At 8.45 am yesterday, there was a loud noise – the collective click of millions of TV sets being switched off across India. Soon after, the collective groan of marketers & agencies who bet big on the match, was also heard. Here was a highly anticipated match that could have set up the final decider. Yet, within 15 minutes, the Indian teams fate was sealed and potential eye balls were lost. For marketers that is the risk associated with cricket. Which is a safer bet: film stars or cricket heroes? The debate has been on for some time and the preference is clearly for film stars.
The trouble with cricket is that the national sentiment is associated with it. When a batsman performs poorly, he lets down the whole nation. Or so the nation thinks. The ad portraying him as a super hero that immediately follows his dismissal is then seen almost as a personal affront to the viewer. A cricketer’s celebrity appeal may vanish with just one poor performance or series. That is necessarily not the case with a film star. A heroine’s film may bomb at the box office but the sentiments associated with the brand she endorses doesn’t change for that reason. But cricket fans aren’t that forgiving.
Viewership declining immediately after India’s exit from the Cricket World Cup is also proof of the risk associated with cricket endorsement. But when the going gets good for the Indian team or a particular player the positive vibes far outweigh the risks of failure. So it’s a high risk strategy. With films, it takes 2-3 hits spread over months to establish someone as a star – unless the first film itself is a blockbuster. With cricket, if a newcomer plays well even in one match the clamour to sign him on, begins. The risk of him becoming an ‘expensive’ star later becomes the motive. There are several bowlers from the current Indian team who were signed on early in their careers, but haven’t lived up to the billing or expectations.
The flip side of signing on a film star is that they come with distinct personas. The fit is then applicable to a certain set of brands – a chocolate boy hero may not work well with sporty brands, for example. While cricket stars too have their own personality, they may be a wee bit more flexible in brand associations – across a sightly higher number of categories, perhaps. Regional film stars and TV stars are also effective options for smaller or regional brands. That can’t be said of state or regional players.
Sports telecasts in India deliver the numbers only when India does well in cricket. Else, kuch aur dekh lega India. When they do well though, the rewards are matchless. Now, if only marketers could predict that for sure.