'When people look at Kohli, they see a boy from Delhi who is taking on the Aussies in their own backyard and aspire to be like him.'
'Players like Jadeja and Ashwin lack this quotient.'
The final day of the Ahmedabad Test between India and Australia was a dull phase of the closely-fought Border-Gavaskar Trophy series, but one moment added spice: An animated discussion between Virat Kohli and Axar Patel.
Fans and social media users were quick to point out that shades of Kohli, when he was captain, were on display.
Some even pointed out that Captain Rohit Sharma took a backseat and let Kohli dictate proceedings for the time being.
"It is in these moments that brands decide to look past performances and choose an endorser. For most of these brands, pure statistics often take a backseat, and your on-field persona stands out," says Samit Sinha, founder and managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.
Brand experts suggest such on-field junctures get etched in public memory and go beyond match performance, something players like Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandra Ashwin have continued to excel in, and Kohli hasn't for some time.
While Kohli took three-and-a-half years to hit a century in Tests, Jadeja has scored 2,593 runs in Tests since 2019 at an average of 37.03 (including three centuries), the second-best for India (after Rohit Sharma).
Ashwin is just a hundred shy of equalling M S Dhoni's record of centuries in Tests.
The Jadeja-Ashwin duo have also been picking fivers for fun, helping the team win series after series (at least in the subcontinent).
Kohli's brand value continued despite his long lean patch in form.
His brand value, despite falling in 2021, stood at $185.7 million, making him the face of brands across sectors from auto to fashion to tech.
Kohli's brand value exceeds not only his peers from the sport (next being Dhoni) but also celebrities like Akshay Kumar and Alia Bhatt.
Kohli endorses some 30 brands and the labels include Puma sportswear, Hero two-wheelers, MRF tyres, Audi cars, fashion platform Myntra, American Tourister luggage, Vivo smartphones and Hyperice wellness.
Experts feel his dominance probably continued in 2022, especially after his match-winning knocks in the T20 World Cup.
Industry expert Harish Bijoor says Kohli remains a fan favourite because of the timing of his knocks.
"He (Kohli) has played a number of match-winning knocks that continue to remain in public memory. Hence, he continues to enjoy the goodwill of the people and the brands. People like Ashwin and Jadeja have also performed well over the years, but Kohli's knocks are much more etched in public memory than the innings/wickets by Jadeja and Ashwin," says Bijoor.
Aparna Mahesh, chief marketing officer, Great Learning, an edtech company that hired Kohli as its brand ambassador in 2020, says the batter's popularity extends beyond cricket.
"Kohli has a charismatic personality that makes him reach out to a younger demography," she says.
Social media influences brands' decisions about plays.
"Other than his on-field persona, his social media and off-field image has also helped him garner endorsements. His social media game has been on point for several years and he has a following to show that. His pan-Indian image is something Ashwin and Jadeja have failed to recreate despite their exceptional performances," says Bijoor.
Some analysts also say glamour is an important factor in Kohli keeping an edge over his peers in getting endorsements.
"Obviously, glamour is also an important aspect for these brands, and being the other half of a power couple (Anushka Sharma) gives these brands impetus," says Sinha.
Analysts note that brands lose interest if a player loses form or is ageing and nearing retirement.
But, according to Bijoor, with Kohli and his recent uptick in form, that doesn't seem to be the case.
"If we look at some of the innings played by Kohli in recent times, nobody can say he doesn't have a future with the national team. He seems to be getting back to his best and brands know that he has a lot to offer. More than that, he is a former captain. This factor adds to the credibility as brands have always favoured captains (Dhoni, Ganguly) to be their face," he says.
Sinha says people remember players they can relate to -- a factor brands use to their advantage.
"When people look at Kohli, they see a boy from Delhi who is taking on the Aussies in their own backyard and aspire to be like him. Similarly, earlier it was Dhoni. People saw a boy from a small town rise up the ranks and calmly lead the nation on the biggest stage. Players like Jadeja and Ashwin lack this quotient," says Sinha.
Sinha adds that brands overlook performance in other sports too.
"You can see the same aspect in different sports as well. Nadal and Djokovic might have won more Slams than Federer, but he led the line in terms of endorsements. We have athletes in India who have won Olympic and CWG medals, but lack a mix of the aforementioned elements that brands are looking for," explains Sinha.
"Brands typically gravitate towards the most popular player to yield the best results," says Mahesh. "This is the main reason why only a few get the lion's share of endorsements."