Alekhya Chakrabarty
Guest Article

India’s Commonwealth Games 2022 performance - what’s in it for brands?

Our guest author Alekhya Chakrabarty wonders whether brands will continue to stick to cricketers or work with non-cricket athletes who have made India proud.

These are unprecedented times in content and popular culture in India. The Indian film industry is at an inflexion point as it figures out the next pivot. A majority of the film industry is still in denial mode as yet another multi-starrer produced at crores of investments turned out to be a dud at the Box Office.

This majority continues to blame external factors for the failures. The more enterprising figures like Akshay Kumar, have begun introspecting though. In Kumar’s words from a recent interview: "Films are not working, it's our fault. It is my fault. I have to make the changes. I have to understand what the audience wants. I have to change my thinking, about what films should I do. It's nobody else to be blamed, it's me."

Cricket advertising in this country has its own set of pivots waiting to happen while it takes a stance at this juncture of fascinating uncertainty. Will ODIs as a format exist at all? As the ODI world cup returns to India next year after the triumph of 2011, how will the brands navigate IPL and the ODI world cup in 2023? What shall be the enhanced window for the IPL in line with the eyepopping media rights which have been auctioned? Questions are aplenty for the marketers to consider as they rethink their content and advertising strategy around cricket.

That brings me to the event which is the focus of this piece. The just concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. India had a great run at the 2022 CWG, finishing fourth on the table with 61 medals ( 22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze). Mind you this was despite the shooting, India’s most successful sport traditionally, not being a part of the Games.

So what are the possibilities for brands from the CWG? Especially in the content ecosystem explained above?

Alekhya Chakrabarty
Alekhya Chakrabarty

There are seven in my view. Let’s dive right in.

Individual endorsement opportunities around our female sportspersons

First up, the stupendous performance by our female athletes. Our women won 8 of the 22 golds which we picked up at Birmingham. A double click of this shall reveal some very interesting opportunities for brands.

PV Sindhu has for sure made herself an all-time great in Indian sports with her latest gold-winning performance. From the long list of brands which she endorses, it was interesting to see Asian Paints choose her alongside Ranbir Kapoor. It is a welcome choice, a precedent for brands to move beyond the usual routes of association used by brands for a sportsperson like Sindhu - namely, performance, stamina, energy replenishment and so on.

One of the favorites in the games couldn’t defend her title at CWG 2022 though - Manika Batra. Her experience of failure, and the lessons thereof, can be leveraged by brands who want to take that POV. The famous example of Johnnie Walker and its association with Roberto Baggio’s redemption comes to mind in this regard.

Nikhat Zareen who followed up her triumph at the Women's World Championships with a gold medal finish in the CWG can be another natural target for brands as she continues to make records tumble and more eyeballs follow her.

Lastly, there is the quartet of Lovlina, Chanu, Sakshi and Vinesh - who have already been spotted by brands basis the value they bring to grow their awareness backed by their performances.

Content opportunities

These are unprecedented times globally in terms of content being created around sports. Netflix’s Drive to Survive has opened up the US as a market for the sport of Formula 1 like never before. The Last Dance on Netflix has got the game a whole new set of fans. The Test on Amazon Prime Video repositioned the image of the Australian team post the sandpaper gate controversy. It is a production of truly never before seen quality in the game of cricket. Co-produced by Cricket Australia, it is now poised to see further seasons soon.

Closer home, one needs to listen to the episode of the ‘In The Zone’ podcast where Abhinav Bindra hosts Neeraj Chopra and the two champions share the different ways in which their respective journeys are different, yet similar. This will tell you about the possibilities that exist in this world by creating unexpected combinations.

Which brand shall chronicle this unprecedented growth of Indian sportspersons and the sporting disciplines to share with us viewers the much-needed backstories with authenticity?

Community focused associations

Back in January, Hyundai showcased four members of the Indian cricket team Mandhana, Rodrigues, Bhatia and Verma with Shah Rukh Khan to promote their Alcazar variant. It was a smart choice, and befitting for a youth-centric brand.

The time has never been better for brands to use a similar playbook for associating with a community of sportspersons. Potential choices range from the obvious group of the Indian cricket team to the group of Lovely Choubey, Pinki, Nayanmoni Saikia and Rupa Rani from the team which won the gold in Lawn Bowls. A sport, which as a nation we discovered the rules of, as the champions made us proud at Birmingham. Hockey, of either or both genders, can be tapped into as well.

Fresh faces

Two words. Lakshya Sen. In my opinion, Baseline Ventures has a goldmine in their hands in Lakshya. Sen is only going to grow from strength to strength in the sport, and it will be fascinating to see how the brands leverage his personality off the court. I am yet to see a breakout commercial or brand conversation with Sen, this shall happen. Any moment now.

There is Anahat Singh, the 14-year-old squash player who was the youngest member of the Indian contingent. She offers a great opportunity for youth-focused brands to partner with her. Bournvita seems to have made the first move already to ensure they partner with her in her journey of tayiaari ( preparations ).

Smart brands can even use these heroes as examples of undiscovered high-performance secrets to showcasing the newness which they offer through their product propositions.

New India at its performing best

The team efforts of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty need chronicling. Or Lawn Bowls again, men and women both. Both our hockey teams continue their journey of resurrection. And the goosebumpy near clean sweep of the podium spots in Triple Jump ensured that Eldhose and Abdullah’s names shall be written in golden letters in the annals of Indian Athletics history.

All of them are rich options to depict the new, unstoppable force that is Indian sports today.

Age, what’s that?

Sharath Kamal, 40 years young, had his best ever CWG show winning 4 medals. If there ever was a story of someone ageing like fine wine, this is it. This is another story waiting to be told by a brand which promises to be timeless. Food for thought for one of those smartwatch brands.

Break the pattern

Lastly, my personal favourite. Avinash Sable’s silver and the heartstopping finish in the 3,000m steeplechase final as he broke through the Kenyan dominance. This was as unexpected as probably Robin Soderling’s victory over Nadal at Rolland Garros in 2009. And it deserves proper recognition through smart storytelling.

One of the smartest, slightly off-the-beaten track, integrations in sports marketing in recent times was the one done by Thums Up. ‘Palat De’ as a tagline, while rooted in the context of the category, offered immense potential for the brand to be leveraged in many different subtexts in the times ahead. From Tokyo to Birmingham to cricket, it has been at it- leveraging the campaign to ensure the brand grows from strength to strength, together with the sportspersons racing ahead.

So there it is. A plethora of options for brands to consider as they put on their thinking caps during the planning stage for the next FY. In the world of brand associations today, sportspersons offer more credibility and authenticity than the filmstars ( and cricketers) whose pedestals are being challenged like never before.

\The question is clear for brand custodians, will we continue to stick only to cricket, films and creator ecosystems as choices of the content spaces to associate with?

Or think only of choosing Neeraj Chopra for our brands as defined by one of those many embarrassingly true but oh so relatable use cases from the Cred ad?

Or will we be brave enough to take the leap of faith with these sportspersons who are poised to transform India by being faster, higher and stronger?

(Alekhya Chakrabarty is head of marketing at Sunstone.)

Have news to share? Write to us