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How Brand Endorser MS Dhoni appealed beyond the cult of Cricket: Hansa Research

Brand Endorser – a syndicated offering from Hansa Research – puts former India Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD) amongst a very select class of endorsers in the country. Only 5 celebrities cut across geographies, gender, age and socio-economic classifications – Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan, MS Dhoni, and Virat Kohli.

The study also finds Dhoni to be the most relevant for endorsing Health & Fitness, Finance, and Technology products – all attributes that have a synergy with his personality traits of an athlete, as a composed leader, and an innovator. Not for nothing is the ‘DRS’ colloquially called the ‘Dhoni Review System’, if not for innovation.

Dhoni is the second highest grossing Indian sportsman, nestled between a young star in Virat Kohli, and a yesteryear great in Sachin Tendulkar. Now that India will not witness (with a caveat) its greatest captain in action on the field, it would be interesting to know what trajectory is taken by the MSD brand value, off the field.

We have a precedent in Tendulkar, who was undoubtedly India’s biggest sporting brand for a large part of the past two decades. As a player, MSD may arguably not be compared to Sachin Tendulkar, but as a celebrity he is certainly at par, if not bigger. Indeed, Tendulkar was the one who stunned everyone with unheard of sums with the World Television deal and paved the way for future cricketers, but Dhoni managed to take it to another level.

Being pioneers of ‘Sportsmen-Celebrity’ combination, the growth cycle of both players may also have designed its blueprint. Tendulkar became the only brand in a team of modern greats of Indian cricket. However, Dhoni transformed into an even bigger brand while Tendulkar was still playing. Virat Kohli has entrenched the pattern by developing into an even bigger brand while Dhoni was still playing.

With his retirement, Dhoni might yet follow in the footsteps of Tendulkar in staying relevant as a brand endorser. Although retirement did put a dent in Tendulkar’s earnings from endorsements, but then it was still way ahead than many current players, even including the younger ones.

Maybe it is too early to say that MSD would continue the Tendulkar trend (the caveat mentioned earlier) … given that he will still be relevant as player with the IPL for another couple of years. The IPL not only provides an impetus for an extended career, it also plays a big part in maintaining the ‘Cult’ status of the Dhoni phenomenon.

Vishal Baghel, GM - Marketing, Hansa Research, remarked, “Irrespective of when MSD decides on hanging his boots for good, he had already started speaking about his retirement, with an all too familiar self-depreciating humour, in the ‘Mutual Funds Sahi Hai’ ad. This should be an indication that he will bring in his aura of calm and composure (and street smarts) amidst chaos to the endorsement arena as well.”

Currently MSD is endorsing a series of brands across diverse categories – Online Portals, Gaming, Energy Drinks, Luxury Goods, Travel, FMCG – a repertoire befitting his company of select celebrities. Dhoni himself owns a brand called Seven, a fitness & active lifestyle brand.

The popularity of MSD of being a “Captain Cool” is complimented by the “Thala Dhoni” image he has cultivated as the caption of Chennai Super Kings. This can be leveraged by the endorsement world that may not have yet exploited the true potential of the MSD brand. But as has always been the case with MSD, it is very difficult to predict his moves. For all the brands that may want to cash in on his ‘cool’ aura, he might give them a cold shoulder and join the Army instead!

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