership registered in IPL 4, one would think that this is really not the issue marketers would be losing sleep over, but the fact that marketers to a good extent remain oblivious to the rise of non-cricket sports celebrities is reason enough to spare a thought for this issue.

Before dwelling upon this issue we should first ask the question as to why in the first place marketers need to look beyond cricketers as far as brand endorsements are concerned when they have a rich mine of cricketers to choose from. The answer to this question lies in the fact that companies have to pay exorbitant rates to get the services of these cricketers, be it the established ones like Sachin and Dhoni or the new stars on the block like Virat Kohli. Even after paying such exorbitant rates, the return in terms of sales volume and brand equity remains uncertain and depends largely on the overall mood in the country with regards to the game. In the event of a debacle like in the case of 2007 world cup, some of these celebrities especially a newbie like Virat Kohli or Ishant Sharma become a liability.. To top it all, it is always good to have celebrities from a wide array of fields endorsing your brand, so that there is less dependency on one particular individual or domain (cricket in this case) and the risk of dwindling fan base of one celebrity is properly hedged.

Now coming to non-cricket sports, there has been a phenomenal rise of sports personnel in the sports like shooting, boxing and badminton. We have seen emergence of some stars like Saina Nehwal in badminton, Vijender Singh in boxing, Sushil Kumar in wrestling, Ronjan Sodhi and Abhinav Bindra in shooting etc. They all have performed consistently well in their respective major tournaments and earned accolades for the same in the country with their ever increasing fan base. Non-cricket sports celebrities were used by the marketers earlier also, but not with much of success, be it Abhinav Bindra for Samsung, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore for Hero Honda or for that matter all the ads issued in public interest by the government of India featuring shooter Jaspal Rana and other non-cricket sports celebrities. There are two reasons that can be pinpointed for the failure of these endorsements:
• The ad agencies as well as the marketers handling the celebrity in these cases did not create the aura of stardom around him and used him just like any other actor working in an ad film. This is unlike ads with cricketers where they are given larger than life status and made into superheroes by cashing in on their popularity. For example, Sachin’s endorsement of Castrol where he is shown hitting deadly bouncers and playing on the field with a jam-packed stadium. Nothing of this sort was showcased in ads with Abhinav Bindra and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore where they were used just like supporting actors.

• Another reason for failure of such endorsements is that marketers and ad agencies failed to use the core competencies of these celebrities in their respective ads. For example, in Orient PSPO ceiling fans ads endorsed by Dhoni, he is shown hitting the ball in all parts of the field and the point is driven home that like him PSPO fans make each and every part of the room cooler. However, in the Samsung ad featuring Abhinav Bindra no connection was made between his shooting acumen and Samsung home appliances, he was just made to utter a clichéd statement that because he believes in good performance he is in love with Samsung appliances.
Now over the last one year or so there has been some shift in the way marketers look at non-cricket sports celebrities and the way they are engaged with brands. One prime example of this is the Nestle munch ad featuring pugilist Vijender Singh. The ad starts with a small boy struggling to assure his newly wed sister of his support in the presence of his brother-in-law but the moment he cuts a small bite of nestle munch he gets transformed into strong Vijender Singh with his boxing gloves and almost threatens his brother-in-law to keep his sister in good humour and the voice over says the crunchy nestle munch unshackles your inner voice. The ad is really funny, and the most important thing is that it uses the core-competence of Vijender Singh as a pugilist. Further the aura of stardom around Vijender Singh that is created through his many public appearances on ramp, during product launches or as guest appearances in shows like MTV roadies really makes this brand endorsement very high on brand recall.

Another ad which catches one’s attention is the Adani Wilmar’s fortune cooking oil ad featuring ace badminton player Saina Nehwal where she is shown saying how fortune oil helps her gorge on delicacies without the fear of putting on weight as fitness is the key to her good performance. This establishes the clear connection between her and the product.

Also there are a host of non-cricket sports personnel who have not only performed consistently well but also managed their brand image well through on and off screen public appearances. For example, ace badminton player Jwala Gutta who became quite a rage with her stylish outfits and bold statements about her relationships. Recently Saina Nehwal went for a complete image makeover with her new hairstyle and was featured on the cover page of fashion magazine Verve.

Now it is up to the marketers to make use of these celebrities and their brand image and expand their catchment area beyond cricket. Nestle and Fortune have shown the way as far as endorsing non-cricketers are concerned and it is very much possible to have successful brand endorsements with such celebrities, just three things need to be kept in mind-
1. Pick and choose those players who are consistently doing well and look like medal prospects in the coming London Olympics like Saina Nehwal, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh etc.
2. Do not limit the brand association just to one tv commercial but take it beyond. For example these celebrities should be present during product launch ceremonies and attend press conferences. Apart from this, they should be groomed to suit the product they are endorsing for example badminton player Jwala Gutta has got the style and panache, if she can be further groomed on the lines of Saina Nehwal’s new image makeover, she can be the first choice for a product that stands for a rebellious attitude with a tinge of style and brashness like new levis jeans for women.
3. Make use of the core competencies of these celebrities and establish a visible connection with the product they are endorsing.

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