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All-women success at Olympics to change brand narrative and line up fatter endorsement deals

Women athletes have been far behind their male counterparts when it comes to advertising deals. With India’s female athletes proving their metal at Tokyo Olympics, advertising professionals believe it will be visible in upcoming brand endorsements as ads will certainly focus on this dimension

According to a 2019 Kantar report, 58% ads aired on TV exclusively target women. However, when it comes to the depiction of women in those ads, they’re mostly shown as housewives or working mothers. 

But as India’s female athletes shine at the Tokyo Olympics, experts believe that more and more ads will now focus on them to appeal to new-age consumers (both female and male). The experts also believe that the endorsement deal rates for female athletes may also improve. 

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Kamlesh Pandey

"In advertising and marketing, women are mostly looked upon as housewives, not as athletes. This is unfair as 80% of the stuff here is sold to women; the target for advertising is women for all consumer goods.  Even as a nation or a society, we don’t look at women as athletes, we always associate the roles of mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends to them. We don’t look at Virat Kohli or others sportsmen as family men; we recognise them as sportspersons in their own capacity. This is discrimination and it has to change,” said Kamlesh Pandey of Rediffusion. 

Babita Baruah

“It is sad that women's sports usually end up as a distant second, whether it comes to viewership or endorsements. The leading women in sports have amazing inspiring stories and can definitely be considered for brands whose purpose is aligned to such stories. This is true for every success and not gender-specific. So yes, like all winners, deals do start materialising,” said Babita Baruah, Managing Partner, GTB India.

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Sukesh Kumar Nayak

Sukesh Kumar Nayak, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy, said, "I am a big fan of their (women athletes) achievements, their grit and determination that have brought them here. What they have achieved right now is inspiring and people are feeling motivated.  That is what is changing. Once you become a part of conversations and stories, you are going to be a part of brand narratives. Narratives that are written specially for you.” 

Experts said non-cricketing personalities may fetch a better reach now if this narrative remains prevalent. 

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Azazul Haque

“This will be reflected in time to come in many brands. Over time, I see sports and a lot of non-cricket sports brand endorsements happening. This will become a big move and many brands will want to celebrate this aspect that the women of India have got glory and it will become the subject and talk of many campaigns,” said Azazul Haque, Chief Creative Officer at Mullen Lintas.  

Traditionally male athletes, mostly cricketers, get mega advertising deals. Though female athletes such as Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu have been visible in ads, their endorsement deal prices have been quite less as compared to men. 

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The experts said that the change in brand narrative will be visible now and the women empowerment theme may come to the forefront. 

“Already so many conversations are happening in India around empowering women and advertising. I think this will just give it a boost,” Haque said.   

Advertising by brands has always been restricted to successful trends. The rise of female athletes may force them to experiment more now.   

"Advertising sometimes can be totally myopic and blind, I don’t think people display the right sense. I have been in advertising for 40 years now and I find common sense missing from many advertisers and agency heads. They have been following trends. They are not looking at the changes happening psychologically, spiritually or culturally, how the people are changing. They think it is safer for them to follow the trends,” Pandey said. 

“The insightful brands that are culturally connected will not wait for an Olympic win. But yes, a win does catapult an athlete to mass awareness and fame as icons. Brands often mirror such sentiments. In that sense, it will spark brands to associate themselves with such athletes,” Baruah added. 

Nayak doesn’t think this change will be short-lived. “The moment a brand wants to focus on realism and real heroes, they will automatically focus on the real heroes. For example, the work we are doing right now with Thums Up is covering all athletes. The fact that a brand such as Thums Up with that kind of reach is doing something like that is proof. All athletes deserve to be recognised and it’s time they are given their due.” 

“All these sports, and especially women playing these sports, need attention from brands. If they choose them to be the face of the brand, they will be of benefit to the brand. It is important for brands to realise that they can actively play a part in pushing sports in India. Active sports as a category can actually use this as a point to start promoting sports persons that are beyond cricket and especially women, because they have to go through a lot of struggle to achieve what they have against a man,” Haque said. 

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