Cricket players and other sportsmen are being elbowed out of the endorsement scene by film actors and actresses.
A dvertisers love Mahendra Singh Dhoni. According to recent reports, the Indian cricket team’s captain charges Rs 4-5 crore for every endorsement deal. At the last count, he had 18 contracts in hand, including with Pepsi, TVS, Brylcreem, Future Brands and Dainik Bhaskar. However, if one compares his brand value to that of his team mates, we have a study in contrast. Sachin Tendulkar’s endorsement deals are down in single digits. Now, he only has seven. Virender Sehwag, who had 14 in 2004, is down to six. Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, once much in demand, are barely in the reckoning. Zaheer Khan, who once endorsed Castrol, Samsung, Anchor and Pepsi, is left with just Ariel and Airtel.
Curiously, this dismal form of cricketers on the advertising pitch has come at a time when Indian cricket has been in a purple patch, winning the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, beating England in a Test series in England, winning the tri-series in Australia, and beating Australia in the recent Test series in India.
For answers, look no further than the nearest Hindi film poster. Chances are, the faces on it will remind you of some brand or the other.
At the top of the heap is Shah Rukh Khan, who endorses more than two dozen brands. Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan, too, are popular with advertisers. Saif Ali Khan , another favourite, endorses eight.
Actresses are not far behind. Kareena Kapoor endorses nine brands (Airtel, Globus, ICI Paints and ITC Vivel), Katrina Kaif has put her weight behind Slice, Nakshatra and Lakme, while Priyanka Chopra is associated with Nokia, Spice, and Hero Honda.
Is the advertiser’s preference for brand endorsements shifting from cricketers, or for that matter, sports personalities to film stars?
According to Anand Halve, a partner in brand consultancy Chlorophyll, it is not a new phenomenon. “Historically, marketers have always preferred actors over cricketers, barring a few names.” The “few names” are Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Tendulkar and, more recently, Dhoni.
There was a brief period when the Holy Trinity of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly dominated the endorsement scene. But, apart from that, film stars have always been the marketers’ muse.
Abhinav Bindra was thought to be poised for endorsement stardom after he won the gold at Beijing. Three months down the line, he has just one major brand: Samsung. Halve attributes it to the marketers’ preference for stars that provide instant recall. “Nobody provides it better than the film stars,” he adds.
Carving Dreams Entertainment CEO Afsar Zaidi agrees with Halve. Zaidi, whose firm manages Roshan, John Abraham and Bipasha Basu, says these are the times of instant gratification. “A Hrithik Roshan would be recognised on a hoarding in Times Square as well as Connaught Place. Can an Abhinav Bindra claim that?”
Olympic boxing bronze medalist Vijender Kumar has bagged Baja Allianz and Religare deals, while tennis star Sania Mirza’s endorsement graph appears to be moving with her plummeting ranking. At the peak of her career, Mirza endorsed HPCL, Sprite, Tata Tea and Adidas. Now ranked 99th in world, only Adidas continues to be on her side.
Kumar, who became an overnight sensation, the road ahead looks rough. “Ideally, brands that don’t have a mass consumer base should sign him up but not many national level brands will consider him,” says Future Brands CEO Santosh Desai. Public memory is short, but marketers’ memory even shorter. “If Vijender has nothing to show against his name six months from now, he would not be on the endorsement scene at all. But the same can’t be said about (actor) Ranbir Kapoor,” says Desai.
Roland Landers, former COO of Percept Talent Management, says film stars can afford to have one or two duds, but cricketers cannot. For example, there is Irfan Pathan. “After his poor performance in the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, he was dropped from many endorsement deals. However, a Saif Ali Khan might give a flop movie, yet marketers will continue to use him,” says Desai.
The best fit
The average brand strategy is believed to be short-term, and that it centres on instant recognition. The marketers disagree.
Sandeep Singh Arora, executive vice-president (cola), with PepsiCo India, says, “We select an ambassador after thorough consumer research that involves asking consumers what they think of the current icons.” Pepsi has been endorsed by both — film personalities as well as cricketers. While it dropped Tendulkar, it roped in Dhoni and Sreesanth.
Samsung says it chooses ambassadors according to the brand fit. “We used Aamir for Samsung mobile as we had a campaign which was for all segments and he fit the bill perfectly as he connects with people from all segments extremely well,” says the spokesperson for Samsung.
R Chandrasekhar, head, brand and media, for Airtel, says it chooses ambassadors according to campaigns. “We have used endorsers according to the campaigns we launch.” So when a campaign required a young couple, it went for Madhavan and Vidya Balan. Airtel, too, dropped Tendulkar after a long association.
Collage Sports management director Latika Khaneja, who once managed Bindra and another Olympic medal winner in shooting, Rajyavardhan Rathore, offers a different perspective. “At times, these stars act too fussy and start comparing themselves with Dhoni and Tendulkar without realising that they are still new to the endorsement game.”
Rathore, she says, could have been the hottest thing on the endorsement front after winning the silver medal four years ago, but acted pricey. “These people need to realise that a brand will only sign them on if it sees value for money. As it is, brands are not short of options,” Khaneja adds.
Bindra, she says, could have had the world at his feet, but seemed to have missed the bus by quoting more money than he deserved.
Brand consultant Harish Bijoor says Bollywood in the last couple of years has thrown up several stars, in other words, more options for brands to choose from. Irf an Khan reaches out to more people than Irfan Pathan, he says. Local or regional brands can look at actors Vinay Pathak and Boman Irani.
According to TAM’s Adex analysis of celebrity endorsement on television during the first two quarters of 2008, celluloid stars garnered the largest share (81 per cent), followed by sports and television stars with 16 per cent and 3 per cent share, respectively.
Actors led with 47 per cent share of celebrity endorsement ad volumes, followed by actresses and sports personalities with 34 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively. Not surprisingly, Shah Rukh Khan, Dhoni and Roshan were the top three.
Ad-man and BBDO chairman Josy Paul says the endorsement business has become short-sighted. “You won’t find many brands looking to build long-term associations with their endorsers. There is no point in changing endorsers every summer as it doesn’t help in increasing sales at all,” he says.
McCann Eriksson chairman Prasoon Joshi agrees. “Be it sports personalities or film stars, brands have to start using them in a better manner in order to leverage more out of them. It has become more of a competition-driven game. If a brand signs a top actor, the other will jump to sign his rival. The life span of an endorser is getting shorter by the day and, if that continues, B-town stars may rule the roost in the endorsement arena in the future.”