Mumbai: When you’re one of the largest financial institutions in the world, it’s only natural that you would pick the best to promote your brand. But in a slight deviation from the trend, Citigroup Inc. is placing its bet on rookies, amateurs and others, in sport, who may or may not be on the brink of making it big.

Citi’s new mentoring programmes, which pair rookie players with the pros, will be deployed across sports such as golf; cricket in India; soccer in the UK; and Nascar, college football and major league baseball in the US, The New York Times said in a 9 September report confirmed by a Citigroup spokesman in India. The idea is for the brand to be seen as a mentor and driver of winning performances.

In golf, for example, Citi is teaming up with US professional Paul Azinger in a programme that provides the most promising players in Q School, as the annual qualifying tournaments for leading golf tours are known, with a PGA Tour player-mentor to turn to for advice, guidance and support. “…Because we have the same aim for these up-and-coming stars that we have for our 200 million customers—to help turn their dreams into realities," says the new ad.

Join the club: Shah Rukh Khan and Karun Chandhok at a TAG Heuer event. Khan welcomed Chandhok aboard as a ‘friend of TAG’.

“The main advantage we get is the exclusivity," says Sameer Satpathy, head of marketing for consumer products at Marico. “As we have spotted the talent early, we have first mover advantage and there is a freshness with which we can present the brand and the celebrity." Experts say that an early association is also favoured because a young celebrity can be moulded to suit the requirement of the brand.

Beyond this, one of the obvious benefits of such an association is economic. “It costs nothing to build a relationship" with young and promising talent, says Anirban Das Blah, chief executive for Globosport India Pvt. Ltd. “Just cut the price of two hoardings in Mumbai from your marketing budget." No surprise then, that a number of companies are investing their time and resources in identifying young people who show promise of being future stars. “We have half a dozen companies calling to ask us what we think of certain young talent that they may have identified..," says Atul Kasbekar, chairman and managing director of Bling Entertainment Solutions, a Mumbai-based talent management firm. He says that a lot of companies believe that “it’s worth taking a punt into the future… Sort of calculated gamble".

Reebok India for instance, spends a fair amount of time scouting for young talent. “By taking initiatives like sponsoring the Ranji teams, under-19 team, spending time watching youngsters play cricket in state-level tournaments, identifying those who seem to have potential and grooming them by providing all cricket-related support," says Sajid Shamim, executive director for marketing at Reebok India. Not only does this help the company identify talent, but when they do make it big, the brand also benefits from the relationship it has invested in.

At a time when brands have to fight to be seen and heard cost effectively in a crowded mediascape, efforts such as sponsorships and branded entertainment make sense because they tend to cost substantially less than traditional campaigns, experts say. It also helps brands zero in on talent early on in their careers. “This strategy works well for us as sports is an area where there is a limited life span (for celebrities)," says Manmeet Vohra, marketing director at TAG Heuer, a brand under LVMH Watch and Jewellery Pvt. Ltd. “It’s just about planning for the future."