Can PV Sindhu become the next sports brand icon in India? She has shown grit, performance and strength of character that has seen her get the elusive medal for India at the Olympics and the first silver medal in badminton. Will we see her selling products that resonate with this can-do-it attitude of hers?
Harish Bijoor, Chief Executive Officer of brand and business strategy firm Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, says Sindhu has what it takes to be a `great’ brand icon. “She has won an Olympics medal and has shown tremendous grit while getting it.”
Concurring with Bijoor’s opinion, Piyush Pandey, Ogilvy & Mather says that Sindhu is a brand in her own right and any brand should be able to use her as long as she is featured in 'dignified' commercials. “I hope she does not sell toothpaste and washing soap,” he says.
In the past, we have had Abhinav Bindra, India’s sole gold medallist, who was instrumental in getting the nation to leap up in joy at the country’s first gold medal in any Olympics. Bindra won it for shooting at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, he was seen only in a few commercials. Many would find it hard-pressed to recall the advertisement Rajyavardhan Rathore, winner of India’s first-ever silver medal in an individual event -- the men’s double trap at the 2004 Athens Olympics. That’s the short-lived glory of memory with regard to Olympics.
Alpana Parida, managing director, DY Works, a Mumbai-based brand strategy and brand design firm, says that when the country was willing to watch Sindhu play and root for her on Friday at the Olympics even as a test match India vs West Indies was on, it shows that a sport like badminton has also caught the eye of the nation. Though that match did not take place on the second day of the fourth test because of rains, the country was backing and hoping Sindhu would get the gold at the Olympics.
Parida says that Bindra’s sport is a lone sport while Mary Kom was widely known after a film was made on her. In the case of Sindhu, the game itself was the high point, says Parida. “You could see her competitive spirit and see her courage, strength of character against her opponent. These qualities become inspirational.”
The advertisements that will echo what Sindhu stands for then must focus on her strength of character and competitiveness, say brand specialists. Bijoor says products that are connected to sports would augur well for Sindhu.
Arun Pandey, founder, Rhiti Sports Management, a player management agency, believes even oil could be a good fit for Sindhu. “Anything that stands for health will work well with Sindhu. Like health drinks, for instance,” he says.
The public memory of an Olympic medal winner is ephemeral. It is thus important for these players to cash in on their image that is bright now.
Pandey of Rhiti Sports cites the instance of hockey. “There have been so many iconic players in hockey and yet how many of them are remembered,” he asks.
He says that it then becomes the responsibility of the sports management agency to make sure the player is represented in a wide range of commercials and get what they deserve.
“When I signed Saina Nehwal in 2011, I had to talk to a number of brands about how she could unite a nation with her presence. Some corporates understood the message and signed her. Later, those who did not want to sign her, also came back to sign her. Hence, it is our responsibility as managers of players to communicate to corporates.”
Many believe that Sindhu and the other medal winners like Sakshi Malik and even Dipa Karmakar who came fourth can be the face of inspiration, and not just women’s issues.
“Dipa Karmakar is a great story and any brand should be eager to cast her. She is a woman who braved the odds in a sport that no one in the world expected an Indian in. And she missed the bronze by a whisker,” say an analyst.
Piyush Pandey believes the time has come for other sports to be in the limelight without being overshadowed by cricket. “Some of these players like Saina, Sania are known to India and the Rio medal winners and Dipa Karmakar too will remain in public memory. They are great role models if used meaningfully.”