24 Feb 2017 14:56 IST

Will Virat Kohli be India’s Michael Jordan?

Puma might have bitten off more than it can chew with its latest endorsement

Last week witnessed two momentous events in Indian cricket, and neither took place on the field. The first, not necessarily in terms of importance, was when English all-rounder Ben Stokes, who bowled the disastrous last over in the T20 World Cup final, got picked up by Rising Pune Supergiants for a small matter of ₹14.5 crore.

This paled in comparison to India’s cricket captain and record-breaking batsman Virat Kohli’s deal with Puma, which exceeds ₹100 crore! The eight-year-long contract beats all endorsement deals signed by other sportspersons in India. This is an indication of the growing significance of Virat as a player and a brand ambassador, and the increasing dependence on cricket by brands in India.

However, we must pause to understand why a major global brand like Puma, which has signed the likes of Usain Bolt, agreed to pay this mindboggling amount and royalty on sales to our star.

Celebrities, once again

India depends on celebrities for everything, from selling toilet cleaners to luxury cars. Sometimes, it makes me wonder if our marketers and advertising agencies are so bereft of ideas that they cling to well-known personalities the way foreign teams cling to theories about Indian pitches!

Sure, brands like Nike and Pepsi have achieved phenomenal success using this strategy, but I wonder how much other smaller brands introspect before making the same move.

So, let’s talk of the Puma deal. No doubt it is a fantastic brand fit; not only is Virat the most successful Indian captain so far, but he is also a premier batsman in all three formats with almost a fetish for fitness which typifies the brand’s values.

And despite attempts by many brands and marketers to promote other sports and leagues, cricket still rules the roost and consequent marketing money follows it with ease. So, what’s the catch?

Cost vs benefit

Marketers often forget that any decision is about costs and benefits. The cost of this deal is already well-documented but let’s not forget that a brand spends more to announce a deal — making new commercials with the celebrity, riding on their popularity through ads, and hoping they continue to break record after record. And what are the benefits?

While there will be a dramatic improvement in brand awareness, it’s still speculation whether celebrity endorsements actually lead to greater interest, desire, and purchase action.

The other doubt I have is whether Virat’s endorsements are within Puma’s control. Celebrities are products at sports management companies, and they look to maximise on the celebrity’s popularity before another hot star hits the firmament. Right now, Virat endorses more than 20 brands; how many of these do you associate with him? And should you associate Puma with Virat just because the brand forked over ₹120 crore?

Is admiration enough?

I recently read an interesting piece on ‘the Virat Kohli paradox’, which argues that while he could be the greatest Indian batsman ever, there is more admiration than love for him. I agree with the writer, as this admiration is not similar to the do-or-die sentiment we shared with Sachin Tendulkar or the regard we had for the Rahul Dravids of the world. Virat has placed himself on a pedestal with his passion, commitment and competence, and that makes me wonder whether he has distanced himself from his fans. I hope that’s not the case for Puma’s sake…

Bottom-line

It’s easy to sit on the fence and look at both sides. What’s my own take on this deal? I admire it — it shows commitment to a sport, a country and a player. But something tells me that Puma has bitten off more than it can chew.

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