In a span of seven days she has signed two significant brand endorsement deals. On 20 March, badminton champion P.V. Sindhu was announced brand ambassador for Gatorade, the sports drink from the American beverage and foods company PepsiCo Inc. On 27 March, Panasonic Energy India Co. Ltd also entered a three-year deal with the young player, announcing her as the brand ambassador for Panasonic Batteries for India and South-East Asia.
Her tie-up with Gatorade ensures that she joins the brand endorsement club with sports stars like Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Serena Williams who have represented the popular replenishing drink.
Needless to say, Tuhin Mishra, co-founder of Baseline Ventures, the sports marketing firm that manages her brands business, is immensely pleased. After all, he signed up Sindhu way before her spectacular silver win at the Rio Olympics. For him, the start wasn’t easy. Initially, brands needed convincing to sign up Sindhu. However, post Olympics, she has been flooded with offers. She already has brands such as Myntra, Ojasvita, Himalaya Honey, Bank of Baroda and Yonex in her kitty. By the end of 2016, she had signed six brand endorsement deals to the tune of Rs7.5 crore, according to a 16 March report by GroupM ESP, the sports and entertainment arm of media buying agency GroupM and sports business news company SportzPower.
Clearly, for the 21-year-old shuttler, Baseline is on the lookout for brands that need to connect with the young. Sindhu is young, consistent, energetic and driven, a fitting ambassador for brands looking for such attributes. Besides, she connects with both men and women as unlike cricket and football—sports which have a male skew—badminton is popular with both the genders.
Not just that. Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer, Kwan Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, says that Sindhu is the woman of the moment as far as Indian sports is concerned and, obviously, quite the darling when it comes to brands. “No Indian woman has achieved what she has by winning a silver medal at the Olympics, so, that itself puts her in a unique position," he adds.
Sindhu stands for achievement, empowerment, fitness and health. In the last six months, she’s become a national role model. She is also seen as real, trustworthy and simple—some very important and highly sought-after qualities, says Blah.
Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, a marketing and communications agency, who is writing his thesis on 'human brands' says Sindhu scores well on characteristics such as being tough, high performing, successful, different and honest. However, she’s still an emerging brand, he says. “Till her Olympics victory she was fairly low on ‘top of mind’ and ‘spontaneous recall’ scores. Subsequent to all the media coverage she received, her recognition and recall scores are better. But she is still not as well known or as well recognized universally," he says. At a recent group discussion in five centres that was done as part of Goyal’s 'human brands' study, she was not easily recognized and was confused with Saina Nehwal and Deepa Karmarkar.
However, there’s little doubt that she’s the rising star and has a long career ahead of her. Both Blah and Goyal agree that sportspersons have a limited shelf life of 10 years (unless you are Roger Federer). So sports people have short life spans as brand ambassadors too. Endorsement contracts definitely diminish after they stop playing, or for that matter, even when their form drops. “All sports endorsement contracts have performance clauses which state that if the athlete is injured or hasn’t performed as per defined expectations, then the contract values could be reduced or contracts even cancelled," says Blah.
Goyal agrees. Fading 'human brands' have very few takers. Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly saw their endorsements dry up almost concurrent with their playing years. “Sachin (Tendulkar) has done somewhat better. He shifted focus from performance to trust. He moved to categories like banking and pharma where he was best able to leverage the attribute of being ‘trustworthy’," he says.
To be sure, not all celebrities are choosy like Aamir Khan about the brands they endorse. Many of them end up picking the first brand in a category that offers to pay their price, feels Goyal.
And that could mean risking overexposure. However, Blah feels there’s no right or wrong answer to how many brands a celebrity should endorse. At one end of the spectrum is Shah Rukh Khan, who is brand ambassador for many brands. At the other end is Aamir Khan, who is very finicky about what he endorses. “But both have been extremely successful brand ambassadors. As long as there is a fit with the brands you are endorsing, it doesn’t matter if you endorse one brand or 20," feels Blah.
However, Goyal says that overexposure can lead to the ambassador being remembered but the brand being forgotten. It could also lead to the brand message being completely lost in the many messages being sent out by the ambassador. “Our research recommends a maximum of 6-8 brands. A range of 4-5 is ideal," he adds.
Goyal’s PhD thesis correlates the rise and fall of 'human brands' to their product life cycle, which is much shorter than that of inanimate brands. “Also it may take an inanimate brand a couple of decades to change positioning. 'Human brands' have to manage it much faster," he observes.
Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.