My fear is that Hima Das too may be headed the Dipa Karmakar way. All the WhatsApps flying around, all the clips of her winning, the video of her crying on the podium, are unlikely to move brand managers and creative directors to actually feature her in any ad campaign for a big, visible brand. The excuses are easy to find. One drop of rain on your window pane does not mean there is a thunderstorm coming. Let us wait and see how she performs at other world events. The Asian Games are coming. Let us see if this win was just a flash in the pan, or more. Basically, wait and watch. Better to hedge your bets in favour of tried and tested endorsees rather than back a new talent. For the record, 89% of all cricket endorsements have gone to captains of the Indian team (current and past) while regular team members, despite all the media exposure that cricket guarantees, hardly ever made the cut for brands except in IPL team kind of ads showing more than one player. Indian advertising has always waited for an endorsee to achieve unimpeachable success before investing in them for becoming the face of the brand. It took Kapil Dev to become the 1983 World Cup winning captain before he could sign up for the Boost campaign, his first ever brand endorsement. Real interest in Dhoni too was ignited only after he won the T-20 World Cup. Virat Kohli has been luckier but then his career trajectory towards India captain was already visible when brands started queuing up at his door step. Look at the chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. He is pure genius, a spinner unparalleled in the world today. But brand managers and their agencies are just seeing no value in him. They would rather pay 20 times more to get Virat Kohli to do his 20th endorsement. It is no different with the swashbuckling K L Rahul. The guy looks good, in fact handsome. He is a batting sensation. But zero on brand endorsements.
It is sad that even sports goods companies like Nike or Adidas or Puma have really not stepped forward to support the likes of Dipa Karmakar. So it is possibly not going to be any different for Hima Das. I was speaking to one of the biggies at one of the leading talent management companies and he said the problem was that Das is ‘too raw’. I reminded him that Nike signed on Roger Federer when he was still in his teens and struggling on the Grand Slam circuit. The Nike-Federer deal lasted 20 years. So, I really do not agree with the ‘too raw’ argument.
It requires a serious change of mindset if brands have to back fresh talent. As of now, the signals on that front are weak. I hope, for the sake of Hima Das, that brand managers and their ad agencies will show more spunk, be willing to take a few more risks in giving our new heroes their due on the commercial circuit. More money in the hands of these new champions will hopefully lift them from their penury and give them better wherewithal to win laurels for the country in the future. Sure, commercial decisions cannot be driven by patriotism alone, but on merit too. If Das can earn the right to be on an Amul hoarding, she is a much better choice to be endorsing Horlicks than a 70+ Amitabh Bachchan. A Hima or a Dipa are actually more natural choices to be paying tributes to ‘desh-ki-dharti’ than an Akshay Kumar who is India’s best known ‘khiladi’ without playing any sport. A sensible brand manager could sign-on Hima for a fraction of the price that Virat charges. More so, a first-mover brand could ‘own’ a Hima without having to share her with a dozen or more other brands. But to do that, creative directors in ad agencies will really have to exercise their grey cells to create stand-out advertising that does justice to these newly-minted heroes and moves brand packs off the retail shelves. Which, to tell you the truth, is much tougher than getting Big B to mouth some poetry and utter some meaningless bombast about the brand and then say if Big B won’t work, what will?
Sandeep Goyal is a PhD in Human Brands. He has spent more than 30 years in advertising dealing with celebrity endorsements.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. They do not reflect the view/s of Business Standard.