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Need real women with real struggles as role models in ads, say brands

The Tokyo win has stirred the debate over the need to have real icons more than ever, feels the ad world. Advertisers tell BestMediaInfo that while there is no gender bias in their mind, they will prefer deals with athletes who are consistent and project their values. The agencies, though, feel most brands reserve their attention for cricketers, and men in particular

The good mother, the multi-tasking wife or a great presenter in the boardroom — for the longest time, the advertising world has been stereotyping women in most of their creatives.

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The feat of the Indian women athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, though, has definitely stirred a debate over equality in endorsement deals.

BestMediaInfo reached out to advertisers who have been closely associated with sports to understand what they feel about the subject and if things are changing for the better.

Arjun Bhatia

Arjun Bhatia, Chief Marketing Officer,, said brands need more women as role models than just actors. “Real women with real struggles. Promote sports that go beyond cricket. Brands need these athletes and sports to tell newer stories.”

Cricketer MS Dhoni has been the brand ambassador of BharatMatrimony for over two years now.

“It’s an evolution. We are seeing more mainstream roles of women in various fields such as business, armed forces, movies, sports, medicine, etc. As acceptance increases, so will the longevity of these athletes in public memory. Who doesn’t know Sania Mirza or Mary Kom and more recently PV Sindhu? These athletes are here to stay in our minds irrespective of their genders and brands will go after them. Brands will go for athletes who are consistent and project their values. Gender doesn’t matter,” he said.

At Rasna, which had Saina Nehwal on board for more than two years as brand ambassador, the general belief is that there is no bias in the mind of advertisers.

Piruz Khambatta

Piruz Khambatta, Chairman and Managing Director, Rasna, said all sportswomen have become influencers of great value for marketing, especially in the health and wellness category.

“The average contract with any celebrity is for two-three years. So I think brands do see women ambassadors for long-term contracts for sure. We never distinguish between female and male. Both are on a par with each other, and I don’t think there is a divide in the minds of the advertisers. In fact, in today’s world, using a female celebrity is better than male, especially for our category because we appeal more to mothers,” he said.

Nikhil Arora

Nikhil Arora, Vice-President, and Managing Director, GoDaddy India, whose brand ambassador is MS Dhoni, believes women in sports are continuing to gain prominence, which is enabling them with opportunities beyond the field. He said the brand will continue to support sportswomen and women entrepreneurs in general.

Kainaz Karmakar

Calling out brands, Kainaz Karmakar, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy and Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy, said it will be great if brands feature more of these (sportswomen) faces— and not just because they will help the brand, but because they will help our country to look at women with more respect. It will encourage parents to allow more girls to choose sports as a career and not a side hobby. Brand endorsements will also help these female athletes finance their ambitions to train better, buy the right gear and play like the stars that they are.

The duo said in India, cricket is put on a pedestal and other sports often get the step-motherly treatment.

“Our women in sports have been forcing the country at large and brands to take notice of other sports and doing a very fine job of it.  Their success at Tokyo is going to add to that,” they said.

Mukund Olety

According to Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R India, sportspersons in general haven’t received the attention and adulation they deserve, which is reserved for cricketers and men, in particular.

At the same time, he added, “There have been some shining beacons of light who have changed that – Sania, Saina, Sindhu, Mary, Mithali. As more and more names get added to this list, more stories that haven’t been previously told will be told. Globally, brands such as Nike have invested, collaborated, and stood behind not just established but also emerging athletes from all kinds of sports and have reaped the benefits. Brands in India have started to make progress but still have a long way to go.”

He believes the more real stories we will have, the more dimensions would be added to this narrative.

“While we have made steady progress on how we portray women in advertising, wins such as this will accelerate the change that is already in motion. The country needs real icons now more than ever. While there are enough people jumping in to appropriate their wins, they definitely need to be celebrated,” he said.

Olety said brands need to think long term and make a more sustained investment to nurture and celebrate these winners. 

In the past, successful women athletes have bagged good deals, which are, however, only momentary.

Experts are, however, optimistic that after the wins at the Olympics, this will change to longer collaborations and the endorsement deal value of female athletes will improve.

“It definitely should,” said Bhatia.

Bhatia said with young women bringing us so much glory, it’s not about just advertising but the correction of larger dynamics between men and women in our society.

Karmakar and Rajadhyaksha said their value should improve but the more important thing is they should be taken seriously.

“What we mean by that is brands should not use them for a month after the Olympics to get salience and forget about them,” they said.

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