India’s tally of seven medals at Tokyo 2020 is the highest it has ever received. Sports like Hockey are back in the limelight, thanks to a Bronze medal and a fourth-place finish for the men and women, respectively. Other individual sports, like the Javelin throw, Badminton, Boxing, Wrestling and even Golf, have captured viewers’ attention.
However, while we wait on viewership numbers for the final week, social media is unsurprisingly abuzz.
It started when Domino’s announced free pizzas after Mirabai Chanu’s Silver win in Weightlifting. And that’s when other brands joined the ‘moment marketing’ bandwagon. Soon after, it was PV Sindhu’s Bronze win that trended with brands using her image and name to ‘congratulate’ her. Sindhu’s sponsors weren’t impressed, though, involving Baseline Ventures (Sindhu and several other Olympians’ image management firm), and urging them to take the legal route against the offending brands.
Next came the Gold win for Chopra. However, brands didn’t seem to learn from the Sindhu fiasco and put up posts to celebrate the win in different ways.
The interest in the Olympics is at an all-time high and the medal-tally higher this year than ever before. The next Olympics are only three years away, and with most of the athletes being young (which points to a high chance of them performing in Paris), is there a way for brands to keep these stars in the limelight? Industry experts weigh in on how brands can work with athletes and support them in meaningful ways.
Keep the momentum going
Shubhranshu Singh, global – head, marketing, Royal Enfield, who worked as the head of marketing for Star’s sports channels and Disney+ Hotstar, suggested that it’s important for brands to look at these athletes to build a long-term association. He believes that’s what brand building is all about instead of having a hunter mindset.
“The medal prospects have a rich calendar of events between each Olympics. All our athletes have been in the news for years before the tournament. Badminton has several tournaments too. World rankings are being reflected in the Olympics this year and that recognition has come in. So, brands can follow them wherever they go. We see brands like Tata and JSW doing that with their long-term commitments,” he said.
Jigar Rambhia, national director – sports, Wavemaker India, added, “Brands need to understand that winning at the Olympics or the highest level is not an ‘overnight’ process and needs decades of preparation. Brands need to ‘partner’ in this journey with them and not look at “sponsoring” just because they have come back with medals.” Rambhia also cited brands like JSW and Kotak as commendable examples; he feels they partner athletes in the right way and other brands can learn from them.
Rana Barua, group CEO, Havas India, echoes these views. When asked whether the impressive performance this year will translate to more sponsorship opportunities for these athletes, he said, “Brands must look at multiple sports for endorsement. It allows greater participation, a wider fanbase and encourages more talent to come on board. So, as a start, the Olympic stars who have done well could be used as endorsers and that will be a positive signal.”
While experts believe that brands should support athletes long before big-ticket events like the Olympics, Ramakrishnan R, co-founder and director, Baseline Ventures, reveals how difficult it was for the company to tie up associations with brands.
“It’s an arduous task as not many brands are willing to take a risk and persevere with the sport. The risk is far less compared to an athlete; their family members letting go of everything and doggedly pursuing a sport without any guarantee of success. In an athlete life cycle, the biggest risk-takers are the athletes themselves, then the coaches and family members, followed by sports management companies like Baseline. Any sponsorship before success requires storytelling of success in the making,” he said.
He added that many of the brands that Baseline Ventures approached to sponsor athletes didn’t respond to e-mails. Now that some of them have returned with medals, they’re looking to those very athletes in their communication thanks to ‘moment marketing’.
Responding to a query about whether more brands have shown an interest in signing them as ambassadors, he said, “There have been queues but we can only measure this once the euphoria settles. We would want brands to support over the long-term and not piggyback on immediate success. As far as moment marketing is concerned, it lacks credibility as brands have no association with the athletes nor have they played any part in their journey to success,” he said.
Moment marketing – correct or incorrect?
Baseline Ventures has sent legal notices to several brands that congratulated Sindhu for her Bronze win. Despite that, when Chopra won Gold, several brands went ahead to use his name or medal-winning picture to congratulate him along with their brands’ logos.
The next obvious question, then, is whether this type of marketing works or not for brands.
Smita Murarka, chief marketing officer, Duroflex, has a strong opinion about the same.
“Moment marketing has started being overused by brands. Sometimes, more importance is being given to it than the category or brand knowledge that their followers are interested in. If it’s whacky without calling out names or congratulating, it’s great content for the consumer and does add to the fame of the star, too. However, misusing official tags and terminology to look like the celebrity or sports star is associated with the brand is surely wrong. As brands we also need to have a sense of responsibility and not get carried away,” she said.
Adding to Murarka’s assessment is Singh, who believed that ‘moment marketing’ doesn’t help as it doesn’t help build any culture for the brand.
“I believe that brand building is at its best when it's focused, continuous and when it endeavours to build culture. Anything which is overly opportunistic can come across as being gimmicky and can get a short-term buzz but can't build brands and cultures,” he said.
That’s where Amul has scored, according to him.
“Making it to an Amul hoarding is a matter of pride – it's saying you've made an impact. The brand has been creating those hoardings for decades. But somebody opportunistically using an athlete to congratulate him or her seems a little myopic for me,” he explained.
Providing the last word on the topic is Barua.
“Moment marketing is okay around a larger cause for brands. You can’t have this around a person or a personality, especially if one is not associated with a brand in which case, it is unacceptable,” he surmised.
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