Brand Virat Kohli: Will loss of captaincy affect its popularity?

Brand Virat Kohli: Will loss of captaincy affect its popularity?

Not being captain will increase the pressure of performance for the ace cricketer. How he navigates through this is the moot question.

For brand Kohli, the bat did all the talking for years. It is time to put it to good use again. For brand Kohli, the bat did all the talking for years. It is time to put it to good use again.

An aggressive Virat Kohli on the cricket field is a sight all of us have got used to seeing for many years now. As a promising young cricketer to becoming the captain of India in 2014, this is one trait that can be easily associated with him. 

Last week was a different side to the personality. As India went down 1-2 to South Africa in the test series after being 1-0 up, Kohli was not just diffident but there was a resignation in his voice and demeanour. In a startling move, a couple of days later, he stepped down as captain of the team. Now, the biggest name in Indian cricket had ceased to be captain in any of the three formats - 50 overs, T20 or the five-day tests. 

So where does that leave brand Kohli? After all he is the face of brands such as MRF, Myntra, American Tourister, Puma, Volini, Audi, Uber India, Royal Challenge to name just a few. None of this comes cheap, with a steady increase each year as Kohli's performance with the willow got better. One post put out by Kohli on Instagram will cost a brand around Rs 1.25 crore, a number that was Rs 80 lakh a couple of years ago. The endorsement fee for any of the said brands is at least Rs 7 crore each year and estimated to have been around Rs 5 crore earlier. To draw a comparison, Rohit Sharma's fee is approximately Rs 3 crore, while the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul is in the Rs 1-1.25 crore range. 

According to Sandeep Goyal, MD, Rediffusion, Kohli without the captaincy means the avalanche of endorsements will abate substantially. And the biggest rub in this case, along with losing his captaincy, is the lack of form with no century being scored for 30 innings. It is the leanest patch in his career which has led many to ask some uncomfortable questions.  

"Now if his willow does not do the talking, the decline will be rapid. If after relinquishing the captaincy, he manages the big scores, his brand equity will sustain longer," Goyal says. Goyal does not hold back when he argues that the current phase is a major crossroad for Kohli from a commercial point of view. "Most brands are fence sitters. If he plays well again, there will be loyalty, and if he doesn't, don't be surprised if many drop him or ask for a lower price." 

Investing in an endorser calls for a certain strategic approach. "If we think through the lens of a brand (whether Virat or the ones he endorses), we have to take a long view. Anyone using Virat to deliver next month's sales is doing it wrong," explains Shubhajit Sen, Founding Partner A Priori Consultants, a marketing and strategy consultancy. To him, the disappointment of his recent lackadaisical form will be amplified by professional haters on social media but in a few weeks will be forgotten.  

"In any case this is balanced by a counter narrative that the current situation has arisen due to non-cricketing reasons." Citing the case of Sachin Tendulkar, who has managed a successful post retirement career, who also went through a tough phase, Sen's view is that "there are pathways for brands and sport celebrities to navigate late career stages. Nike and John McEnroe's association is a good example." 

There is an emotion attached to not just sport but to the personality as well. Balu Nayar, former MD of IMG and a key architect of the IPL, says human brands are quite complex, since they excite more passion than other categories, but are fragile.   

"Brand Dhoni is a rare case that had reached cult and reverential status, and transcended links to performance, thanks to its Zen-like personality. Virat is different and is known to be an aggressive and a high-performance brand. Thus, there is an inherent fragility linked to performance and behaviour," he thinks.  

To him, instead of the poor batting performance in the last few years denting his brand value, it was captaincy that kept the brand high.  

"With that leg removed, the brand needs batting performance quickly to retain its level, else its value will erode," Nayar argues.  

For brand Kohli, the bat did all the talking for years. It is time to put it to good use again. That criterion alone will either make him, or unmake him. 

Also read: Virat Kohli steps down as Test captain; here's how the cricket world reacted

Also read: Virat Kohli quits as India's Test Captain; end of an era, reacts Twitter

Published on: Jan 17, 2022, 4:48 PM IST
Posted by: Mohammad Haaris Beg, Jan 17, 2022, 4:23 PM IST