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April 12, 2000


Caught and Bowled!

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Indian advertising in the post-Cronje era

The Rediff Team

January 2000: The Indian cricket team gets mauled by the Aussie juggernaut Down Under. asks the business community: should advertisers stop spending megabucks on cricketers' endorsements of products and services? "No," is the emphatic consensus. "Each one of them is a brand now -- to be marketed and packaged. Also, parents would like their children to have cricket personalities as role models as the latter symbolise fitness, discipline and success through hard work," says a biscuit company executive.

Click for a bigger image: Cronje and Klusener in the J Hampstead ad April 2000: Hansie Cronje's volte face proves that *success through hard work* is a dark myth, very unlike the classy, glossy advertisements of J Hampstead premium suitings featuring himself and his team-mates. As the myth exploded through mass media, Bombay's Percept India, the agency which produced the Hampstead campaign, quietly 'withdrew' the print and television advertisements!

'Thankfully, the campaign was not centred on one single player but the entire team. Hence it is not so bad after all,' a spokesperson for Percept Advertising told a television channel. The reason for signing them in the first place, he says, was the Springboks' discipline and dedication. "We are also recovering from the incident."

Hansie Cronje Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley, who is also president of the Delhi District Cricket Association, says the Delhi police would take the scandal to its ''logical end''. ''The tapes have proved beyond doubt the involvement of the South African skipper,'' Jaitley, who is a Supreme Court lawyer, said.

What happens when models turn 'villains'? Why did the advertisers choose Cronje & Co? How much were they paid? These and more questions surfaced as quizzed a cross-section of people on the explosive issue. However, there are no clear-cut answers.

When contacted Siyaram Mills, the company that makes the Hampstead brand of suitings, a story of lightning fast marketing moves and damage-control exercise unfolded.

Siyarams has been featuring the entire South African team in its ads for J Hampstead premium range. The press stills and film shoots with the South African team were done when they were in Bombay during their recent tour.

Although the campaign was to run for 40 days, the schedule was changed immediately after Cronje admitted to taking money from bookies.

N Gangadhar, general manager (marketing), Siyarams, says, "We have enough of film stock for a whole year. Unfortunately we can't use them anymore. We have already withdrawn our commercials and instructions have been sent out to all channels about this."

J Hampstead decided to use the South African team for its ad on the recommendation of its ad agency Percept. "All along, the South African team had a clean image. So we had signed up the entire team and not just one individual. When they were coming to Bombay (for the match), we thought it was a very good opportunity and so decided to shoot with them for the ads," says Gangadhar.

Percept, however, has its reasons for choosing the South African team. Shailendra Singh, joint managing director, says, "Our brief is to project J Hampstead as a global fashion brand. It is a high fashion brand that is successful and sincere. Consciously, we thought that Hansie Cronje has a 82 per cent success rate and nine years experience as a captain."

The glossy ads of Cronje continued to appear in newspapers when the shocking scandal exploded. However, Gangadhar denies that the Hampstead brand image has been affected.

"I have had calls from well-wishers who say that no one could have anticipated this. We do things right and in the right spirit. And if something goes wrong all we can do is make amends for it. The brand is bigger than any individual," he says.

Singh seconds this. "We have used multiple personalities for the ad. We have not focussed just on Cronje. It is the entire 14-member South African team that we have signed up. So, we never let the personality become the brand itself," he says.

To prove his point, Singh cites the example of Dinesh Suitings that had used Sunil Gavaskar as its model for 11 years. "When Gavaskar had problems, it definitely rubbed off on the brand because he was associated with it for such a long time. We do not have problems like that," he reiterates.

Siyarams is going in for a new series of commercials featuring Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupati. The tennis duo has been signed up as brand ambassadors for the next three years.

Singh says neither the South African cricket board nor Cronje has been informed that the ads are being withdrawn. "We never had any interaction with the team members themselves. They just came for the shoot and then left. So, there is no question of telling them that we have withdrawn the ad."

In South Africa, the Spur Restaurant Chain in Johannesburg ended a multi-million rand advertising contract with Cronje. "We are saddened by the (match-fixing) affair," says a spokesperson.

Suhel Seth, chief executive, Equus Advertising, says, "When Princess Diana was killed in the car accident, she was in a Mercedes Benz. The car company immediately withdrew all its ads. Now that is called conscience and being responsible. Now, does that mean Hampstead should pull out its ads featuring Hansie Cronje? It's up to the company or the ad agency. But I think advertisers and ad agencies should be a bit more responsible."

Says marketing guru Shunnu Sen, "Cricket is a religion in India, and Indians relate to this game more than anything else. Which is why advertisers are obsessed with cricketers. They have the power to sell. But I think the ongoing controversy will lead to disillusionment among viewers and they will not take to cricketer models that well. And if that is the case, advertisers will have to react and withdraw the ads."

That could be easier said than done. For celebrity ads involve big money. For instance, there were unconfirmed media reports that Rahul Dravid was paid over Rs 10 million for endorsing Reebok. And that advertisers forced unfit/injured players (read brand ambassadors) to play because that would guarantee television exposure for their logos.

Cola giants Coke and Pepsi declined to reveal the amount of money paid to cricketers like former India skippers Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar and current captain Saurav Ganguly for their endorsements. Rahul Dhawan, director (external affairs), Coca-Cola India, says, "Why should we react to this Cronje controversy? Our endorsers have not been named in these match-fixing allegations."

Abhinav Dhar, chief executive, Dhar & Hoon, says, "We have not really interacted with cricketers. This controversy makes it imperative that cricket-lovers and industry should guard against being taken in by blind hero-worship."

Spin legend Erapalli Prasanna says more and more companies are trying to get players to promote their products. "There is a lot of money involved. The Cronje controversy will have a negative effect on the game. But cricket will hopefully return to its normal state after the controversy is over."

Prasanna feels advertisers may not run away from the game. "Millions love cricket. Once the case is solved, people will continue to watch the game by spending their hard-earned money."

However, according to Navonil Roy, account director, brand planning, Chaitra Leo Burnett, a leading ad agency, what can have a bad impact on the company is if the model in the advertisement is "publicly disgraced".

With Cronje getting just that dubious distinction, will corporates reconsider their ad spend on cricketers? "This could be a double-whammy: it would not only eradicate the evil of big, bad, easy money from sport but also send the dream merchants in search of genuine heroes," says a media analyst.

Not everyone agrees. "We don't intend to withdraw our ads or call it quits with cricketers," says Dhawan of Coca-Cola. The 'Cronjegate' scandal has not made either Siyarams or Percept shy away from cricketers. Percept's Singh says, "India is a one-sport-nation. Cricket reigns supreme. So, no one will let this last forever. If people don't watch cricket here, what else will they do? Cricket is a big game. And its credibility has to be built fast. Let's not forget that the next World Cup will be in South Africa. Let's not kill the sport for one moronic guy." Dhar of Dhar & Hoon says, "Film stars and cricketers sell. And they sell better than anyone else."

Bingo! Thousands of cricket-lovers seem to reinforce Dhar's view. No ticket cancellations were reported for the first one-dayer on April 12 at Durban between the scandal-scarred South Africa and Australia. "We've got a full house," Cassim Docrat, chief executive of the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union, told mediapersons.

Reported by: Neena Haridas in New Delhi, Priya Ganapati and Faisal Dalvi in Bombay. Additional inputs: UNI

From The Rediff Archives:

Desi dream run or drubbing Down Under, advertisers swear by cricket

'Marketers like what consumers like. And consumers like cricket'

Brand Storm in a World Cup


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