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What's driving brands' growing preference for cricketers over Bollywood celebrities?

The growing preference for cricketers over Bollywood celebrities reflects changing consumer sentiments and brand strategies. Cricketers’ authenticity, cost-effectiveness, brand safety, and on-field success make them an attractive choice for brands seeking to make a lasting impact in the Indian market

In an era where brands are seeking new faces for endorsements, cricketers have emerged as the favoured choice over Bollywood celebrities nowadays.

According to the industry players, this shift in preference is attributed to some major factors including the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry, particularly Bollywood. Moreover, this surge aligns with the World Cup season, coinciding with the festive period.

According to a GroupM ESP, report launched earlier this year, out of the 505 brand endorsement deals, 85% of the total brand endorsement value has come from cricketers.

Altogether, the celebrity endorsement market in India has seen significant growth, with a 20% increase with a total value of Rs 729 crore.

In recent years, cricketers like Virat Kohli, Shuhman Gill, MS Dhoni and others have dominated the Indian sports brand endorsement landscape. Despite relinquishing national and franchise captaincy roles, Kohli remains a top endorser, as highlighted by his latest partnerships with Luxor, Puma, Digit Insurance, HSBC, Duroflex, Myntra, and many others. Furthermore, Gill has emerged as a coveted choice for brand endorsements. He represents a diverse portfolio of brands including beatXP, G-Shock, Tata Capital, ITC, MuscleBlaze, and several others.

Other cricketers such as Hardik Pandya, Jaspreet Bumrah, KL Rahul and Surya Kumar Yadav are also scoring big in the endorsement space. Even female cricketers garnered significant sponsorship and brand recognition during the Women's Premier League (WPL) earlier this year.

According to GroupM’s 2022 report, cricket maintains its supremacy in the Indian sports sponsorship arena, accounting for 85% of the sponsorship spending in the previous calendar year. The remaining sports collectively constitute 15% of the overall expenditure. The total sports advertising expenditure amounted to Rs 6,018 crore, with non-cricket sports contributing a mere 13% of this total.

Factors behind the growing trend of cricketers' brand endorsements

According to Kroll's Celebrity Brand Valuation report 2022,  Bollywood continued to tread a rough patch, sports stars, with their splendid performance at the Olympics followed by the Commonwealth Games, continued to bag several marquee brand endorsements.

Lloyd Mathias

Following the same train of thought, Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor, said, "There are essentially two key factors behind the rise in cricketers' brand endorsements compared to celebrity endorsements. Firstly, the recent performance of the cinema industry has been lacklustre, with a shortage of blockbuster hits in the past year and a half, particularly within Bollywood. The impact of Covid-19 continues to linger and the industry has struggled to regain its momentum.”

“Secondly, the surge in cricket's popularity can be attributed to the World Cup season which is coinciding with Diwali. The anticipation surrounding this major sporting event, being hosted in India, has generated significant excitement and interest in cricket. These two factors are converging to reshape the entertainment landscape. Another factor here is the fact that cricket tends to be relatively less controversial,” he added.

Monika Daga

Highlighting the surge in cricket endorsements, particularly during the festive season, Monika Daga, Business Head, ITW Influence, said that cricketers are often seen as national heroes, and their endorsements have a strong emotional connection with fans. This makes their endorsements particularly effective when people are in a celebratory mood during the festive season. Moreover, cricketers are seen as more relatable than other celebrities, they come from diverse backgrounds and often have inspiring stories of hard work and dedication, which can resonate with consumers.

“This relatability can make them attractive for brands seeking to create a connection with their audience during festive promotions. Also, consumers today value authenticity and trustworthiness in endorsements. cricketers are often perceived as more genuine and down-to-earth, which can make their endorsements more effective in certain cases contributing to this altered landscape,” she added.

Sanjeev Jasani

Sanjeev Jasani, COO, Cheil India, said that during India’s festive season, the endorsement of brands by cricketers has increased significantly. This is a significant development because cricket is considered a religion in India, and cricketers are viewed as demigods.

They have a massive following and are highly credible and relatable, making them an obvious choice for brands to collaborate with, he said.

"This year, India’s sports calendar is busier than ever before, and it’s only natural that the most frequently seen celebrities are those who are currently at the top of their game. Brands are taking advantage of this opportunity by enlisting cricketers to help during festivals, especially with the IPL always in the spotlight," Jasani said.

Samit Sinha

Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, “The incidence of brand endorsements by cricketers has undoubtedly been on the rise in recent years. While cricketers, notably Sunil Gavaskar, were used as celebrity endorsers for brands since the 1970s, it was India’s first Cricket World Cup win in 1983 that really kick-started it.”

He pointed out that in recent times, it has been the enormous success of IPL that is the major factor in popularising endorsements by cricketers over the last decade or so. IPL’s entertaining format and primetime viewership across television and digital channels made it one of the hottest advertising properties and the rise in endorsements by cricketers followed as a natural corollary to its meteoric rise in popularity. However, the imminent ODI World Cup is driving the current surge.

Ramanujam Sridhar

Sharing a different perspective, Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Brand-Comm PR pointed out that India is the country that does celebrity endorsements the most. This trend arises from a blend of factors, often attributed to a reliance on celebrities for increased visibility and quick results. However, this practice can sometimes be driven by the desire for immediate impact and the revolving door of brand managers seeking rapid outcomes during their tenure.

