Feature

The World: Insider's view - India

The Indian Cricket Board is limiting players' ad activity, but this should spur agencies to rediscover their creativity, Suman Srivastava writes.

It's a cliche that, in India, cricket is a religion and players such as Sachin Tendulkar are its gods. Now this "truth" has been taken to ridiculous levels, with almost 50 brands being endorsed among the top six Indian cricketers - Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, MS Dhoni, Saurav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag.

The recent news regarding the Indian Cricket Board's decision to allow each cricketer to endorse a maximum of three brands has got the country's advertising and marketing worlds abuzz.

Many wonder if the board is within its legal rights in imposing such a ban, and whether the power of money will ultimately force the authorities to rescind this order. They also talk about whether all this money from endorsements distracts players from their primary task: playing cricket.

All this is beside the point. Regulation or not, clients and agencies should embrace the death of the "cricket formula" and use it as an opportunity to develop more cost-effective and cutting-edge ways of building brands.

Recently, more and more companies have started using cricketers to endorse their brands. It has become a sort of bidding war, with each brand trying to trump its competitor by signing a more popular player. Quite entertaining, were it all not such a colossal waste of money.

Several marketers have confessed that cricketer endorsements were a waste of money. The fit with the brand was a reach at best, the cricketers proved extremely poor actors, and there were constraints on when commercials could be aired.

Endorsements took the place of creativity. They were far easier to execute and to explain to the board. And they made the marketing department sound like it was working hard and being aggressive. Perfect. Cricketer endorsements were even more crucial when competitors were using them, too.

But with the new rule, cricketers' fees will sharply increase. And their returns aren't likely to improve proportionally. So, what are marketers to do now?

One option is to fight the board, which has repeatedly demonstrated a complete lack of principles, with making money its only concern.

The other is to zag when the market zigs. This is the untested route. It could lead to the making of new marketing heroes - as well as some big mistakes. But it is the tactic that says: "My brand is more important than the cricketer's brand."

Now is the time for brilliant marketers and their agencies to stand up and be counted, and to justify those fat pay packets. Now is the time to come up with those Big Hairy Audacious Ideas that were shelved in order to pursue the easy idea of the hard-to-get cricketer and his harder-to-get time slots.

Game on?

Suman Srivastava is the chief executive of Euro RSCG India.