Why MS Dhoni is the star of the ad pitch this IPL season

Industry observers weigh in on why the former Indian cricket team is the most popular face of IPL advertising this season

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Oct 12, 2020 9:12 AM

Cricketers and Bollywood stars have always ruled the roost when it comes to the ad circuit. This year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has witnessed a big spike in celebrity endorsements. If a recent report by The Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) is anything to go by, 65% of all Hotstar ads have a celebrity. 

Another interesting revelation from the report is that the one celebrity that is featured in most of the IPL ads and managed to garner the highest spontaneous recall as a celebrity endorser is MS Dhoni while Virat Kohli is a not-so-close second.

On front foot

Dr Sandeep Goyal, Brand Expert and Chief Mentor, IIHB admits that Dhoni has been dominating IPL when it comes to the advertising pitch. He revealed that on broadcast, he was the most recalled celebrity. “On digital too his salience is by far the highest. The Dream 11 connect helps. But his other endorsements like AMFI, Khatabook, Indigo etc. also add to the volume of his visibility,” he remarks. Dr Goyal opines that post-retirement from international cricket, the former Indian team captain’s endorsement business is even more buoyant.  “Virat Kohli trails. Also Akshay Kumar, with Ranveer, Ranbir, Ayushmann all far behind in the game,” he exclaims.

Based on the research feedback, the IIHB team re-activated its CELEBAR tool based on Celebrity Brand Association & Recognition to assign a metric score to each celebrity and associated brand. According to the stats, Dhoni had a CELEBAR score of 82 while Kohli was at 69. Dhoni’s association with Dream 11 was also very high at 79%. 

Moreover, Dr Goyal notes that 2 out 3 ads on Hotstar are with celebrities, another important trend which shows that clients think sans a celebrity, advertising doesn’t work.

Another report by TAM suggests that the count of celeb-led endorsements during IPL 2020 is 48 as compared to a total of 25 starry endorsements last year.

Brand strategist Ambi M G Parameswaran observes an interesting trend and shift he has noticed in advertising in terms of roles. “Usually film stars appear as a star ‘Mein Amitabh Bol Raha Hoon’ or as a character in an ad (teacher, father, grandfather etc). Cricketers were usually featured as fit athletes or handsome hunks. I find brands are now getting MSD to play roles. Shopkeeper. What next? Interesting twist. MSD is challenging Akshay Kumar in both athletics and acting prowess. He may reinvent himself as an actor. You can never say. Boman Irani, Paresh Rawal watch out!!” he notes. Parameswaran reveals that in a research done by SPJIMR, it was revealed that almost 40% of all ads on major HSM TV channels feature a celebrity. 

The price of star power

According to industry estimates, Kohli is the most expensive celebrity, charging ₹5-5.5 crore a day to endorse a wide variety of brands such as Puma, Boost and Manyavar ethnic clothing. Meanwhile, according to the said estimates, Dhoni charges ₹1.5 crore for every day of shooting which might go up further after the recent ad blitz with him in the frame. 

Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting finds that in too many instances, brands have no strong, deep strategic reasons to use a particular celebrity, except for the fact that by their sheer presence and popularity they help rub-off some of their stature and gloss on to the brands that they associate with. “Having said that, I cannot really fathom why at present MS Dhoni is ahead of Virat Kohli in terms of the number of ads that they appear in on Hotstar. It is possibly an anomaly and perhaps something to do with the specific brands that are being advertised on Hotstar,” he opines. Sinha argues that in general, Virat Kohli’s stock seems to be higher than MS Dhoni’s. “According to the recent TAM report that provides a ranking of top celebrity endorsers in India, Kohli’s ad share at 6% is double that of Dhoni’s, which is at 3%,” he points out.

Interestingly, Dhoni has in the past few years been expanding his business interests and in recent times made investments in new-age ventures such as Cars24, Khatabook, etc. He also owns an athleisure brand called Seven and a gym venture called Sportsfit World and also co-owns an ISL team called Chennaiyin F.C.

Jagdeep Kapoor, Chairman and Managing Director, Samsika feels that the reason for Dhoni’s popularity because of his ability to represent IPL as the most consistent symbol of IPL. “He has played the most number of matches and won many times and reaching the finals, even more often. Hence the best brand ambassador is Dhoni. Brands benefit from his presence. Dhoni’s performance is unbelievable. Dhoni can do the ‘Unhoni ‘ ( Impossible),” Kapoor explains. 

Furthermore, according to the Duff & Phelps Celebrity brand valuation study 2019, which was released in February, Dhoni's brand valuation was estimated at $41.2 million and he was ranked among the top 10 in celebrity brand rankings. He was featured in campaigns of as many as 44 brands in 2019, according to TAM Media's Adex report. These included campaigns for Gulf Oil, Orient Electric Fans, Powerade, Indian Terrain and Mastercard, among others.

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