MS Dhoni and Anna Hazare could not be more in contrast with each other. One came with a reputation of drinking 6 liters of milk every day, the other with a reputation for non violent ‘satyagraha’ and fasting as means of protest.
MS Dhoni captured the imagination of a nation by ending a 28 year wait for a world cup victory. On the other hand Anna led the first middle class grass root movement and brought a government to its knees and fired the imagination of people without hope for more than 60 years.
Both are big brands but only one lends his brand to other products and services in a vehicle that we marketers called Brand Ambassador.
MS Dhoni endorses more than 15 brands on last count from Insurance to Ceiling Fans, Reebook shoes to Flat Screen TVs. But the recent performance of team India in England has seen many of these advertisements off the screen.
As a matter of fact none of the cricketers endorsed brands are on the air these days, the only exception being Toshiba that has been brave enough to run Sachin Tendulkar commercials.
There is a great deal of risk involved in signing on a celebrity to endorse your brand. For one it is human nature to be unpredictable, a good example are the movie stars and music icons who have trouble in maintaining a stable life style.
Many would still recall the breakdown that Britney Spears went through a couple of years ago. But endorsements involving sporting stars have their own challenges, like non performance on the field. Very few would take kindly to a brand if still publicized when the sportsmen are not doing well.
A case in point was Gillette. With the tag line’ the best a man can get’ Gillette staged a coup by signing on four superstars to endorse them. But unfortunately the strategy back fired as all four were involved in controversies in the same year, Tiger Woods (Cheating on wife), Roger Federer (crying on the court after losing to Nadal), Thierry Henri (Handball in the world cup qualifier) and finally our own Rahul Dravid (dropped from the one day team). This must have been a bad situation for the Gillette brand managers.
I had earlier discussed in piece how brand managers could hedge against the failure of their brand ambassadors by hedging or getting multiple strategies to their brand
In the end if we do some analysis it is Bollywood actors who prove to be very safe bets, as brand ambassadors, even if they get into a controversy they are still forgiven easily as compared to sportsmen.
Some sportsmen in India have just faded away after some initial success, good examples being Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who could not add to the success of his Silver at the Athens Olympics.
Yesterday while watching television I counted the number of current and former Bollywood stars endorsing brands. I counted Celina Jaitley (Diya Jewelry), Riya Sen(Agni Jewels), Katrina Kaif (Pantene), Bipasha Basu (McVitie Biscuits), John Abraham (Garnier) and Neil Nitin Mukesh (Addiction Deo Spray).
Now this was in a half an hour window and not too many of them are top level stars, but still brands prefer them over sports people. Not a single commercial featuring a sportsman was shown in that half an hour.
I feel the reason to this is that there is no quantifiable way to measure these celebrities as opposed to sportsmen whose performance is out in the open to see. Also we seem to have less patience with them as compared to actors. For example no one would blame Shah Rukh Khan for a poor movie but we will pelt stones at MS Dhoni for losing a series.
Some strategies that I had given earlier in my paper on brand ambassador hedging could be used to help tide over non performing brand ambassadors.
- Multiple brand ambassadors e.g.: Louis Vuitton
- Limiting contracts to one year
- Let the brand be its own ambassador e.g. Coca Cola and Body Shop (India is an exception where they use celebrities, recently Body Shop signed on Dia Mirza as a brand ambassador)
- Using employees as brand ambassadors e.g. IBM – for smarter planet campaign
- Using animation e.g.: Vodafone with ZooZoos
- The CEO being the brand ambassador e.g. Lee Iacocca for Ford, Steve Jobs (till recently ) for Apple.
But what about brand Anna?
This is a brand that will live on for a while, he has won a decisive battle and in many ways diverted the attention from MS Dhoni and co, who have to kind of win the one – dayers to get the heat off them.
Team Anna has saved team Dhoni for now, but not forever.