A few days ago, I had the unique opportunity of meeting Farokh Engineer, one of India’s finest ever test wicket-keepers and opening batsmen. He and I were speakers at the same corporate event, and thereafter we also got talking a bit to each other. Throughout my schooldays in the 1970s, he was one of my heroes, so it was a real privilege to meet him in person after all these years. Engineer is now 77 years of age, yet he is so sprightly and young. Even as I listened to him speak, I thought he could easily teach many of us in the marketing fraternity a few simple, yet powerful, lessons. So I have put some of these lessons down in this column, and you will see that they are equally applicable to our brands and our lives.

The audacity of good brands Farokh Engineer was one of the most flamboyant cricketers ever to have played for the Indian national cricket team. Tall and well-built, with large sideburns and curly hair, he was audacious and aggressive on the field as he took on some of the world’s fastest bowlers fearlessly. This included the feared West Indian pace attack of Charlie Griffith and Wes Hall. In fact, Wes Hall’s mother is reputed to have asked — “Who is this brave young batsman called Engineer? Can you bring him to meet me?”

And upon meeting Farokh Engineer, she told him that not many men had the courage to hit her son for a six. I often think that many of our Indian brands should be equally audacious in fighting competition. Sometimes, we shy away from hitting our competitor brands out for a six by frontally challenging them or by being aggressive players in the marketplace, just because we do not have the courage to take on powerful global brands or market leaders. Farokh Engineer inspires us to be courageous, even when we take on the most formidable competitor brands in our markets, no matter how large or fearsome.

Brylcreem Boy Farokh Engineer was the first Indian cricketer to have endorsed a brand — and no less a brand than globally famous Brylcreem. He followed Keith Miller and Denis Compton in modelling for this brand. In his speech, Engineer spoke about how valuable this brand endorsement was to him, given that Indian test cricketers were paid a pittance in those days.

He did very well for Brylcreem, because he stuck with promoting this brand for several years, neither did he model for too many brands at the same time. Therefore, even four decades later today, he is recalled by many of us as the original Brylcreem Boy. When marketers choose brand ambassadors, this is a lesson we can bear in mind. Choosing the likes of a Farokh Engineer — who was perhaps not the greatest cricketer of his times, but who stuck loyally to being the face of a single brand (or a few brands, at most) for several years — is preferable, I think, to choosing a top celebrity or cricket megastar who goes on to mindlessly endorse a dozen brands or more for short bursts of time, none of which end up gaining too much from such association.

Authentic storytelling Farokh Engineer spoke wonderfully well, connected superbly with the audience and was a great hit at the corporate event where I met him. He was so effective because he told simple yet authentic stories from his cricketing career, including tales of his interactions with other legends such as Clive Lloyd or Geoffrey Boycott or Eknath Solkar.

These stories may have been five decades old, yet they were brought to life through endearing narration and a human lens. For instance, he narrated a charming anecdote of how, when he was first selected for the Indian cricket team, his co-travellers on the crowded suburban trains of Mumbai immediately cleared a seat for him.

He regarded this as the single most important tangible perquisite of being capped for the Indian team. Or another interesting story of how sharing a room with well-built West Indian cricketers such as Clive Lloyd always gave him a physical inferiority complex. Or a third story of the best catch he had ever taken behind the stumps, and how it actually happened. To me, the stories that Engineer narrated emphasised once again the power of good, authentic storytelling. As marketers, we need to ensure that our brands tell authentic, human stories that reach out to our consumers. People buy stories, not merely products and services, and nothing touches them more than a genuine, charming, true, human story.

Humour, the best medicine Most Indian brands are very serious creatures, with humour being completely absent in their make-up. Rarely do we hear of marketers being really humorous, either. Yet, imagine how much lively traction and interest a brand can gain if it even occasionally explores its humorous side, either on mainstream media or in digital space which offers plentiful scope for such banter. The few native brands that consistently invest in humour, such as Amul or Fevicol, demonstrate how impactful this can be. Farokh Engineer proved this point once again when he spoke. Within the space of 20 minutes, he was full of humorous observations, some of them self-deprecating, and many aimed at others.

For instance, pointing to badminton ace Prakash Padukone, who was also in the audience that evening, Engineer casually remarked: “You have a gorgeous daughter, Prakash. She takes after your wife, I think.”

All these are very simple lessons. They are particularly topical, because this is the season of World Cup cricket, and also because Farokh Engineer celebrates his 77th birthday this very week, in Mumbai. As he told us with passion, pride and a big wide smile on his face, he lives life to the hilt every single day, even at his relatively advanced age. This is what each of our brands, and each of us, should endeavour to do.

Harish Bhat is also author of “Tata Log : Eight modern stories from a timeless Institution”. These are his personal views. He can be reached at bhatharish@hotmail.com

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