Thursday, May 31, 2007

Death Of A Formula

It is a cliché that in India, cricket is a religion and players like Sachin Tendulkar, its Gods. This “truth” has been taken to ridiculous levels recently with nearly 50 brands being endorsed by the top 6 Indian cricketers – Sachin, Rahul Dravid, M S Dhoni, Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.

The big talking point in the Indian marketing and advertising world is the likely fallout of the Indian cricket board’s decision to allow each cricketer to only endorse 3 brands each. This is a reaction to the hysteria in the country because of the dismal performance by the Indian team at the World Cup.

All the talk has been around whether the Board is within its legal rights in imposing such a ban, and whether the power of money will ultimately force the authorities to rescind this order. There is also talk about whether or not all this money from endorsements is distracting players from their primary task of playing cricket. I think all this is beside the point.

My view is that regulation or not, clients and agencies should really welcome the death of the “cricket formula” and see in it the opportunity to come up with more cost effective and cutting edge ways of building brands.

It’s like this. Over the past few years, more and more brands have started using cricketers to endorse their brands. It has become a sort of bidding war with each brand trying to trump its competitor by signing on a more popular cricketer. The talk on the cocktail circuit is about people who signed on a Dhoni or a Yuvraj to a long term contract before they became major superstars. These are the latest toys of the country’s marketers and they are busy proving that mine is bigger than yours. Quite entertaining, were it not such a colossal waste of money.

Several marketers would admit in private that cricketer endorsements were a waste of money for them. The fit with the brand was often very poor, and the cricketers were extremely poor actors. Plus there were constraints on when you could and couldn’t air the commercials. However just as nobody got fired for buying IBM, nobody gets fired for hiring Sachin or Dravid either.

Cricketer endorsements took the place of differentiating strategy. It was far easier to execute and also easier to explain to the board. It sounded like the Marketing department was working hard and being really aggressive. Perfect. Cricketer endorsements were even more crucial when your competitors were using one too.

But now the Board has said that each cricketer can only endorse a maximum of 3 brands. This will mean that the fees that the players charge will go up sharply. And the returns aren’t likely to improve in proportion. So what are marketers to do now?

One way is to fight the Board. This is definitely a viable strategy. The Board has repeatedly shown itself to be totally lacking in principles and only concerned with making money. Hence even the slightest threat to its purse and it can be confidently expected to come to heel and do exactly what the master bids.

The other way is to zag when the market zigs. This is the heroic route. The untested route which can lead to the making of new heroes on the marketing firmament. But could also lead to some big mistakes. The route that says my brand is more important than the cricketer’s brand and can stand up without a crutch. On the strength of its own brilliant idea.

This is the time for all brilliant marketers and their agencies to stand up and be counted. Now is the time for you to justify your fat pay packets, laptops and those glossy hard cover books on the book shelves. Now is the time to come up with those Big Hairy Audacious Ideas that you had to put into cold storage in order to pursue the hard to get cricketer and his harder to get time slots.

Game on?

This article was written for Campaign UK & published in its issue dated June 1, 2007

1 comment:

narendra shenoy said...

Enjoyed that. I've always found cricketer ads a put off. I thought that was because I think cricket sucks.

Nothing would delight me more than to see these slackers and layabouts (cricketers and "safety first" marketing professionals) get their comeuppance.

Hope advertisers and marketers take your advice and get sassy.