This is a column on the business of brands and while the headline may suggest otherwise, cricket is just a merry conduit. My probe today is on a peculiar attribute of service brands, which is the ‘Selective Performance Mindset’, rising or falling to the occasion depending on the customer. What’s true for every other category is true for musicians and sports folks as well and the examples are plenty.
It is well known that the finest classical music maestros played at their best in the presence of discerning Calcutta or Pune audiences while the highly remunerative corporate gigs led to professional passmark displays. The proprietor of Ananda Caterers once confessed that their best cooks were reserved for weddings while office dos with abundant alcohol inspired lesser levels of intensity. Vijay Amritraj used to conjure unimaginable wizardry in the Davis Cup encounters even when his form in the circuit was dipping, patriotic fervour a root cause. During the Ramadan period, the mutton dishes at the classic Mughlai eateries used to taste even nicer and this is surely not just the imagination. The selectivity in upping the ante is a derivative clearly of the infusion of emotions as the skillsets surely do not vary while motivation surely does.
This can well be an explanation why Smith and Maxwell stepped up several gears in the India series, emerging from a rather lacklustre IPL in Dubai. In a season with very little action, fatigue could not have been a reason and nor could any other form of intrigue. The money was truly splendid and definitely a notch above test match contracts, from a relative involvement perspective. Effort levels seemed very professional but the outcomes were just not good enough with the franchises suffering as an avoidable result. Unlike the fringe foreign players whose primary calling is the IPL as they are not in the favoured set of national selection committees or such assignments are not well paid enough. Thus for them, the IPL becomes the primary stage and an impetus for performance.
This Selective Performance Mindset exists in corporate environments as well and those of us from advertising know very well that certain clients excite us more than others, whether the lure of awards or the lucre of stature. But this is not a luxury granted to doctors, lawyers, accountants or corporate warriors and thus it can be described as a creative professional’s prerogative or fallacy. Only when every experience is designed to be unique does this discretionary licence appear and leads to a continuum of performance, all within acceptable professional limits yet distinctly fluctuating. A version of this is boss management, employees performing harder when the superiors have a direct eye on a project, understandable in corporate circumstances.
However, any discourse on brands must have a telling dimension of customer centricity and this is not an exception. From a fan perspective, the outcome is no different from match-fixing while the motives are grossly different. When I look back at the infamous Mongia-Prabhakar partnership in an ODI as they shut shop even when the target was within reach, a comparison with Smith and Maxwell’s lacklustre IPL forays cannot be denied. As both instances are about undeniable underperformance, perhaps not quite as voluntary in the second case. Money had a symbiotic role in both these scenarios albeit in contradictory terms — arguably money changed hands surreptitiously in one while in the other even million-dollar contracts could not swing the performance ante. Cricket still remains a sport where national stakes are higher than club or solo stakes, in fame and fortune, unlike football or tennis.
So, will this Selective Performance Mindset become a pattern in such a high paying league like the IPL? I do think this year’s Australian evidence will prompt franchisees to take some corrective action, by skewing the international selections towards proven club performers. An optimal profile of being successful in the highest levels but currently valuing the IPL deeply for its stage and purse, due to uncertainty in national stature due to form, age or conflict. Prime cases being Jacques Kallis earlier, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard or even Johnny Bairstow who lost a plum England contract. While the really marquee stars like Smith and Maxwell will still be attractive for celebrity eyeballs, the real performance can be expected from the next cadre.
Selective Performance Mindset can certainly be described as an alternative form of match-fixing, where player brands voluntarily under-deliver to the customer. It’s certainly not fair neither to the passionate spectators nor the franchisee owners and this too shall be shortly busted.
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