Ubaid Zargar

Of MS Dhoni and his seemingly timeless advertising prowess

The former Indian skipper continues to be one of the country's highest-paid endorsers, even three years after retiring from international cricket. What’s next for brand Dhoni?

What started as a dream for a young boy in Ranchi, turned into an illustrious cricketing career spanning several decades. MS Dhoni, who donned the captain’s hat for the Indian national cricket team between the years 2007 and 2017, has had one of the biggest underdog stories that still resonates with millions of fans across the world. 

His prolific captainship didn’t just win him awards and trophies but also turned him into an icon, celebrated by the entire country. Dhoni’s leadership and exhilarating performances have earned him a status of a legend within the cricketing fraternity. As such, brands have for years tried to leverage some of his legacy. 

The skipper might have hung his gloves internationally, but his glorious IPL expedition and sheer popularity still make him a brand favourite. According to financial consultancy firm Kroll  LLC (formerly Duff & Phelps), MS Dhoni as a brand is valued at an estimated $80.3 million as of 2022. As per GroupM’s ESP Sporting Nation Report 2023, Dhoni has 30 brands under his belt including Mastercard, Jio Cinema, Bharat Matrimony, Dream11, and WinZo among others. 

Dhoni’s advertising journey started in 2004, with him endorsing Mysore Sandal Soap followed by TVS Motors. Soon after, he signed his big brand deal with PepsiCo in 2005, and never looked back. He has since represented some marquee brands including Hero, Boost, Big Bazaar, Videocon among others. And for reasons yet to be discussed, he has managed to sustain his brand appeal, to this day.

Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing and Talent Solutions, believes that Dhoni has transcended his profession, much like Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar, and is now in a category of globally recognised icons.

He says, “Dhoni with his captainship, underdog story, and leadership has been able to cross the glass ceiling (of being just a cricketer). Nobody’s going to be surprised to see him in ads in ten or fifteen years.”

A lot of sports celebrities tend to lose their appeal after completely moving away from the field. Dhoni’s presence in the IPL could still be a determining factor on how appealing he is to brands. Porwar believes while there is an impending peak for Dhoni’s endorsing journey, but it’ll only be followed by a shift in the category of brands that onboard him. 

“His brand endorsements will see a peak sooner or later. And after that peak there will be some amount of differentiation in terms of brand portfolio that he holds. We’ve seen him endorse brands with energy quotients such as Boost, to then represent finance companies. And as we move into the future, we could see Dhoni being leveraged for smartness or coolness quotient.”

This year’s IPL was particularly interesting, and emotional for MS Dhoni fans of the world. There was a lot of speculation about Dhoni’s retirement from domestic cricket after the tournament. To the relief of many fans, and brands (assumingly), Dhoni has quashed the rumours, hinting at another season with champions Chennai Super Kings.

Darshana Bhalla, founder & CEO, D’Artist Talent Ventures, opines that MS Dhoni’s ad appeal will continue to hold water, even after his inevitable domestic cricket retirement. Due to his long-earned credibility and affinity with audiences, Bhalla believes that Dhoni’s advertising journey isn’t going to see a slump, but will consistently see an upside.

“Dhoni’s credibility, respect, and popularity is something he has earned over the years. While his tenure as a cricketer may end, but there are other tangents of careers within cricket that he could take on,” she says. 

Even with his time away from international cricket, Dhoni has almost consistently managed to be part of several discussions, often delving into comparisons. Bhalla highlights that Dhoni’s relevance will continue for as long as cricket is loved by fans. “Even today, people talk about how India played under Kapil Dev, or Sourav Ganguli, or how Sachin played against certain formidable players. These are things written in stone.”

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