Ramanujam Sridhar

The king of great moves

| Updated on: Jun 13, 2012

Chess offers good prospects for marketers, who could well be addressing a section of intelligent, high networth individuals in the future.

One evening, last week, as I was returning home after a long and taxing day, my mobile phone rang. “Viswanathan Anand has won the world championship.” My wife's uncle was literally shouting in excitement and tripping over words as he made this dramatic announcement. I hastily moved my phone further away from my ears till his tone became normal. He continued, getting back to his favourite refrain, “You never write about him or chess but keep writing about useless, overpaid cricketers.”

Well uncle, I hope you are reading this article. It is about Viswanathan Anand, arguably the greatest Indian sportsman this nation has produced. Chess, after all, is played in every possible country, unlike cricket, which is played in a handful of Commonwealth countries.

His achievements and longevity have been phenomenal since he first beat the Russians and went on to show the world his prowess in diverse conditions and against overwhelming odds and in vastly and frequently differing conditions and formats.

Hardly surprising, one would say, given the fact that he went to the same school as I did! Of course, my uncle had an explanation for that as well, “the law of averages” he chortled.

Chess, an alternate sport?

On a more serious note, marketers have taken lazy routes to visibility by putting most of their eggs in the cricketing basket. There is, of course, no denying the madness (euphemistically described as passion) that cricket evokes in this country. In a sense, the new Coke commercial with kids playing in the sun in 42 degrees heat without footwear, nor even a coin for the toss and no money in their pockets, depicts this madness. But with the organisers desperately trying to kill the golden goose with clumsy attempts to marry entertainment and sport, not to forget the fluctuating fortunes of the Indian cricket team, there is a serious need for a plan B.

Marketers have made feeble attempts at promoting other games — hockey, which was at one time the national sport of this country, was dabbled with. Kingfisher tried to do something with football, but the goal post seemed too far away. Formula 1 has been another possible target and an increasing number of viewers seem to be watching the fast and furious action on their HD screens. Golf is making its presence felt in more influential circles, with CEOs worrying more about their golfing handicaps than about their companies' performances. The growing popularity of the sport, even as Tiger attempts to rise from the ashes, is evident from the launch of an exclusive channel for golf — Ten Golf.

However, one must accept that despite all attempts at promoting alternate sports, clearly, the numbers do not seem to match up. Both organisers and marketers seem to be quite happy not rocking the boat or going against the tide of cricket. It is strange, coming from a diehard cricket fan who has spent more time in front of the TV watching cricket from every part of the world at every possible time of day or night.

But there is an increasing disenchantment with many aspects of cricket, particularly the way it is being run and administered. And that is more than adequately reflected in the declining TRPs for cricket and cricket related programmes.

This brings me to the possibility of promoting chess in a much larger way than is being done currently. Of course, it is not a mass sport — not yet. But on the flip side, it is not a game that requires millions of dollars to be invested in the hope of attracting television eyeballs. The world championship, that witnessed the triumph of Anand, was watched by millions over the Net.

New ideas on an old interest

It is surprising that chess enjoys far less popularity than it should in the country where it was invented. The greater challenge is to accept that today marketing is more and more about niche audiences.

For far too long have we been guided by the principles of FMCG marketing and reaching out to a billion people on mass media. Today greater, more measurable options are possible.

The smarter marketers have always targeted markets where every individual is unique, can be targeted and wooed. Chess offers tremendous niche possibilities and many of the prospects could be intelligent, high networth individuals.

The answers to the future will not lie in the past or in more of the same. Someone who dares to develop the game at the grass root level will catch a whole generation of youngsters with tremendous value as consumers.

Significantly, the nation too needs this development, as the cupboard seems a little bare after the world champion and there is no real heir apparent to the crown.

As we wait for some smart marketer to take the initiative, let us celebrate the modest achiever from Chennai who has taken on the world and put India on the global chess map.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is the CEO of brandcomm and a Director of Custommerce

http://www.ramanujamsridhar.com )

Published on June 13, 2012

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