Stumped, but Brand Dhoni is still not out

Chitra Narayanan New Delhi/Chennai | Updated on January 17, 2020

India's MS Dhoni   -  Reuters

BCCI drops former Indian skipper from the list of centrally-contracted players

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s innings looks to be over with the Board of Control for Cricket in India axing him from its list of centrally-contracted players. But Captain Cool’s brand quotient is unlikely to be eroded — at least in the short term.

“As long as Dhoni plays for CSK in the IPL, his equity with advertisers will remain high,” said brand expert Giraj Sharma of Behind the Moon consultancy.

“Given the superstar heights that Dhoni has reached, he is going to be in the public mindspace for a long time to come. The lack of a contract is not going to devalue his brand,” said veteran marketer Lloyd Mathias. But both Sharma and Mathias feel that though in the short-term, Dhoni will continue to be an exciting proposition for advertisers, in the long-term a lot will depend on what he chooses to do.

Since July 9 when he played the World Cup semi-final, Dhoni has not played a competitive game and has largely remained tightlipped about his future plans. “Will he be a cricketing administrator, a commentator, focus on his businesses or reinvent himself as a politician,” wondered Mathias.

Active investor

Dhoni has been an active investor with his own ‘athleisure’ brand called SEVEN, and a gym venture SportsFit World. He is also one of the co-owners of Chennaiyin FC and last year invested in Cars24 besides co-owning sports management firm Rhiti Sports.

In 2018, according to a Duff & Phelps report, Dhoni was valued at $26.9 million, ranking 12th in terms of celebrity brand value — pretty much in the top league though far below pack leader Virat Kohli’s $170.9-million valuation.

Consistency has been the hallmark of Dhoni’s performance both on and off the pitch. He signed at least 10 advertising deals in 2018, and did pretty well in 2019, too, seen in Indian Terrain, Colgate, RedBus and Cars24 advertisements.

Indian Terrain Managing Director Charath Narasimhan says it was known for a while that Dhoni was scaling down his India cricket days, but continues to command respect among consumers.

The association with Dhoni for Indian Terrain has resulted in more franchise enquiries, especially from eastern India, as well as in its strong markets of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, Dhoni’s endorsement has had a positive rub off on its Boys collection, which is growing strongly, says Narasimhan.

While Dhoni has always had a huge number of brand endorsements, both Mathias and Sharma’s grouse is that advertisers have not used the ace cricketer well.

“Unlike a Federer whose traits and story gels well with the Rolex ethos, Dhoni’s characteristics of coolness and leadership have not been matched well to the brands he advertises and as a result has not sounded authentic,” said Sharma.

Mathias agrees. “For me, Dhoni is a story of personal reinvention — from a small town boy to someone who is now in the pantheon of greats. His traits are resilience, and he stands out for his cool, unflappable quality. He is also the quintessential team leader, who never grabs the spotlight but lets it shine equally on all players,” he says. That has not been brought out by brands he advertises for, he feels.

”Dhoni has been and will always be an inspiration to millions of Indians. As our brand ambassador, we continue to have our partnership growing in so many ways year after year,” says Ravi Chawla, MD, Gulf Oil. He has been their brand ambassador since 2011.

To an extent the Mastercard ad does leverage Dhoni’s cool quotient, but many of the cricketer’s endorsements have been questionable, real estate group Amrapali especially.

(With inputs from Meenakshi Verma Ambwani and Vinay Kamath)

Published on January 16, 2020

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