Indian cricket team captain Saurav Ganguly may brew a new hope for the tea sector.
According to tea industry sources, efforts are on to get his support in promoting Indian tea for generic promotion and also overseas.
If the agreement is inked, it would be the first time in over three decades that a cricketer is lending his name to promote Indian tea. The last cricketers to have done so were Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Botham in 1979 when Mr Jagdish Khattar was the director of the Tea Board in London.
That ad campaign was to promote pure Indian tea in the UK since inferior Nigerian tea was being sold as Darjeeling tea.
An overview on the merit of Ganguly's choice could not be had. In the years since Indian tea's hey days in export, its position in traditional overseas markets like Russia have weakened. On the other hand, there is growing emphasis on taking tea to new markets and positioning it as a health drink.
Cricket, though popular in select tea geographies and in tune with the health drink platform, has contestable impact in the new markets Indian tea wants to explore. Besides, the history of the game's sponsorship in the sub-continent is such that Indian cricketers are strongly identified with colas, a competitor to tea in the global beverages market.
When contacted, Percept D'Mark, the professional management agency responsible for Ganguly's advertising or promotional campaigns, confirmed that the cricketer had been approached by the Tea Board. "Yes, we are looking at that association. However it is at a very initial stage," an official at the agency said.
In response to a question whether there would be a conflict of interest as Ganguly is brand ambassador for Pepsi, they said it would not be an issue and was one of the angles being looked into.
For the tea industry, trying to surface from the downturn that it went through in 2003, Ganguly may provide a welcome antidote for its travails. Industry sources said that the Board had been toying with the idea for some time now to mount an aggressive advertising campaign to promote tea.
"They had been on the look out for a well-known face, someone who everyone identified with as a brand ambassador. The Board is not looking at promoting any particular brand but wants to promote tea as a drink. At first, there was talk of generic promotion of tea in India but in the event of an understanding with Ganguly, given his international persona it would be foolish not to use the opportunity for promotion outside the country, particularly in cricket playing nations," a tea industry source reasoned.
Given the industry's efforts to promote export and bring it back to the traditional level of at least 200 million kg annually, the Tea Board hopes to use this opportunity to recapture certain lost markets. "He is a well-known personality in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The public would identify with him," the industry official said.
The Tea Board is reportedly waiting for the formation of the new Government before approaching the Commerce Ministry for approval.
While there has been no media blitzkrieg to promote tea in the recent past, the Board was holding 20-25 events annually to promote tea overseas in Europe, Japan, West Asia and SE Asia. At such events, the Board also supports any exporter looking to promote Indian tea abroad.
It is believed, the Board has a corpus of Rs 10 crore set aside for generic promotion. The sum is, however, minuscule, in comparison to the advertising budget of soft drink majors who use cricketers as brand ambassadors.
Will Ganguly be more than a `cuppa' for the tea industry?