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Why Dhoni's Rs 210 crore deal makes sense

Last updated on: July 16, 2010 11:03 IST

Why Dhoni's Rs 210 crore deal makes sense

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Abhishek Mande
Brand gurus explain to Rediff.com's Abhishek Mande Mahendra Singh Dhoni's appeal, which resulted in a landmark endorsement deal for India's cricket captain this week.

Sometime last week Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni stepped out on the terrace of his home in Ranchi.

Wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, he waved out to a crowd of cheering fans and the sound of hundred camera shutters.

Every generation has an icon and every icon has a photograph of him/her waving out from a balcony to a throng waiting below. The Indians of this generation may have clearly found theirs.

It was the day after Dhoni got married. The tilak on his forehead was still fresh and his demure newlywed wife Sakshi Rawat stood beside him -- her dupatta wrapped around her head like traditional north Indian wives.

Standing on the balcony that morning, the couple painted a picture of young India, its soaring aspirations.

The news of him this week signing a Rs 210 crore (Rs 2.1 billion) endorsement deal with Rhiti Sports Management-Mindscapes didn't come as a surprise.

The deal not only made him the richest cricketer in the world, but also a brand that every company wants to associate with.

Some of India's best known brand gurus explain what makes Brand Dhoni tick.


Image: Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni at his home in Ranchi
Photographs: Rajesh Kumar Sen/Reuters
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'This is Dhoni's golden age'

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Arvind Mohan, Group Chief Strategy Officer, Rediffusion Y&R:

Unlike most stars, Dhoni's 'uncelebrity'-like persona and honesty come as a refreshing change. He is far more real than any other celebrity in India and that is his greatest strength.

A lot of us like to buy into the notion of a person who wins against all odds. Dhoni's story represents just that. He does not have any godfathers in cricket and he has risen from being an almost nobody to becoming a captain of the Indian cricketing side.

His small town roots have a lot to contribute to his appeal. As a country we like to believe that there are heroes waiting to be discovered in small-town India.

There was a time when roles would be demarcated and jobs would be set out for the youth. It isn't the case anymore. Everyone gets a shot at success. Dhoni has done just that. Despite coming from a small town (Ranchi) he heads a team of people who come from big cities.

In the way he leads, the way plays and keeps his cool, Dhoni has also become an idol for the youth.

This is surely his golden age. Yet I would be surprised if he gets another deal as big as this.

Dhoni is 29 and every brand has its lifecycle. I am not sure if he will be able to continue playing like Sachin and Dravid into his late 30s. Besides, to me he comes across as someone who has a lot more to his life than play cricket. He has other interests and I see him pursuing that.

For now though it is important for Dhoni to become more brand conscious. He needs someone who can manage the brands for him; select the ones he should be seen associated with and drop the ones he shouldn't. This actually holds true for most brand ambassadors except Aamir Khan who is chooses what he represents carefully.

He should also become a role model on how an ambassador should behave by just be conscious but also conscientious about what he endorses.

When they become successful, a lot of people tend to forget what they stand for. Dhoni should avoid this and continue standing by all the values he represents.


Image: M S Dhoni in a Pepsi commercial

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'The fact that he's married makes him hot property'

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Prahlad Kakkar, ad filmmaker:

When you do a comparative study you will realise that married men usually make for better brands than unmarried ones.

Now that Mahendra Dhoni is hitched, it increases his brand value to a greatly. It also means that he can now endorse unisex products -- like a detergent powder for instance!

To add to it, Dhoni's appeal lies in the fact that he comes from a humble background, had no connections in the cricketing world and has risen to become the captain of the team purely on the merit of his courage, talent and consistency.

Like Sachin Tendulkar, he has always underplayed himself, never projected himself as a hero and stayed low-key. Even after he became successful he hasn't changed the way he dressed or the way he looked.

Dhoni continues to be the small-town boy he always was. This makes him even more appealing.

The key for the success of Brand Dhoni is to associate himself with fewer brands but charge a lot more money to those he signs up with.

Dhoni has to associate himself with the right brands with that go well with his image of captain courageous, a god-fearing and 'settled' son of the soil.

He shouldn't let success go to his head, continue keeping his cool and playing his game and most importantly not count the score on the field and off it. These are qualities that are ingrained in him any way.

I see Brand Dhoni growing stronger in the coming years.


Image: Dhoni endorses Rebook

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'Smaller brands shouldn't pick Dhoni'

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Anuja Chauhan, Vice President and Executive Creative Director, J Walter Thompson:

Rather than saying that Dhoni should be selective about the brands he chooses, I think it is the brands, should use their discretion while thinking of signing him on as their ambassador.

Even though Dhoni represents a lot of products the ones that remain in public memory are the ones that are played out most often. The Aircel ad is one such case in point as are the Big Bazaar commercials.

It wouldn't make sense for the smaller brands to pay the big bucks and have him on board if they cannot afford to publicise his association.

The reason why Brand Dhoni so successful is because we don't have a lot of celebrities whose appeal can cut across the entire country. Bollywood film stars for instance don't have a great fan following in the South. That isn't the case with Dhoni for instance who is the captain of Chennai Super Kings.

Dhoni also comes across as someone who is grounded in middle class values, has married someone he knows for years rather than some hot shot celebrity and seems pleasant, grounded and unaffected by the hype around him. This makes him even more appealing.

Dhoni's small town roots make him seem more accessible unlike glamorous celebrities (whose lives) seem far away from those of ordinary people.

I wouldn't want to comment on the money and the value of Brand Dhoni. But it should be successful till such a time that he continues to perform well on the field.

The only things he should avoid now is losing, poaching wild animals and should try and stay out of prison, I guess!


Image: Dhoni is the brand ambassador for Aircel

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'Dhoni is an aspirational icon'

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Arvind Sharma,, chairman and CEO, Leo Burnett India:

India is a young country and a lot of people come from humble middle class backgrounds. Dhoni is one of them. Purely on the strength of his talent and attitude, he has become one of India's most successful captains.

He is not just a celebrity but also an aspirational icon. He is young, successful and happy. This is what the youth seem to want too. They don't see themselves working for 40 years like their parents. Instead they want to achieve success quickly and retire.

The fact that he comes from a small town does add to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's appeal but it is just one ingredient that contributes to his success.

His real appeal however lies in the fact that he has been able to rise in life despite his humble beginnings.

Endorsements will come and go, so I don't think he should cut down on them. He can lap up as many commercials that come his way. The number of endorsements is just a statement of his popularity.

The contract Dhoni has signed seems like a fair evaluation of the cricketer's worth. Everyone expects him to play for the next three years and there are no significant challenges to his captaincy.

Now all he has to do is continue playing disciplined cricket and remain the simple guy-next-door who everyone can associate with.


Image: Dhoni is the face for Lays, the leading chip brand

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