Aishwarya Ramesh

What can brands learn from the PV Sindhu-moment marketing debacle?

Brands like Vodafone Idea, ICICI Bank, Happydent (Perfetti) got into trouble for using her picture to congratulate her on her Bronze medal win.

Baseline Ventures - PV Sindhu’s sports marketing agency has sent legal notices to 20 brands that used her name and pictures in advertisements. Most of the ads congratulated her on her winning a Bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2021. The firm is sending notices to Happydent (Perfetti), Pan Bahar, Eureka Forbes, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Vodafone Idea, MG Motor, UCO Bank, PNB, SBI, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Fino Payments Bank, Bank of Maharashtra, Indian Bank, Wipro Lighting.

Moment marketing on social media is a fairly commonplace practice that brands often use to build a relationship with consumers. It’s a way for the brands to stay relevant and join the conversation on trending topics. However, it is considered unethical for a brand to attempt to leverage an athlete's name without consent or contract.

In an article on MoneyControl, Yashwanth Biyyala, Director - Talent and Partnerships at Baseline Ventures, is quoted as saying, "The bigger problem is that International Olympic Committee (IOC)'s rule 40 stops Sindhu from endorsing any of her partners today. Brands that are sponsoring Sindhu are unable to put congratulatory post for the athlete due to rule 40 of Olympic charter which says that brands cannot advertise without the consent of IOA (Indian Olympics Association)."

What’s the bigger takeaway for brands in this situation? When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, many advertisers pressed pause on advertising, but that’s not an option when it comes to moment marketing.

Sourabh Mishra, a brand strategist, and managing partner and co-founder, Azendor Consulting (former CSO at TBWA India and Saatchi & Saatchi) says that it starts with how brand owners look at and treat their own brands.

“A brand is like a living entity and should be treated just as we treat a human being - the whole point of crafting a 'brand personality' is just that. This postulates that a brand manager therefore is like a 'personality image manager', managing the brand just like they were to manage a person's image,” he explains.

Mishra asks if the brands would advise a person (whose image they are responsible for managing) to gatecrash parties they have not been invited to. “After all, this was Ms. PV Sindhu's party and she had not invited these brands, but they nevertheless decided to gatecrash and slip into the party pictures, which they then put out into the media. Now that Ms. PV Sindhu has decided to call out these gatecrashers, would the brand owners/managers be comfortable with the kind of negative rub-off that has on their brands' reputations? That is the point that these brand owners/managers have to answer for themselves - are they okay with being paraded in media as part of the party gatecrashers' hall of shame?” He questions.

Sourabh Mishra
Sourabh Mishra

Mishra alternately ponders if the brands as entities would be comfortable with people (or even other brands) doing exactly the same thing to them? “What if a local politician were to place a chewing gum brand on their hoarding with the message ‘Mr. Politician salutes the spirit of X Chewing Gum...’ he is as committed to whitening the black deals of the opposition politicians as X Chewing Gum is to whitening people's teeth?"

Neeraj Bassi, the chief strategy officer at Havas points out that it was PV Sindhu's individual achievement and her hard work that got her to that position.

He takes the exmple of the brand Amul - which has been doing moment marketing using the character of the Amul girl. "When you use an illustration, you're not infringing on anyone's achievement in a way. You're also making an effective point."

Neeraj Bassi
Neeraj Bassi

Bassi adds that its slightly opportunistic for a brand to do that and even though moment marketing activities are fairly commonplace. "It may be a bit extreme to take the brands to court, but when the person in question is not your brand ambassador, there are limits to what brands can do. When it comes to individuals, it's important to make an arrangement to get permission from the person concerned."

(Hero image courtesy PV Sindhu's official Twitter account.)