I am, I think, getting old. Which is why perhaps these days I sometimes don’t understand why certain brand managers do some really strange things. And strange means really strange. Or maybe, they are not really so strange, and I somehow miss the larger strategic intent of what they are doing. It certainly is possible … because, as I said before, I am perhaps getting old (!?). But to be fair to all, I will leave it for you to judge for yourself.
The strangest of strange happenings of the last few weeks has been the sponsorship of the New Zealand cricket team for the ICC Champions Trophy by Amul, The Taste of India. The Blackcaps sponsorship was personally announced by RS Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, flanked by Kiwi players Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Colin De Grandhomme. The decision to sponsor the New Zealanders seemed more than strange to me.
Amul is so strongly an Indian brand, more so since it acts as the conscience-keeper for the nation through its innovative and topical hoardings. Thankfully, New Zealand were in a group different from India in the Champions Trophy, and never made the semis. Hence, NZ and India never came face-to-face in the tournament. But theoretically an India-New Zealand match could well have come about. Where would Amul’s loyalties then have been? With New Zealand, the team it was sponsoring? Or India, its home country? And market.
It took me a little research to figure out the motivations for Amul’s decision. Informed sources told me that Amul’s founder and father of the White Revolution in India, Dr Verghese Kurien, was trained at New Zealand’s Massey University Agricultural College in 1953. New Zealand was at the forefront of the co-operative dairy movement in those days. Back then, New Zealand immensely helped the resurgent Indian dairy industry, of which Amul was the harbinger of growth. The current sponsorship is a pay-back of sorts.
To me, frankly, it looks like a potential conflict of interest : between national loyalties and commercial interests. Amul cannot afford, to my mind, to alienate India … its home country; its constituency of debate and dialogue; and market of monopoly.
Another visible conflict of interest that I witness every day when I watch TV is both Oppo, the official sponsors of the Indian cricket team, and Gionee using the Indian captain Virat Kohli in their advertising. Kohli is prominent with his ‘18’ jersey emblazoned with ‘VIRAT’ in the Oppo commercial. Gionee too has Virat as its endorser, though Alia Bhatt seems to have made way for the Indian captain in the new Gionee commercial. Virat is not just seen in the commercials for both these Chinese brands, but he also is seen to be pushing the selfie feature for both companies! Does seem a bit strange, if not silly to me.
One can argue that in the Oppo commercial, Virat is but a sub-part of the Indian team and features in the commercial only by virtue of being the Captain. Oppo as the sponsors of the Indian team are entitled to use images of prominent members of the team, hence the usage of Virat. But, honestly, the most memorable part of the Oppo commercial is Virat’s majestic hook shot, and that is the one image that endures.
Gionee’s is a genuine endorsement deal. The commercial centres around Virat. He is the focus. He is the brand’s salesman. But I am not sure Gionee is getting the most out of the deal. Atleast half its thunder is being stolen by Oppo which mostimes also outshouts it on media exposure.
Why would Virat willingly allow both brands to use him as the face of their respective brands? Is it that he has no control over such conflicts, or he couldn’t care less?
Way back in 2008, I was handling the Aircel brand. We had signed on MS Dhoni as the brand ambassador the previous year. We noticed one fine day Dhoni featuring in a commercial for a handset brand. Almost simultaneously we received a message from his handlers saying that in all future Aircel commercials Dhoni would not hold a mobile in his hands. A strange demand indeed. How do you sell a telecom brand without showing a mobile handset? It led to a very piquant situation which took many rounds of not-so-pleasant parleys to resolve.
We can’t really gloss over these growing conflicts of interest. These are no longer aberrations.
They are starting to become the norm. Strange situations as are starting to emerge need more water-tight contracts and specific clauses to avoid being ambushed or diluted. And it requires brand managers to be more alert, as also more sensitive.
I frankly see no zeal in Amul sponsoring the Kiwis. And even Virat is not so virat as to be selling two competitive brands simultaneously. My advice: avoid, and desist.
(Sandeep Goyal is Chairman of Mogae Media. A 30-years veteran of advertising and media, Goyal was the first Indian juror on the Global Emmy Awards.)