Retired from cricket not from fans’ hearts - Why Brand Dhoni will endure
“Thanks a lot for ur love and support throughout. From 1929 hrs consider me as Retired.” With this short and crisp Instagram post, Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his retirement from international cricket on August 15, 2020. Accompanying his post was a video collage of his cricketing career with ‘Main pal do pal ka shayar hoon’, Mukesh’s poignant rendition from the film ‘Kabhie Kabhie’, playing in the background.
This one video brought two things that Indians are crazy about – Cricket and Cinema.
As far as cricket is concerned, Dhoni (or MSD to his fans) has had a towering presence ever since he made his long-locked debut in 2003-04 as part of the India A team. He was dubbed ‘Captain Cool’ for his calm demeanour and has been sending fans into frenzy with his swashbuckling ‘helicopter’ shots on the field.
Among the plethora of tributes pouring in after MSD’s announcement, was that from England captain Naseer Hussain and Michael Atherton, who described him as the “best white-ball captain” and a “great finisher”. Hussain further said, that Dhoni also is “a cool, calm customer under pressure; a great finisher of a game, the game wasn’t won until you got Dhoni out”. This cool nature of MSD has been one of the key characteristics and personality traits that has help him win fans and brands in his long-standing cricketing career.
The charismatic cricketer has stood for power, leadership and agility and hence, he is the face of numerous brands. In the early part of his career, Dhoni was targeted by several youth-oriented brands as he was considered a small-town boy who exploded into the national and international cricket scene, giving wings to millions of young aspirations. While there have been several ups and downs in Indian cricket, but that did not drive away the brand endorsements of some of the frontline cricketers and Dhoni has been one who has always stood tall and has been a perfect fit for many brands.
So, what connects brands with Dhoni?
It takes time to be a reliable and trusted brand ambassador. Dhoni also took baby steps before turning himself to a frontline celebrity in the cricket field. It has taken many years to reach this stature and build his strong brand equity. All this has happened because of his splendid show in all formats of the game – as wicket-keeper, batsman, thinker and a dynamic leader. His career graph has been very impressive and he has led India to two great World Cup wins. Some of the brand characteristics which Dhoni has, have helped brand to easily associate with him. His cool temperament, powerful stroke play and his thinking mind has helped him to be in the consideration set of brands when it came to brand endorsements. Besides his cool nature, Dhoni also stood for being a trusted, reliable, intelligent, energetic, performance driven, sincere and honest personality.
While Dhoni has had a lean patch for the last few months, but that hasn’t dissuaded brands. His equity remains strong as he will be visible as the captain of the CSK team in the upcoming IPL 2020 edition. While his brand value may have slipped a bit in recent times, but his association with CSK, which is one of the most favourite IPL teams, will keep him in the reckoning for some more time. We must also remember he is a great role model for many budding cricketers and his teammates, so his scorecard dropping in terms of brand value will not be steep. Brands will still connect with him to leverage his long-standing brand value. I think for at least the next 12 months Dhoni will be in the consideration set of brands.
In his early days, Dhoni’s trademark was his long flowing hairstyle. That prompted Brylcreem hair cream to use him for some brand promotion. The only other Indian wicket-keeper who endorsed that brand was Farokh Engineer, who was also a dashing batsman.
In fact, in one of the tours of Pakistan, at the prize giving ceremony Dhoni found an admirer in none other than then President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, who told him, “A lot of placards in the crowd have suggested that you should get a haircut, but if you take my advice, you look good in this hairstyle.”
There is a long list of brands that Dhoni has been associated with throughout his career, some of them include, Netmeds, Cars24, Indian Terrain, redBus, Indian Army, Ashok Leyland, Powerade, Snickers, Dream11, Indigo Paints, Mastercard, Gulf Oil, Reebok, Exide Life Insurance, Pepsico, Boost, State of Jharkhand, Amity University, Aircel, BharatMatrimony ,Videocon D2H, Sonata, Cello, Siyaram’s, India Cements, Yippee and TVS, to name a few. While these brands may slowly phase out their association with Dhoni in the next one year, but the value that these brands have gained for themselves has been huge.
