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Are brands 'hijacking' PV Sindhu's Tokyo win? Industry debates

Brands shouldn’t be blatantly riding on the success of players who they are not sponsoring or partnering with, experts opine

by Mansi Sharma
Published - Aug 5, 2021 8:29 AM Updated- Aug 5, 2021 8:54 AM

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The crowning glory of Indian athletes at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics has been a moment of pride for the whole nation. From the prime minister to celebs to brands, everyone joined the celebration with congratulatory tweets and creatives. However, some of these brand posts might have crossed the thin line between using the opportunity for moment marketing and being opportunistic to ride on someone else’s success. 

The discussion started when the co-founder and MD of Baseline Ventures — which represents two-time Olympics medal winner shuttler PV Sindhu — Tuhin Mishra took to LinkedIn to express his displeasure over posts by Vicks & Happydent, calling them an infringement of Sindhu’s IP rights. 

Both the brands, soon after, pulled down their respective creatives and Mishra also removed his post against Vicks, but the incident put forth a very pressing question — is it right to use faces or references to people who are not your brand ambassadors as a marketing activity? 

From a legal point of view, this could be an infringement of Publicity rights, as highlighted by spokespersons from Legally Yours, “As J. Thomas McCarthy said that publicity right is the inherent right of every human being to control the commercial use of his or her identity. However, unfortunately, India does not currently have any specific statute which clearly recognises and protects publicity rights, though it has got some recognition in very specific cases. In the absence of a definite law on Right of Publicity, one might explore the legal actions such as instituting a suit of passing off or a civil suit for violation of privacy.” 

The marketing industry, though divided on the creatives in question, feels that it is also wrong on moral grounds to blatantly use faces who don't endorse your brand.  

BrandNomics MD Viren Razadan says, “To hijack such moments and associate your brand to it is definitely a great idea but to use a sports person's name is in poor taste and primitive.” 

Samsika Marketing Consultant MD Jagdeep Kapoor elaborates, “There is a thin line between genuinely celebrating a win and being opportunistic and using it for own benefits. I feel the brands who have really sponsored PV Sindhu during her Olympics journey or have her as the official ambassador deserve to win from her success and not anyone else. Why should anyone be using the winning moments to promote themselves while they will not say anything when any sportsperson fails to perform. It’s not idealistic to piggyback or be opportunistic in the marketing world.” 

Communications Consultant Karthik Srinivasan highlights that it is not the first time that Baseline Ventures has put spotlight on the issue. “Baseline had sued Swiggy and Freecharge back in 2018 when they rode on Prithvi Shaw's debut century. The latest calling out of this moment-marketing free-for-all is long overdue.” 

He continues, “The same brands won't dare to name a player from the Indian cricket team or IPL because they have been chastised adequately that they would be sued. But with the Olympics players, they seem to be having a free-for-all since the Indian Olympic Association hasn't taken cognizance of such a possibility, learnt from IPL and sent across a note to all agencies and brands. There is a considerable difference between indulging in moment-marketing by naming the people involved without considering the rights of those stars/people and merely using the moment to allude to something clever. The former is a failure of imagination and an invitation for a lawsuit by the celebrity management agency, while the latter involves true creativity and imagination since it lets people make the connection. The latter is, obviously, harder.”  

He feels that a good example of the latter case can be Zomato’s comment on CRED’s viral IPL campaign #IndiranagarKaGunda featuring Rahul Dravid.

On the other hand, industry veteran and Global CCO of Nihilent & Hypercollective KV Sridhar (Pops) feels that while it is justified on celeb managers part to feel that it is an intrusion, using such moments to celebrate such a win is also important. 

“I feel if the brand hasn’t used any derogatory remark or copyrighted images and their intent has been good, it shouldn’t be a problem to use such creatives. It is a way to show that they are proud of an Indian sports person’s win like most of us collectively are feeling right now. Also, it is heartening to see, in a society like India, brands celebrating women athletes and their success. This has the power to influence society at large. And if the brands are not making a direct sales pitch through these creatives, I don’t see them as a problem,” he opines.

 

 

 

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