Someone has kidnapped the Indian cricket team and has demanded Rs50crore or they will burn them with kerosene. Please contribute... I have donated 15 litres.”
This was one of the many messages doing the rounds on mobile networks, following India’s dismal performance in the World Cup. While media planners scurry about trying to salvage the situation, advertisers using cricket stars to endorse their products are concerned about the rub-off that the negative sentiment may have on their brands. Judging by the consumer response so far—burning effigies, protest marches and the flood of cheeky text messages on mobile phones—one can safely deduce that cricket is not ‘in’ with audiences right now.
“In the immediate aftermath of our match against Sri Lanka, there is a great disenchantment for cricket and everything associated with it,” says a brand expert on the condition of anonymity. “And chances are that some of this negative association will rub off onto the brands endorsed by the men in blue.”
There are still many in the industry who think the mood will not last long. “We are a cricket-crazy nation. It will just take one good match or performance to change all that,” says V Shantakumar, chief executive officer (CEO), Saatchi & Saatchi India, which handles endorsements for Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh.
Kishore Biyani, CEO of Future Group, which has signed up Tendulkar to endorse a range of sports products and fitness equipment, says he is not concerned about the impact of India’s recent loss. “Our tie-up is based more on Tendulkar as a persona, rather than his performance on the pitch,” he says. He admitted that firms focused on using Team India for endorsing their products “were likely to get hit”.
He didn’t admit it, but people familiar with the development, and who did not wish to be identified, said the group was lucky to have pulled out of the Rs5 crore deal as the team’s official sponsor for formal wear for the World Cup.
But advertisers do say that following the World Cup debacle, a lot advertisers will insist on performance-related clauses in future contracts. “As the quantum of investment in cricketers as celebrity endorsers goes up, advertisers will look at some sort of security on the their investment,” says a media expert, who did not wish to be identified.
Meanwhile, general entertainment channels, which were likely to be hit badly as cricket fever caught on, are relieved. “India’s poor performance has made the section of clients who were flirting with cricket come back to the stable TV genre of entertainment,” said Ajay Vidyasagar, executive vice-president, Star India.
“Viewership did fall by about 5% during the first two weeks when India was still playing, but now I don’t think cricket will cause any damage. We are looking at a 10-20% growth in volume, as there is utter disgust in the mind of consumers over viewing cricket,” he said.
PepsiCo India has, in fact, already pulled back an advertisement featuring cricketers Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Yuvraj Singh. “Like the rest of the nation, we were hoping that the Indian team would fare better. Our creative strategy was based on this very premise. Therefore, in light of India’s performance, there will be some changes in the short term, as far as advertising is concerned,” said a spokesperson for the company.