N. Shatrujeet

Sehwag the Endorser: In the footsteps of Tendulkar? - Part II

Virender Sehwag is fast becoming popular among advertisers seeking a celebrity endorser. Can he run Tendulkar close vis-à-vis star value?

(In the first part of this story, we saw how Virender Sehwag is fast becoming popular among advertisers seeking a celebrity endorser. Here we look at issues pertaining to brand fit and overexposure, and see if Sehwag could run Tendulkar close vis-à-vis star value.)

"I think it is a matter of seeing if your brand has a strong fit with Sehwag," feels Rohit Srivastava, senior vice-president - strategic planning, Contract Advertising. "You have to match the core values of the brand with Sehwag's core values, which, at the gut level, are speed, power, explosiveness and adrenaline."

Sanjay Sharma, associate vice-president, Ambience D'Arcy, agrees, adding ‘confidence' and ‘the natural instinct to challenge' to the list. "Any brand without these core values would seem force-fitted," he says, adding, "The Coke ad is not doing much good as these are not Coke values."

Srivastava also thinks that simply getting Sehwag to endorse a brand will not help - if Sehwag does not have a credible role in the category. "Will the consumer accept Sehwag endorsing a washing machine?" he asks. "Some eight years ago, we had done a study on brands that Kapil Dev endorsed. At that time, he had endorsed some 17 brands, but consumers only remembered Boost and Palmolive. Palmolive, because of the early-mover advantage. Boost, because there was a credible connect with Kapil in the area of energy, fitness and sports." This does not mean Sehwag endorsing a washing machine will be a washout, he cautions. "At a base level, any endorsement adds to awareness. But in a probability game, a credible fit helps you move up the charts and get higher acceptance, while a zero fit will pull you down. It's for the marketer to decide if he wants acceptance only in the high 70s or even in the low 30s."

Richa Arora, vice-president - strategic planning, FCB-Ulka, has a slightly different take on the issue. "The ‘star value' of a celebrity goes beyond the ‘performance value'," she says. "It's relevant to distinguish between the two. Sehwag is well on his way to becoming a great performer, but is yet to acquire the aura of a great star. For instance, in the study we did on celebrities last year, Leander Paes came through as a great tennis player - a consistent, great performer in his area of expertise - but did not have that aura or star value. Once Sehwag achieves the aura of a star, his personality traits will become immaterial. It will be his aura that the brand will ride on." She adds that once the aura is in place, actual performance does not affect how sponsors look at you. "Today, Tendulkar can go through a longish lean patch without sponsors breaking into a sweat."

Of course, that aura is created only over a period of time, and is dependent on consistency. Hrithik, for instance, showed early signs, but a spate of flops have put a big question mark on his role as an endorser. "So for Sehwag today, sans the aura, the fit with the brand, per se, will be a relevant parameter," Arora agrees. "And therefore, it would be limited to mass appeal brands. But given that penetration for a lot of categories need to move down SEC strata, that is not necessarily a negative. However, if he continues with his present form, he should be able to endorse any brand."

To return to that original comparison - is Sehwag the next Tendulkar when it comes to star/ambassador value? The answer is yes, but there's a rider… consistency of form. "It's ball gazing, but with current form and consistency, he seems to be a good thing to put your money on," says Srivastava. "But if he runs out of steam too soon, he'll lose his celebrity status. This is one area that Tendulkar has managed very well."

Echoing a similar sentiment, Sharma says, "Sehwag could be as popular as Sachin if he is consistent. Importantly, Sehwag is winning matches for India, and has created mass hysteria." Sehwag has a bit of a handicap - his non-metro image. But then, that didn't prove to be an impediment for Kapil Dev's earthy persona. "It all depends on how Sehwag is developed by the people managing him," says Sharma. Spot on. From gauche sophomore-like teenager who squeaked about the 'secret of my energy' to the bearded, voice-modulated and assured owner of the Fiat, Tendulkar's transition has been operatic.

Speaking of image management, Srivastava feels that Sehwag should also see that his core values don't get watered down in the course of endorsing brands. "I get the feeling that not many endorsers or their people care about this. What Sehwag has to ask is whether endorsing a brand will add to or subtract from his core values? If, for instance, Sehwag's values are in the ‘power' zone, and if he is seen endorsing products with say, a mushy image, the imagery of ‘power' associated with him may get diluted. This would particularly harm brands that have signed him on for his ‘power' values."

What Sehwag also has to guard against is overexposure - although Latika Khaneja, director, Collage Sports Management, the group that manages Sehwag, doesn't quite agree. "Overexposure is to be expected in this country, be it Bachchan, Tendulkar or Shah Rukh," she says. "And I don't believe we should limit Sehwag to a few brands. After all, a cricketer has a short professional life and that dictates his position as an endorser." She does, however, add that this doesn't mean that Sehwag will be available to all and sundry. "We won't take on anyone who comes. We're looking at the number one in the market, known brands, long-term brands."

Given Sehwag's present market value, and his current form, he certainly is an attractive proposition for marketers. More importantly, the consensus - both among punters and pundits - is that he is yet to hit peak stardom. And with the World Cup round the corner, should India do well (especially with significant contributions from Sehwag, as is expected), his value should increase exponentially.

For marketers who believe in celebrities, looks like now is the time to invest. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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