Benita Chacko

What can India’s rising sportswomen endorse?

As brands race to rope in the best women athletes to endorse their products, what is it really that they can endorse and for how long? We speak to industry experts to find out.

As Indian sportswomen pick up medals at the ongoing Olympics in Tokyo, various brands are already trying to make the most of their success. The victories of these sportswomen have made them an inspiration among the youth. Brands are looking to associate themselves with attributes like the determination and confidence of these athletes to boost their image. But can these sportswomen endorse brands across all categories?

Arun Raman
Arun Raman

Arun Raman, chief intelligence officer, GREY Group India, says, “Brands should look at these athletes as more than a face. They must invest in building stories... Obviously, brands in ‘superficial’ categories, like deodorants, have no stake here. The financial sector and brands like Bournvita, Adidas, etc., may be a better fit.”

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

However, Lloyd Mathias, a business strategist, angel investor and former Asia marketing head of HP, mentions that brands ranging across various categories will be well suited for these sportswomen. “Any brand – especially in the lifestyle and consumer space – will find these sportswomen to be the perfect brand representatives. Brands in the food, nutrition, personal care, and fashion and lifestyle space will be the most suitable ones. However, other categories, like travel, e-commerce and BFSI, could also benefit from such an association.”

Darshana Bhalla
Darshana Bhalla

For Darshana Bhalla, founder and CEO, D’Artist Talent Ventures, too, these women can be associated with brands across categories.

Many of these sportswomen have recently come under the spotlight due to their recent Olympic triumphs. This raises another question – for how long will the equity last?

Bhalla says that it is now up to the marketers, talent agents and brands to make these athletes a 'brand'. “These women have performed at the ultimate level. So, now it's for us to see how we can create their brand.”

Mathias mentions that with good sports promoters, the popularity of these women can last for a long time. “But given their achievements and potential, one hopes that they will be big contenders during the next Paris Olympics in 2024 too.”

Raman, however, believes that with endorsements, the equity depends on their performance, and it will quickly dwindle. “Instead of endorsements, if the brands were to sponsor them, they would hope that they last more than a season. Then, it wouldn’t matter if the athlete isn’t a winner for some time, because they would be winners by nature.”

Traditionally, sportswomen have received a very small share of brand endorsement deals as compared to their male counterparts. While the exemplary performances of the likes of Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, Pooja Rani, the women’s hockey team, amongst others, have done the country proud, they are still unlikely to bag deals that are similar to male cricketers.

Bhalla says that talent managers and brands will have to do their bit to make these names a strong brand. “Things aren’t going to change immediately. There will be a spike for sure, but it's going to take at least 3-5 years of consistent work for things to really change. The talent management companies in the sports arena need to start investing more time in these athletes. They need to promote them and create an ecosystem where the brands are attracted to their talent.”

“Also, brands have to become a little bit more audacious and take more risks. They need to see that there is a lot of relevance in doing this association, even if the face is not as well known as that of an actress. And, this can happen at a fraction of the price that they will probably pay to the actress,” adds Bhalla.

Even in women’s sports fraternity, certain athletes tend to receive a greater pie of the deal, than the others. Bhalla says this depends on the popularity of the sport, the sportswoman, and her present performance.

However, Raman believes that brands should focus more on sponsoring these sportswomen than merely piggybacking on their success. He says that the future of brand associations will be sponsorships.

If brands don’t want to be seen as selfish, greedy and like vultures, then they should be a part of developing sports and the players.
Arun Raman

“Advertising is not the be all and end all of brand building. It can also be done through the development of sports in the country... With endorsements, the brands are piggybacking on the success of athletes, without being a part of their journey. The athletes are doing all the hard work and when they are victorious and successful, the brands want to use them and make the most of the opportunity. The consumers can see through this,” says Raman.

“If brands don’t want to be seen as selfish, greedy and like vultures, then they should be a part of developing sports and the players. They will get far higher ROIs if they are seen standing with the athletes through their journey, rather than using them after they win.”

“Many of these athletes have gone through hardships and financial difficulties. It is still not late for brands to associate with them for sponsorships. Plastering their face over a soap ad isn’t enough. Our marketing community has become very selfish,” he adds.

Mathias also cautions brands against short-term commitments. “Brands need to have a deeper association and show commitment, and not exploit these winners with short-term moment marketing gimmicks. In fact, there is a significant consumer sentiment building up against brands’ ambush attempts to ride the topicality and popularity of athletes’ Olympic wins for their benefit. Brands need to remain watchful about this.”