Vinay Kanchan
Guest Article

Is this the era of WSP - who is saying the proposition?

It seems so, at least if an average sampling of commercials during an IPL telecast, is anything to go by.

Wise men have often recommended that brainstorms be conducted with one’s eyes closed. The implication being that one then reacts to the quality of the idea, and not the weight of the visiting card advocating it. Even if the flaw of the distinctiveness of familiar voices is put aside, there’s an important point being made here.

“Never get swayed by who is saying something.”

Ironically, in many dealings of human society, this doesn’t hold true.

Right from bosses trumping the opinions of their subordinates, to elders having a larger say in family matters, or a coach’s words carrying more weight than a spectator’s suggestions. We intuitively value the credentials of the person making the point, and act accordingly.

Along those lines, just scanning commercials during the telecast of any match this Indian Premier League (IPL) season, should reveal one truth.

These days, a lot of the focus of persuading the consumer to buy the brand, is being directed to the celebrity being used.

Brand custodians may point to the fact that there’s an entire thought process and synergy to what’s being said and who’s saying it. Usually, with a 100-plus PowerPoint slides inundated with suspicious geometric shapes to back that up.

However, normal people care less about brand strategy, than the audience cares about your commercial, when it interrupts an important moment in the game. Even if a celebrity’s making the point. Sometimes, it even makes the disruption all the more irritating.

Despite that, it seems we have entered the era of ‘who is saying the proposition’ or ‘WSP’. At least if an average sampling of commercials during an IPL telecast is anything to go by.

There used to be the age of the ‘USP’ – ‘unique selling proposition’. I’d even advocate those letters be kept unaltered for the present, with the slight tweak of ‘S’ standing for story in these times.

Nevertheless, with stars of one kind or the other crowding our screen spaces, there seems to be a new acronym in vogue around which brand strategy pivots.

WSP: who is saying the proposition?

Cricketers and movie stars, clutter our screens, extolling the virtues of one brand after another in the gap between overs. It’s an approach that seems to have gone literally over the top (to unabashedly use an ‘overs’ pun). Celebrity spotting could be conceived as a separate game and league in itself.

There are an elite bunch of celebrities, endorsing a huge chunk of brands. How that works for smaller or newer brands, in terms of uniqueness of association, is certainly debatable.

Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Alia Bhatt and the Big B (Amitabh Bachchan), to cite just a few, are spread thinner than a fit sportsperson’s waistline over many brands and categories. It’s difficult for the average person to really put a finger on who endorses what and why that’s credible.

Then, there are the ‘franchise commercials’, where more than one cricketer is added on to the bandwagon, in an effort to exploit the topicality of the match. This often really results in watered down communication, which probably does more for the franchise team morale, rather than the brand’s objectives.

Historically, celebrity endorsements came into the marketing mix, largely because there was nothing differentiated to say about the brand (which is a problem in itself). The idea being, they would at least help the communication stand apart in the clutter.

Or, there was the elusive case of the celebrity values absolutely and uniquely merging with those of the brand - most famously with American basketball icon Michael Jordan’s endorsement of Air Nike.

Now, celebrities are the clutter. Perhaps, it may be time to relook at the viability of this approach.

Often, brand custodians lean towards this, because it’s considered a ‘safe option’. And yet, is it safe to let one’s communication be confused with another brand’s? Or be reduced to yet another message, being cursorily peddled among many others, by a face that stands out in a crowd?

The IPL is a unique festival that presents interesting opportunities for brands to score their own big hits. But this is exactly where a well thought out strategic approach may pay off.

A few years back, Swiggy did some endearing bits of communication, using the background of the IPL, to talk about food cravings taking guard. This year, the Tiago.ev advertising stood out for me. Mainly because in the quick-fire context of the IPL, here were many important points being made about a unique proposition, in a refreshingly irreverent manner.

Then, there’s Spotify, with its ‘songs telling the story’ framework. It has wonderfully ridden on the entertainment vibe already kindled by the IPL, whilst also staying extremely relevant to what the brand’s all about.

This is not to completely knock celebrity endorsement as an approach.

Done well, it can still do wonders. Chess icon Vishwanathan Anand’s partnership with NIIT stood out brilliantly at the time. SRK (Shah Rukh Khan) emerging out of a bathtub as a ‘Lux girl’, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the brand, was memorable, because it went against the type.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s return post a hiatus, with Cadbury’s Dark Milk Chocolate, perfectly blended an interesting tale of tastes getting refined with age.

Perhaps, that’s what precisely needs to be done. There’s a need to find the ‘sweet spot’ again. The celebrity endorsement aspect of brand marketing, clearly is in need of greater contemplation. Merely adding a star to the narrative only makes sense, if that is adding something new, or is helping cement the brand proposition in a way otherwise not possible.

Vinay Kanchan, the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’
Vinay Kanchan, the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’

Seems as obvious as the requirement for boundaries in a power play. And yet, few seem to be indulging in any kind of deeper thought process, when it comes to this.

Maybe, it’s time to call for a strategic time-out.

(Our guest author, Vinay Kanchan is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst, and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’)

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