By Rajiv Dogra

World Cup or no World Cup, cricketers are the preferred brand ambassadors for luxury brands in India; a nation that generates 70 per cent of the global game’s income.

Cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar was signed on as BMW India’s first-ever brand ambassador in 2012. In 2017, for Audi’s tenth anniversary, the car-maker gifted a White Audi Q7 to its supporter Virat Kohli, who also features in many of its marketing and advertisement campaigns. The Team India captain has also been the face of Tissot for the past three years. Last year, Italian luxury sports watchmaker Panerai signed ace cricketer MS Dhoni as their India brand ambassador.

Cricketers, like successful film stars, command enormous commercial appeal. From high-end watches to luxury cars and plush residential projects, Indian cricketers are endorsing almost everything under the sun. The master blaster, for instance, is currently valued at Rs. 40 crore, placed after Indian skipper Virat Kohli, valued at Rs. 200 crore plus and MS Dhoni at Rs. 100 crore plus, on the highest paid endorsers’ list of Forbes India.

However, the moot questions remain. What do luxury brands gain from these associations? How do they draw a parallel between their communication and the cricketer’s perceived values and personalities? Do brands see tangible results through these associations?

Luxury brands have a story to tell, a legacy to maintain, and must create an exclusive experience for their customers. Rahil Ansari, Head, Audi India, explains that Kohli perfectly embodies the German automobile manufacturer’s brand attributes – sporty, progressive and sophisticated. “The brand, with four rings, attracts achievers who are young at heart. We are, therefore, happy that Virat is our customer as well. Our association with him helps us appeal to young achievers in the country,” he says.

“Audi attracts achievers who are young at heart. We are, therefore, happy that Virat is our customer and the brand’s supporter. Our association with him helps us appeal to young achievers in the country.”
– Rahil ansari, Head, Audi India

What matters the most in the endorsement game is the cricketer’s persona, says Suneel Agarwal, Brand Architect, Presentation Coach and Transformation Speaker, with more than three decades of experience across multiple domains. “Virat Kohli can cut the ice with a luxury brand because he leads a luxe lifestyle in real life as well. Similarly, Sachin Tendulkar is also known to have an uber lifestyle.” A person using a Ferrari, for example, may also be a consumer of a humble toothpaste. “Thanks to the cricketers’ massive appeal, I think they can be as good ambassadors of a mass brand as of a luxury label,” says Agarwal, also the Founder and CEO of Parichay Brand Consultants. What changes is the way they are presented in marketing and promotion campaigns.

Mega stars

Leading Indian cricketers help brands earn a universal appeal. Moreover, consumers easily connect with a brand, which has a celebrity name attached to it.  “It gives the brands an extra edge over other brands. India has always been a cricket-crazy nation, and people love to watch and follow the game, especially big events such as the World Cup,” says Siddhant Narayan, Marketing Manager, Indian Subcontinent, Daniel Wellington.

For Panerai, Dhoni is a suitable choice. “MS Dhoni is a celebrated sportsman, a sophisticated gentleman with a distinctive persona that impeccably resonates the masculine identity of Panerai watches,” said Jean-Marc Pontroué, Panerai CEO, in a press conference. “His sports career is a testimony of class, composure, talent, and commitment that he infuses in everything he does, making him an epitome of ardour and legitimacy. We are honoured to associate with him to represent our brand in India and be a true testament to our characteristics.”

In the background of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup, the fashion brand is currently running a nationwide contest called ‘DW Share Your Fan Moment’ led by leg break bowler Yuzvendra Chahal. The contest will invite participants to upload a video cheering Team India. “The idea is to engage with consumers while pushing our brand narrative seamlessly,” says Narayan. “It was essential to collaborate with leading athletes representing Team India. They help the brand cut through the clutter and make the promotions more impactful, relevant and efficient.”

Former players are also preferred as brand ambassadors for luxury brands. Kapil Dev, the man who got us our very first Cricket World Cup, is now promoting Vooty Golf County, in Vikarabad, Telangana, an exclusive lifestyle project that integrates residential units with 18-hole championship golf course, was launched in Vikarabad. “Kapil Dev is a versatile sportsman. He followed his passion for golf after retiring from cricket. Our partnership with him adds the value of ‘exclusivity’ to the project,” says Prithvi Reddy, Chief Executive Officer, Vooty Golf County.

Kapil Dev at Vooty Golf County, Hyderabad
Kapil Dev at Vooty Golf County, Hyderabad

Corporates are going a step ahead in enhancing the brand reach and establishing a connect with the audience. For example, Runwal Group, a Mumbai-based real estate developer, recently announced that they would be providing Cricket Education Program (CEP) developed, designed and validated by Cricket Australia (CA), the governing body for professional and amateur cricket in Australia in their projects – Runwal Forests, Runwal Greens, Runwal Gardens. The occupants can avail the program of the project. “It’s a great initiative to nurture the potential of talented young cricketers,” says former Australian pacer Brett Lee, the face of Cricket Australia at the inaugural event of the initiative. Subodh Runwal, Director, Runwal Group, says that the programme reiterates Runwal’s efforts to provide the best lifestyle to its residents.

Brett Lee with Subodh Runway, Director, Runwal Group
Brett Lee with Subodh Runwal, Director, Runwal Group

Players and brands

Back to the stars of the game, these commercial contracts also benefit the cricketers not just monetarily but also add to their public image. “Panerai is a timeless brand with its roots in the world of the sea and under-sea naval missions,” said Dhoni at a press conference. “All Panerai watches revolve around the brand’s core ethos – combining Italian design and Swiss watchmaking perfection. I closely relate with the authenticity, passion and boldness that the brand embodies; these are some strong attributes that I have been applying to my career and life beyond cricket, stirring true emotions towards Panerai, and underlining my natural connection with the brand.”

For Kohli too the association with Audi has been great. “Audi has made me feel like I am involved in all the innovations that come through, which I think is the most important thing. They have given me respect; they have given me the feeling of being involved with the brand thoroughly, which I am thankful for,” said Kohli at a press conference.  “I am launching all the new cars. Can’t ask for anything more. Sometimes they let me drive it back home as well without doing anything apart from that. So, it’s been really cool.”

A decade ago, however, cricketers were not appealing for many brands as cricket mainly attracted a male viewership. The Indian Premier League made cricket viewing a family affair, furthering the popularity of cricketers as brand endorsers.

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