I must really congratulate MS Dhoni’s brand handlers for literally having pulled a rabbit out of Captain Cool’s gloves last week!
Dhoni, who is an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the Parachute Regiment of the Territorial Army, had an insignia embossed on his green wicket-keeping gloves during the India-South Africa World Cup group stage match in England last week. The insignia, that triggered a volcanic eruption of admiration and support for Dhoni in social media, captured media headlines and devoured TV footage in unprecedented proportions for at least 48 hours, depicted a dagger with wings, similar to that on the badge of Para (Special Forces). However, the Para badge also has the word ‘Balidan’ (sacrifice), which was missing from the embossing on the glove. But nevertheless, the logo was mentioned everywhere as the Balidan logo.
The ICC objected to the insignia (because the Pakistan cricket management protested), pointing out to the BCCI the regulation that clearly states, “In particular, no logo shall be permitted to be displayed on cricket clothing or cricket equipment, other than a national logo, a commercial logo, an event logo, a manufacturer’s logo, a player’s bat logo, a charity logo or a non-commercial logo as provided in the regulations”.
For the record, ICC recognizes a logo as “… any form of identification or branding including (without limitation) any corporate name, business name, title, flag, emblem, crest, mascot or trademark and so”.
According to ICC regulations, players can’t sport anything that is related to political, religious, military or racial activities or causes.
The BCCI’s defence of Dhoni’s offending logo, given the clear regulations of international cricket, was surely a meek, convenient and compliant response in synch with the overwhelming support the former Indian captain was seen to be receiving on social media, and how his action was being enthusiastically supported even by ministers Kiren Rijiju and Smriti Irani. The BCCI knew fully well that the ICC would negate its request for a waiver. The procedure is quite clear … “for first breach, just a request to remove” is sent, followed by penalty. But the mandarins at BCCI decided it was best to flow with the tide. The national mood was so massively in favour of Dhoni’s insignia that there was no point in trying to point out minor issues like rules and regulations in a highly charged atmosphere!
Further, the ICC rules clearly say that, “where any match official becomes aware of any clothing or equipment that does not comply with the rules, he shall be authorised to prevent the offending person from taking the field of play (or to order them from the field of play, if appropriate) until the non-compliant clothing or equipment is removed or appropriately covered up.” As was to be expected, the ICC clearly told BCCI that Dhoni’s glove insignia could not be condoned and Captain Cool appeared yesterday in the India-Australia match without the dagger and the wings.
The Dhoni logo throws up many interesting issues about the strategy and tactics employed by his team in building Brand Dhoni and for keeping his brand ‘newsy’:
- Dhoni’s display of the logo was not any accidental or inadvertent act. It was seriously pre-mediated.
- Dhoni as a seasoned player was fully aware that the logo was not allowed as per ICC regulations.
- Dhoni’s team also knew that the violation would only be called after the match and Dhoni would have a clear run for 50 overs in which the broadcast cameras would catch the Balidan logo multiple times.
- Dhoni also knew full well that Pakistan would object. The Indian reaction on social media post that was fairly easy to predict. Though I think even Dhoni underestimated how much of a controversy this would generate.
- Dhoni has been playing the nationalism card for a while now… he went fully dressed in his regimental regalia to Rashtrapati Bhawan to receive his Padma award.
- Nationalism is the current flavor in India, especially after PM Modi’s win for a second innings. Dhoni’s handlers knew full well that the Balidan logo would get a lot of very positive footage in the present mood of the nation.
The inevitable question is why would Dhoni or his brand handlers indulge in such jingoism? The answers are not far to seek.
- Brand Dhoni is in sunset mode. There has been discussion now for almost two years that Dhoni has to retire, sooner or later. A good controversy with such a ‘patriotic’ uproar in Dhoni’s favour is really good wind in Brand Dhoni’s sails. He may no longer be young, but oh boy he is so full of nationalistic fervor!
- The Roar of the Lion, the documentary put out by Hotstar, produced by Kabir Khan was done with the same intent a few months back. Only the humble Balidan logo on the glove proved to be a hundred times more potent than the 5-part mini-series on the OTT platform.
- Dhoni has been signing on brands for endorsement at a much faster clip in the past few months than he did in the couple of years before that. A positive spin to Brand Dhoni will surely attract more brands to him. The nationalism niche is currently monopolised by Akshay Kumar. With advancing years, Dhoni’s handlers are moving his personal brand from ‘performance’ to ‘patriotic’. It may not be possible to ‘youngify’ Dhoni but it surely doesn’t hurt to portray him as ‘loved-by-all’.
The Balidan gambit may have worked personally for Dhoni. But for the game of cricket, such one-up-manship is dangerous. The Indian team wearing camouflage military caps in support of Pulwama was a dangerous gamble though justified by all in the name of nationalism and patriotism.
MS Dhoni will most likely have some explaining to do to one of his newest endorsement, Mastercard, which as an international brand will surely want to avoid any such controversies, especially with military symbolism, because global players usually try and keep their communication and communication partners as kosher as possible. Mastercard may not react for now, especially after the huge groundswell in Dhoni’s favour, but brand managers at Mastercard must surely be worried because controversies such as this can actually snowball in any direction.
Well, full marks for now to Team Dhoni for having aced Balidan. Not an easy one to pull off but now that Dhoni has gotten away with it all and come out a bigger hero than ever before, who am I to quarrel with his success?!!!