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Guest Column: Move over Dhoni, Kohli... Sindhu and Co are here: Rajendra Khare, SureWaves

04-October-2016
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Guest Column: Move over Dhoni, Kohli... Sindhu and Co are here: Rajendra Khare, SureWaves

For Indians all over the world, the 2016 edition of the Olympics was a watershed event thanks to the glory India’s women athletes brought. But Rio is now part of history. All the games have been held, the medals have been won and lost, and splendid scripts have been written and rewritten. So, what remains now for the women brigade who brought home glory from Rio?

More hard-work and perseverance, for sure. It is the time for some soul-searching, as they set their sights higher and stronger. It is also the time when marketers rush in to ride the wave, piggybacking on the success and fame that Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar and P V Sindhu are enjoying.

According to reports, Sindhu’s brand value has surged astronomically with many companies eager to sign her. CRPF has announced its intention to make Sindhu its brand ambassador. A nutrition company, a pain-relief brand, a cement company and a consumer electronics brand are said to expressed interest in Dipa. Marketers are also making a beeline for Sakshi, hoping to cash in on her inspiring story.

Deeper engagement

But can marketers do it differently this time and think beyond casting these stars in forgettable commercials? Can brands give India’s women athletes a well-rounded treatment in the eyes of the public, whose hearts swell with pride at the mere mention of their names?

According to a report by ESP Properties, the entertainment and sports arm of Group M, and SportzPower (a provider of sports business news), sports sponsorship in India grew by 12.3 per cent in 2015 to Rs 51,854 million;this figure is about 10 per cent of the total Indian media spendduring the year.

A large part of the action in 2016 could centre around its women athletes. For long, our marketers have been obsessed with cricket and have cashed in on the likes of Tendulkar, Dhoni and Kohli. But it is time for brands to move on and think beyond cricket, cricketers and, more importantly, male cricketers. Move over Dhoni, Sakshi and Co are here.

Well, women sports stars are not new to marketers. Saina Nehwal has endorsed a string of brands such as Herbalife, Kellogg’s, Emami, Sahara, Indian Overseas Bank and Iodex, while Sania Mirza has deals with Adidas and Wilson, besides being the brand ambassador of the state of Telangana. While Mary Kom endorses Piramal and Dalmia Cement, Dipika Pallikal bats for Adidas. Hero Moto-Corp sponsors India’s domestic Pro Tour for Women and top golfer Sharmila Nicollet is one of its brand ambassadors.

But most brands use their brand ambassadors as props for their products and this does nothing to both. Marketers mistakenly believe that a few commercials, a couple of product launches and sponsorships for logo coverage will do the trick.

The relationship between an athlete and a brand is not a short-term partnership, where the successful star promotes a product for a couple of years before the next star arrives on the scene. The money that sponsors spend on a sportsperson should be well worth the attempt and ensure there is a positive impact on the status of sports in society, particularly among women.

Create concepts

With women controlling a majority of buying decisions and women increasingly interested in watching sports, it is common sense to woo women buyers with inspiring tales of women athletes. For greater brand recall, brands must create inspirational concepts around the players.

The “dadading” song by Nike is a good example of concept advertising. The video celebrated women power with an ensemble of women athletes such as hockey player Rani Rampal, India’s first ever female professional surfer, Ishita Malaviya, footballer Jyoti Ann Burrett, and national cricketers Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandana. Sports advertising has traditionally been a male bastion, in its use of male athletes and male viewers. Nike attempted to change the equation with this video that inspired several women viewers.

Globally, Adidas has come up with a series of creative films titled ‘I’m Here to Create’, featuring women athletes. This is part of an initiative to motivate athletes to choose their own paths.

When the American sports clothing and accessories brand Under Armour wanted to boost its women’s sales, it roped in Misty Copeland who had reached the top despite being told that she had the wrong body type for a ballerina. The brand’s ‘I will what I want’ campaign last year had millions of hits on Youtube and the brand’s sales apparently grew 60 per cent year on year.

Working with the trio

The women trio’s achievements at Rio have given Indian marketers the perfect platform to strive for deeper commitments that are mutually beneficial. Brands have to look at long-term associations and not just bask in the immediate spotlight of the steel magnolias.

P V Sindhu is a cherished name in India today. Statistics point out that there were thousands of tweets dedicated to her during the memorable final match against Carolina Marin. During the match, Sindhu had 170,000 followers, compared to 94,000 for the Spaniard. Marketers must find clever ways to be part of these conversations, as they give them a direct link with a broad set of influential fans of influential athletes.

Celebrity managers have likened gymnast Dipa to sporting icon P T Usha. Her achievement has to be billed among young people as a tremendously tough but ‘doable’ task. The fact that Dipa was the first woman Indian gymnast ever to compete in the Olympics has to be sustained for the next four years by channelizing effort, money, time and energy on several young girls who are now gearing up to take to the floor. This may be difficult, but the end result could be fabulous if even a few young Indian girls can perfect the Produnova. 

Wrestling may not be a glamorous sport, but that doesn’t mean marketers must shy away from associating with the sport. Jindal Steel’s advertisement featuring Geeta Phogat, who won India’s first gold medal in women’s wrestling during the Commonwealth Games in 2012, is a striking example of what brands can do to push the boundaries. Nothing about the ad unabashedly promotes its steel; it instead subtly pushes the message of women’s empowerment and the need for the will of steel. Can bronze medallist Sakshi Malik find a brand with such a steely resolve?

Isn’t branding and marketing all about breaking stereotypes? So, why do progressive companies want to bracket women in hackneyed roles, instead of leading the change? Brands such as Jindal Steel and Nike have shown that it is possible to get out of archetypal branding and engage in exercises that will encourage more women to surge ahead. More brands need to follow suit.

At the grassroots

To ensure their relationship with a sports star stays meaningful, marketers must engage with the sport and the community. This calls for engaging at the ground level through activities such as talent hunt, training, identifying coaches, building stadia and grounds. Corporates looking to encourage women sportspersons can also invest in their sports goods and training equipment.

Nike and Coca Cola areengaged in grassroots initiatives to promote football across the country through annual tournaments in schools and colleges andtraining camps. The Indian Super League, Pro Kabbadi League and Pro Wrestling are attempts by corporates to popularise different kinds of sports in India other than cricket. Surely, brands can replicate this success for women’s sports too... at a stronger, higher and a deeper level.….

(The author is Founder, Chairman & Managing Director, SureWaves MediaTech) 

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