In December 2014, MS Dhoni decided to take himself off playing test cricket in India pointing to "the strain of playing all formats".
"The demands of Test cricket have taken a big toll on my body. And I have decided that the best way to serve my country is to play the shorter formats. Test cricket has always been a great challenge and I enjoyed the ride while it lasted. I hope the next captain enjoys captaincy as I did,” he said in a statement after playing the third test in Australia.
Not only did Dhoni pass his baton to the next captain but it seems the advertisers too have followed suit. According to an Economic Timesreport, soft drinks major PepsiCo has discontinued its 11 years of association with 35-year-old Dhoni and chosen 28-year-old Kohli as its brand ambassador.
The issue assumes significance when people focus on the cricketer or the brand ambassador and not the brand. For, as Harish Bijoor, Chief Executive Officer of brand and business strategy firm Harish Bijoor Consults Inc points out, a brand ambassador is not important simply because it is the brand that comes first and the story that is woven around it. "A brand needs a person to lead that endorsement," says Bijoor. In that scheme of things, for a brand in the cola category, it is important to have someone in sync with its image. However, that does not mean Dhoni is not an icon anymore, says Bijoor. He has been around for 11 years and his earnings from endorsements have earned him $27 million dollars. “But the cola brand is about youth and so it has a new brand icon from cricket which is Virat Kohli now,” says Bijoor.
According to Forbes magazine, Sachin Tendulkar was the highest paid player in cricket before Dhoni took over. He is believed to have endorsed 50 brands with an estimated endorsement fee of over Rs 500 crore. Tendulkar dropped out of the world’s top 100 post his retirement in 2014. According to ET, Dhoni had endorsed 18 brands in 2014 which fetched him a remuneration of $27 million which has come down to 10 brands in 2016. Dhoni charges Rs 1.5 crore per day unlike Kohli and Tendulkar who charge Rs 2 crore per day.
Advertising guru Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and national Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather India and and Vice-Chairman of O&M Asia-Pacific, sees the choice of Kohli as someone who resonates more with the brand. “Dhoni has reduced his exposure in cricket by 50 percent and it reflects in his brand endorsements,” he says. Terming the change of ambassadors or brand icons as a life cycle and an eventual outcome of the cricketer choosing not to play all formats of cricket, Pandey, however, asserts that Dhoni’s brand value will continue.
The Pepsi brand is all about GenNext and that it is what the brand is driving at as it chooses younger icons to represent it. As younger icons come on the scene, they replace the earlier ones who have matured. “For the average youngster, Virat Kohli is the role model now,” says Alpana Parida, Managing Director, DY Works, a Mumbai-based brand strategy and brand design.
She feels that anyone who is doing well and is a celebrity in his or her field, will be the person in demand for advertisements and brand endorsements. As icons age and are past their hey days, they get replaced by the next well-performing youngster. Parida says that like cine actress Madhuri Dixit who has made a comeback with advertisements unlike anyone of her generation, Dhoni can and should make himself relevant in brands that will reflect and resonate his value as well.
Though Dhoni’s earnings from endorsements have come down considerably, it does not reflect poorly on the cricketer. Pandey and Parida say that this is the time for Dhoni to reinvent himself. Pandey who has worked with Dhoni in advertisements finds him a 'very good actor', and a respected individual. “I feel, like Mr Bachchan, Dhoni should reinvent himself. As his child grows, you may see Dhoni as a parent in advertisements,” says Pandey. Perhaps.
(Editor's note: The copy has been corrected)