If you look at the social media feeds of any brand today, the dominance of sports as a theme will be the dominant story. Scratch the surface and the story changes. Sports is not at the core of any brand, including the brands that live on sports as a culture.
It’s not that we do not have heroes from the sporting arena. While cricketers dominate the endorsements, there are players from other sports who are the face of certain brands. But that’s where the good news ends.
Brands are keen to sign the sports stars as ambassadors, but aren’t willing to use them as sports performers. MRF, the tyre brand, has India’s cricket captain wearing a tuxedo and speaking about smooth drives. Virat Kohli is the smoothest of drivers of a cricket ball, but that is not the theme of the ad.
Kapil Dev wants kids to sign up for online coding class, but not take up sports as a career.
The lady athlete who won a bronze medal in Tokyo is not the sportsperson in the ad of a credit card processing brand. Today, there are no ads that focus on sports as a theme. Forget theme, sports is not even the context in ads. The only brand to have sports as a context is the Mutual Funds Association.
Not In Our Culture
This is really not surprising. Sports is not in our culture and there is no reason for a brand to build its theme on sports. From colas to cars, when they research consumer passion points, they don’t find sports as a connection. Even at the Olympics, the brands didn’t wake up until Mirabai Chanu won a medal and a pizza brand stole the moment from her. Suddenly, every brand wants a slice of pie. Hundreds of brands were then trying to be clever to capitalize on the buzz when PV Sindhu won the bronze. So much so, that her management agency has taken a stand against the parasitic behaviour of the brands by calling them out. For the record, I believe that PV Sindhu is right in protesting.
Are there some lessons here that brands can learn? There are three distinct lessons that they need to consider.
One: Brands need to make sports a part of their appeal. Sports may not be the biggest passion point with a few upmarket urban elites, but it is a big connection for the masses across the country. From PV Sindhu to Lovlina Borgohain to Rani Rampal to Dipika Kumari to Mirabai Chanu, it’s clear as daylight that mainstream India is investing in sports.
Two: Brands can’t be opportunistic and just ride a moment. A shooting star only gives a moment of light, it’s the lighthouse that guides a journey.
Three: Sports provides immense opportunities to drive a sense of pride. Sports hides many more lessons of life than any other activity and brands can only win from leveraging sports.
In a country where the only heroes are from cricket and movies, brands themselves have announced that those who throw javelin, fence using a sabre, lift weights, take punches on face or wrestle, can drive persuasion and following for brands.
(The author is Co-founder and CSO, Bang in the Middle)
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