Dhoni’s exit will create a vacuum
It will take some time before another cricketer with the same characteristics will knock the Indian cricket team. While Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma do endorse quite a number of brands, but Dhoni’s departure from international cricket will create a huge void both in terms of cricketing skills and for brands to find a substitute in the near future. The same way there was huge void when Sachin Tendulkar retired from cricket. But Dhoni’s association with CSK will keep him in the limelight for some time. Meanwhile, brands will be keep a watch to tap the right cricketer as Indian cricket has a huge bench strength when it comes to cricket. Though it will take some time, but there will be someone new who will always emerge.
How industry experts view Dhoni’s exit?
Adgully also spoke to a cross-section of brand and communication experts to obtain their views on Dhoni’s exit from international cricket and what happens to his brand equity and value.
Josy Paul, Chairman and CCO, BBDO India:
“With more than 20 million followers on social media and millions more for CSK, Dhoni will continue to be an influential ambassador for brands. His legacy of leadership, winning halo and trustworthy image will be great assets for building brand. It’s a win-win future for Dhoni and brands, if they are sensitive to the changing context and leverage the right values.”
Vinit Karnik, Business Head - Entertainment, Sports & Live Events, GroupM:
“Dhoni is an inspiration for the entire nation, memories that Dhoni has given us are timeless. Brand Dhoni stands for leadership, trust and a finisher. We have seen Dhoni delivering these values on the field of play. These values are part of his personality and hence, won’t fade out with his announcement of retirement. These values are the bridge between him and the many brands that he has endorsed. These are the reasons why Dhoni remains one of the most popular sports personalities to endorse almost every consumer facing advertising category in India. I, therefore, don’t foresee any impact on Dhoni’s brand value in the short and middle term.”
Lloyd Mathias, Business & Brand Strategist and former Asia-Pacific Marketing Head of HP:
“Dhoni has truly been a phenomenon, not only for his substantive cricketing achievements but also his leadership and transformation from a small town boy to the pinnacle of cricketing glory. His exit will undeniably have a big impact for Indian cricket and also for the brands that he has been endorsing.
That said, there are a plethora of celebrities – both in the sporting world and otherwise – doing brand endorsements; and increasingly, with influencers emerging as a key element in the brand building arena, the void will be quickly filled. However, Dhoni’s cricketing legacy and fame will not fade away from the public mind in a hurry, so he will still be much sought after in the endorsement space.
Dhoni’s brand value comprises much more than his cricketing skills and in large part is about his leadership, his calm demeanour, and personal transformation into an astute, grounded and well regarded leader. His continuance in the IPL with CSK will of course ensure his popularity. How he plays out his next innings will determine how ‘Brand Dhoni’ evolves. Rightly done, he can emerge as a great symbol of enduring leadership, with feet firmly planted on the ground, that many brands will find utterly desirable.”
Ambi MG Parameswaran, Brand Strategist & Founder, Brand-Building.com:
“Dhoni’s exit was to be expected and should be respected. But he obviously is a master at timing his shots. And taking those snap second stumping decisions. Even the way he announced it – a short post on social media – just a few weeks before IPL, is perfect. Brands will continue to use him for some more time. But like Sachin, his brand value will slowly come down unless he pulls one more rabbit out of his hat. May be ♂ ?”
Harish Bijoor, Brand Guru and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults
"There is a vacuum for sure, however, I do believe that Dhoni's endorsement kitty will continue. He only vacates the formal format of the game. He is still a partciipant in the most vibrant form of the game in the 20:20 IPL format. Brands today have a limited repertoire of cricketers to choose from. With IPL and Dhoni's presence in this format of the game, his endorsements will continue. In fact I would expect him to gain in terms of new deals. Please note that a brand endorser is a function of his past, his present and the future. Dhoni is rock solid on the count of the past. The present and the future are bets. There are enough brands around to takes those bets."