"Research has shown that consumers often recall the celebrity but struggle to remember the brands they endorse. This underscores the need for a more rigorous cost-benefit analysis within the advertising industry to assess the true impact of celebrity endorsements on sales, beyond mere awareness and visibility," Sridhar said.

"In today's landscape, choices appear limited, and brands seem to follow a similar strategy, a departure from the past when brands employed more diversified approaches to promotion," he added.

Here's why brands are eager to forge stronger ties with cricketers

Sahil Gupta

Sahil Gupta, Lead - Influencer Marketing, Interactive Avenues (the digital arm of IPG Mediabrands India) emphasised that cricket is going to occupy maximum mind space for the next 60 days.

“Brands choosing cricketers as endorsers, particularly during festive campaigns coinciding with major cricket events, can expect a favourable return on investment (ROI). The intense focus on cricket for an extended period creates an opportunity for brands to establish strong emotional connections with consumers, fostering increased brand loyalty and driving higher sales,” he added.

Sonu Tyagi

imilarly, Sonu Tyagi, Founder and Director, Approach Entertainment pointed out that cricketers offer brands substantial ROI during festive campaigns in India. Their dedicated fan base, relevance to the culture, and wide demographic appeal enhance fan engagement, brand recall, and credibility. Performance-based incentives, social media reach, regional resonance, and long-term partnerships further boost ROI.

Nisha Sampath

According to Nisha Sampath, Brand Consultant and Managing Partner, Bright Angles Consulting, brands are seeking to benefit from higher expected viewership and engagement in the ICC World Cup, by choosing cricketers. With India as a favourite to win on home ground, the involvement of consumers is very high and brands are seeking to tap into it.

Mathias said, “Cricket has consistently demonstrated strong ROI because successful players often yield positive impacts. Many of these players are young and regularly make headlines, contributing to favourable ROI outcomes. In comparison to Bollywood superstars, with the exception of top-tier figures like Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, cricketers tend to offer more affordability.”

Echoing similar sentiments, Daga said that the ROI that brands experience by choosing cricketers as endorsers as opposed to the celebrity brand endorsers, especially during festive campaigns, can be significant and is often influenced by several factors such as fan engagement, relatability, regional appeal, performance impact and authenticity to list a few.

Jasani believes that whether it’s sports gear, sportswear, or munchies during match-time, cricketers are at the forefront. Their healthy lifestyle choices match well with these brands, and their fan following is a bonus. Other brands, such as fitness, tech, cars, and education, could also benefit from jumping on the cricket bandwagon. This trend is here to stay and brands should focus on creating real partnerships with cricket stars, telling great stories, excelling at digital marketing, and thinking long-term for a satisfying ROI.

On the other hand, Sinha highlighted that amongst celebrity brand endorsers, film stars, by and large, tend to have a broader appeal than sports celebrities. However, sports stars are more cost-effective when it comes to certain product categories –  health and fitness-related. There is no special relevance of cricketers during the festive season, the surge is specifically due to the ODI World Cup.

While delving into the specific brand segments that engage with sports individuals, Sampath said that the appeal of cricketers is brand agnostic and will work across categories to push products.

“Given that the lifestyle of cricketers is on display in social media, it would be interesting to see endorsements linked to their hobbies, interests and owned assets (like Hardik Pandya’s love for watches or Virat Kohli’s love for cars). It would also be interesting to see endorsement based on assets owned or used by cricketers like automobiles, real estate, electronics, gyms, hotels, wellness retreats etc.,” she added.

Meanwhile, Tyagi emphasised that cricketers' endorsements have expanded beyond traditional categories in India, encompassing e-commerce, travel, healthcare, education, smart home tech, gaming, sustainability, startups, social causes, automotive accessories, luxury, home decor, and food delivery. The influence of cricketers, with their wide appeal and credibility, can benefit brands in these diverse sectors.

“Success depends on strategic player-brand alignment, innovative campaigns, and adaptation to evolving consumer preferences. Thorough market research and meticulous planning are essential for brands to harness the potential of cricketers and maximise their impact in these varied industries,” he added.

Similarly, Daga highlighted that cricketers' endorsements are preferred in several categories of brands and industries such as sports and athletic brands, fitness and health supplements, consumer electronics and technology, automobiles, beverages, apparel, real estate, education, personal care and grooming.

Sinha explained that as such, while there’s no hard and fast rule that makes cricketers unsuited as endorsers for any category or brand, but it is obviously much more effective, if they are used for endorsing categories and brands that relate to active lifestyles or have some strategic fit with the brand’s identity and/or communication theme.

Mathias believes that many emerging businesses, especially those in their early stages or in the process of establishing their brand identity, stand to gain significantly from considering cricket player endorsements. Additionally, digital brands, known for their youthful and digital-savvy audience, can reap substantial benefits from such partnerships. Furthermore, fashion and apparel companies should explore the potential of aligning themselves with cricket endorsements, as it can prove highly advantageous for their marketing efforts. Lastly, the beverage industry represents another category that could realise notable advantages through cricket endorsements.

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