Brands try to cash in on Indian Olympians but gross commercialisation not a good idea: ad experts

Though bulk of the endorsement deals are bagged by cricketers, advertising experts held that a promising future awaits athletes

e4m by Saif Ahmad Khan
Updated: Aug 22, 2016 8:22 AM
Brands try to cash in on Indian Olympians but gross commercialisation not a good idea: ad experts

After years of hard work, Indian athletes may finally get their due. With Olympic athletes PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar currently in the spotlight for their impressive performance at Rio, advertisers are making a beeline to cash in on their popularity.

While shuttler PV Sindhu bagged a silver medal, wrestler Sakshi Malik walked away with a bronze. Though gymnast Dipa Karmakar missed out on a medal by a whisker but her fourth place finish brought her immense respect.

“A nutrition company, a pain-relief brand, a cement company and a consumer electronics brand are learnt to have already evinced interest in signing her up for brand association deals,” reported The Hindu.  Karmakar has also been recommended for a Khel Ratna.

Medallists Sindhu and Malik are also not far behind. Several state governments including the ones in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have announced handsome cash rewards for the girls. Air India’s Chairman & Managing Director Ashwani Lohani offered Malik business class tickets for any two destinations in the next twelve months. Moreover, Sindhu will be receiving a BMW from V Chamundeshwarnath, President of Hyderabad District Badminton Association.

However, adman Piyush Pandey cautioned against gross commercialization. “They are role models for India. Brands should use them in a dignified manner. Commercializing them is not a good idea. Don’t misuse their fame,” said Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather, India and South Asia.

Going further, he reasoned that the athletes stood for certain values like determination. Hence, brands must find “something within their character” that matches with them.

“Don’t show her washing clothes or using toothpaste just because she has won a silver medal,” he added. VK Chopra, Chief Patron of the Delhi Advertising Club, agreed that advertisers would be very keen to get associated with these athletes.

“You look at any player. Once you get recognition globally then you immediately become a face or a celebrity,” said Chopra. Commenting on Sindhu’s performance, he stated that the world has now become aware of her existence. He hailed the media for giving proper exposure to athletes who had made the nation proud.

“I am 100% sure that our athletes will fetch good endorsement deals post-Rio,” he said. But the one reality that cannot be denied is that athletes don’t come anywhere close to competing with cricketers when it comes to endorsement deals.

However, Pandey is optimistic and considerate of cricket’s popularity. “Let’s not be cynical about it. Cricket has been popular. Unfortunately, other sports are not that popular. Therefore, cricketers have been used,” he said. 

He stressed that those who are far sighted will also look for icons outside of the cricketing space. “Anyone who has a long-term vision and is smart enough to concentrate on other sports besides cricket will benefit,” he argued.  

The assertion that athletes will get a lot more brand assignments in the near future goes almost uncontested. “I think surely they will. I don’t have the slightest of doubts regarding it,” said Shripad Kulkarni, Managing Director, Vizeum India.

Kulkarni was of the opinion that Olympians had got a lot of traction due to their recent performance in Rio and managed to catch the fancy of the youth. But he maintained that comparing the endorsement deals of cricketers with other sportspersons wasn’t correct. 

“It is a function of the popularity of the sport and the celebrity status that cricketers enjoy which is, at times, more than that of film stars,” he said. He also pointed out that every sport had a distinct appeal and persona besides reaching out to a different audience. 

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