Jul 15, 2008

Mktg - Shrunk Sachin

A growing list of brands is dropping Sachin Tendulkar. Is this the onset of sanity in celebrity-related advertising?Suhel Seth is many things to many people, so many things to so many people that Outlook magazine once wondered in print how many Suhel Seths there were. Last week, the managing partner of Counselage appeared to be a soothsayer.On February 3, 2006, Seth, at that time the chief executive officer of Equus Red Cel Advertising, had told this writer that brand Sachin had become a "bit tired with no energy and excitement".Last week, by all accounts, Pepsi decided to drop Sachin – Tendulkar, one of the best cricketers ever – as its brand ambassador by not renewing their contract.Pepsi has maintained a steadfast silence on the matter, offering a stout "no comments", but nearly everyone believes that the beverages and snack food maker has joined a growing list of companies dissociating themselves with the 35-year-old batsman; Fiat, TVS and Airtel already have. Tendulkar still endorses an impressive array of brands -- Adidas, Aviva, Britannia, Boost, Canon and Visa – but he appears to be on a stickier wicket than any he may have batted on.Creative call or cost?Naturally, when Seth speaks on the subject today, one listens. "Pepsi is not doing the right thing. It has over the years built Sachin as a brand persona. When you have invested so much in a property, to junk it overnight is silly," he says.True, but it's also true that Pepsi has over the last two years vigorously plumped for a younger positioning, even creating the somewhat ludicrous nomenclature of Youngistaan."Pepsi dropping Sachin is a purely creative call. If you are going with Youngistaan, Sachin and Dravid (Rahul, the former captain of the Indian cricket team) don't fit the bill," says Indranil Das Blah, vice-president (sports) with sports management company Globosport.Seth agrees and disagrees. "Pepsi has continuously adopted for the last two years the position of a youthification brand. In the Indian cricket team, the young and the old are two different buckets. Pepsi cannot talk of a youthful brand without a youthful endorser. But brands don't only stand for youth. The spirit may be youthful. To me, Ram Jethmalani is still youthful."According to Seth, what is happening with Sachin is symptomatic of the many things wrong with celebrity endorsement in India. Just like many other modern phenomena, celebrity endorsement started in the US because brands needed to gain credibility among a large population that was icon-driven. Celebrities quickly provide a nascent brand with visibility, credibility and recall.Sure enough, it caught on quickly in India. However, while the US has a wide range of people with legitimate claim to celebrity, in India it's down to just Bollywood actors and cricket players.Naturally, the in-demand celebrities are spread thin, while commanding steep fees. Cost could be a factor in Sachin losing contracts. "Today, Sachin is still iconic, but iconic at what price?" asks Seth.It's difficult to measure how iconic, but the price is estimated to be Rs 4-5 crore to endorse a brand for a year for Sachin. Even with regard to other sought-after celebrities, the fees have sky-rocketed.Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain in limited-overs cricket, has quickly emerged as an alternative to Sachin. Equally quickly, his fee is believed to have caught up with Sachin's, if not surpassed already. It won't decline in a hurry as other variables kick in. For instance, Dhoni made Rs 6 crore for just over six weeks of Indian Premier League.He might think of that as a new benchmark for annual endorsement fees.Mad, ad worldSeth expresses the hope that Sachin's travails will mark the onset of sanity in celebrity-related advertising in India, which, as shown by survey after survey, is not as effective as it was first thought to be.A recent survey by market research firm IMRB International in association with IPAN has thrown up the wake-up finding that more than half the respondents — 51 per cent, to be precise — do not think celebrities use the products they endorse.What is more, many believe that celebrities would endorse many things just for money, and themselves use only the high-end or imported products. About 78 per cent of the people surveyed think quality is the most important factor in buying a product, 9 per cent are led by the price and a meagre 3 per cent consider celebrity as the most important factor.The survey covered 2,109 people across age groups, social class and gender in the metros, mid-sized cities and small ones.A case in point is Pepsi itself. It has for long relied on celebrity endorsement. Yet, in a market where the numbers have never been transparent, it is believed to have always trailed ThumsUp."Brand endorsements are chosen by lazy marketing people. Every marketing guy in today's India has become lazy and wants to de-risk everything. There is also the desire of the owner or CEO to be photographed with a celebrity. Celebrity endorsement is a quick fix, but the glue always comes off. It is tactical, not strategic," says Seth.Consumers after all buy benefits. One seldom buys a tyre because Sachin endorses it, though one may remember the commercial. When you buy a drill, you are buying the many holes that it would drill.Celebrities can increase recall, but brand marketers still need to do what they are required to do. Perhaps the way forward is to move from celebrity to cerebral relevance. For example, if you are talking about planning for life, you may need a chess player, who plans his moves."You cannot abrogate the responsibility that brand marketers have of building consumer experience to the endorsement process. The endorsement process can only be a saliency building tool," says Seth.In this afterglow of his prediction coming true, how does he look ahead at Sachin's prospects as a brand ambassador? "It's the beginning of the end of highly-paid endorsements for Sachin. The business runs like a flock, a herd," says Seth.If Sachin does a Jaysuriya and continues to sparkle in the twilight of his career, if brands buy into him afresh, this writer will hold Seth down to his prediction

No comments: