Keeping the moment alive

Subhinder Singh Prem, Managing Director, Adidas Group India. - Photo: Shashi Ashiwal   -  Busienss Line

Working the magic: M. S. Dhoni with his Reebok ZigTech bat. - Photo: K. R. Deepak   -  Business Line

Reebok is leveraging the momentum gained following India's World Cup cricket success, especially the star power of its brand ambassadors on the team.

In the absence of official statistics, estimates will have to suffice. And multiple sources estimate Reebok to be the leader in branded sports shoes and apparel in India. Among other things that have worked for the brand, is its investment in cricket and cricketers. Members of the Reebok India team were positively beaming when BrandLine met them on April 26, around three weeks after the Indian team lifted the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. They deserved to be delighted, having been associated with the two high-profile heroes of the World Cup — Captain Cool M.S. Dhoni and ‘Player of the Tournament' Yuvraj Singh — for over 10 years now. This was a rich payback, and one that would admittedly be hard to outdo through any association in the foreseeable future.

On the same evening, Reebok presented its endorsers on the winning team — Dhoni, Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla — ‘Golden Bats'. Subhinder Singh Prem, then MD of Reebok India Company, was a tad less buoyant when he noted that Gautam Gambhir couldn't make it. These are just the players in the World Cup winning team who bat, bowl and field for Team Reebok. The brand continues to associate with a pool of over 100 cricketers, playing at multiple levels in India.

So how does Reebok, which has consistently invested in cricket, evaluate the RoI after India's World Cup feat? The Reebok MD, who has since been elevated as MD for adidas India Company (brands Reebok and adidas in India), explains: “When you sponsor players, calculation of RoI is always a tough one. But for a sports brand like ours, our message is very clear. What cola Dhoni drinks at home, or what television he uses, people don't know. The message to the public from our brand is that the winning runs were scored with a Reebok bat — designed to Dhoni's specifications, made to order.”

In the words of Sajid Shamim, ED, Marketing and Product, Reebok India, the RoI was phenomenal. “It worked like a script,” he says. Noting that the brand health parameters have moved up, he adds, “The second indicator is the actual sale of merchandise for which we are the official partners to the ICC. The whole ICC merchandise range, for the various teams, has done very well.”

Selling a Sports brand to a Country of Spectators

Dhoni's last hit of WC 2011, which took the ball over the ropes at Wankhede and a large part of India to a place called euphoria, doesn't do wonders just for Reebok's ZigTech bats, according to Prem. What aligns well with that is the Indian team training on shoes with the Zig technology six months before the World Cup, and Reebok wishing them luck three months before the tournament, with this message: ‘The Zig will get you the Cup'. In fact, the ‘send-off' ‘coincided' with the launch of three of Reebok product categories — ZigSonic training shoes, ZigTech bats (and cricket shoes — batting, bowling and fielding shoes) and its range of ICC merchandise.

The brand's portfolio can be broadly classified as footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment, with footwear being the largest contributor to revenues in India.

Prem admits that 80 per cent of Reebok's consumers buy its products not because they are going to play sports, with India being a ‘spectator sports' nation. But they do like to watch sports, especially cricket, and that's where Reebok's volumes come from. Add to that young consumers with greater exposure to brands, and Reebok is convinced it is positioned in a sweet spot.

According to Reebok, after India's World Cup win, its ‘same store sales' for April were up 20 per cent over 2010. Says Prem, “More consumers want to buy sports clothing after the win. The momentum is on.”

The stickiness the association with cricket creates in India cannot be matched, he notes, especially for a sports brand.

“And stickiness created by cricket stars talks to the upper tier and the middle-class. So cricket becomes a very relevant language for all kinds of consumers.

It works in tier-2 and tier-3 towns as well as it does in tier-1, and all of it receives a huge boost when the players are doing well,” he adds.

Leveraging India's Eureka Moment

Even as the stage was being prepared for the cricketers to be presented the ‘Golden Bats', at a basement in the same venue, a different set of celebrations was under way. A fan engagement initiative driven by social media was coming to a close, with 100 winners getting to meet the Indian cricket stars who endorse Reebok.

Shamim believes it's actually a befitting wrap-up to the brand's World Cup campaign. “Many a time, we start a campaign and it goes off somewhere. This is bringing to a close a very emotional moment for all of us,” he admits.

During the World Cup, consumer engagement initiatives such as games, contests, downloads and wallpapers were initiated. The brand also created a Reebok cricket application, which had the usual inputs of news, scores and statistics; also thrown in were games and contests.

“At the end of the World Cup, there were over five lakh downloads. It's still on during the IPL. Beyond digital and social on digital, we believe mobile is a medium that is growing phenomenally. We made this application for handsets beyond just smart phones. So the app works across Android, iPhone and Symbian,” explains Shamim.

But Reebok wasn't seen on television much during the premier — and expensive — cricket event. Was it the cost? “We were on television, but obviously with big spenders such as Pepsi and others, we got a bit dwarfed. But we knew that we would get dwarfed. So we focused more on the digital bit, and more of activations through retail,” rationalises the marketing head.

Published on May 11, 2011


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