P V Sindhu was tied at 13th place on the Forbes list of highest-paid female athletes released last week. She is the only Indian, and one of just three non-tennis athletes to be named on the list, which is topped by American tennis all-time great Serena Williams. Sindhu's total earnings last year of
USD 5.5 million tied her for 13th place with American tennis star and 2018 French Open and US Open runner-up Madison Keys. Quite an achievement for Sindhu, for sure.
But surprise of surprises : an internet survey last week with a sample of 1078 respondents conducted by the Mumbai based Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) showed that 42% of those surveyed
actually didn’t recognize PV Sindhu! 86% of respondents correctly recognized Sania Mirza; only 46% called correct on Saina Nehwal. A good 22% confused Nehwal and Sindhu while knowing they were both badminton players.
Forbes’ citation for Sindhu in 2019 had this to say, “Sindhu remains India's most marketable female athlete. The badminton star has endorsements with Bridgestone, JBL, Gatorade, Panasonic and more. She became the first Indian to win the season-ending BWF World Tour finals in 2018.” But it
would really be a big heart-break for not just these aforementioned brands but others like Moov, Myntra, Nokia, Himalaya, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam (Vizag Steel), Bank of Baroda, Sri Sri Ayurveda and even the likes of the Central Reserve Police Force who have used Sindhu in their advertising to know that recognition levels for her are below 50%. Sindhu, for the record, also used to endorse Yonex before signing on a Rs 50 crore deal with racquet makers Li Ning.
Sindhu was not the only one with poor scores on recognition… other famous faces amongst women endorsees did pretty badly too:
-Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s women cricket captain was connected to cricket by 72% respondents but only 49% got her name right.
- Smriti Mandhana, India’s other well-known cricket face, too was correctly recognized by only 38% respondents.
- Harmanpreet and Smriti were confused with each other by 15% respondents.
- Hima Das (19%), Dutee Chand (17%) and Deepa Karmarkar (22%) all scored poorly despite all the PR around their victories.
- Bollywood stars, however, had no problems being identified. Sara Ali Khan had 96% recognition, while her contemporary Janhavi Kapoor also scored an impressive 93% on recognition.
- Newbies/newly capped male cricketers had no problems being recognized. Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah had 100% recognition. Manish Pandey (92%), Navdeep Saini (88%), Shreyas Iyer (85%) scored well too.
“There has been a lot of talk in media about gender inequality between celebrities especially sportstars when comparisons are made with Virat Kohli. The IIHB survey clearly shows that other sportspersons, especially women athletes, just do not have the instant recognition that male
cricketers or even Bollywood debutants enjoy. If they are not even clearly identified, how can they be good brand ambassadors? PV Sindhu has been very lucky with brands. Out of the women athletes/players, Sania Mirza tops perhaps because she has been around longest and has consistently remained in the news,” says Dr. Sandeep Goyal, chief mentor, Indian Institute of Human Brands. Goyal holds a PhD in the study of Celebrities as Human Brands.
Adds Goyal, “Harmanpreet despite being such a good player, and despite being India captain, just doesn’t seem to have mass recognition. That is possibly the reason that brands haven’t warmed up to her for endorsements”.
As per The Economic Times, Sara Ali Khan, the 23-years old daughter of Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh, who has just two movies under her belt, has 11 endorsements already signed up, bringing her Rs. 30 crore a year in endorsement fees. Sara is brand ambassador for Fanta, Puma, Ceriz, Veet and Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) amongst others. Confidence placed in Sara by brands is clearly supported by the IIHB feedback.
That Rishabh Pant was going to have a “Pantastic” year
was predicted in an earlier IIHB report in January 2019. Pant has already signed on Coca Cola, Himalaya and Cadbury’s in endorsements this year and seems to be going from strength to strength. It is obvious he has no issues on recognition or recall.
The Indian Institute of Human Brands is a think-tank that tracks celebrities, especially in the context of brand endorsements. IIHB was set-up earlier this year by Dr. Sandeep Goyal, former Chairman of Dentsu India and ex-Group CEO of Zee Telefilms.