Sachin Tendulkar made his international cricket debut in 1989 at the age of 16. That was also the year he appeared in his first commercial - promoting Johnson & Johnson's Band-Aid. Since then, the cricketing legend with 100 international centuries to his name, has done scores of endorsements, of products ranging from soft drinks (Pepsi) to cameras (Canon), from ballpoint pens (Reynolds) to autos (Toyota), and many more.
But now, with his retirement from One Day Internationals announced last December, and his 40th birthday only a month away, Tendulkar's incredible run - and with it his endorsement career - is not what it used to be. Of the 17 deals he has currently signed, only about half a dozen are active. So too, some other giants of the world of endorsements, such as film actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan are unlikely to go on for many more years. "People like Bachchan and Tendulkar are once in a lifetime figures in their respective spheres. Having said that, there is always another era and another icon to follow," says Harish Krishnamachar, Senior Vice President and Country Head, World Sport Group (India), which handles Tendulkar's endorsement deals.
Who will replace the likes of Tendulkar and Bachchan? Experts on the Rs 2,000-crore celebrity endorsement market doubt anybody from the younger generation can. "There is scarcity of young faces with a pan-India reach," says Anirban Das Blah, CEO and Managing Director of CAA Kwan, the creative agency which manages the endorsements of actor Ranbir Kapoor, among others. "So advertisers rely more on tried and tested old names." He, too, agrees the old guard cannot go on for too long. "In the future these big names will be hard to get."
Discussing sportspersons, ad guru Prahlad Kakkar is equally blunt. "Not many in the younger generation have charisma," he says. "Badminton champ Saina Nehwal
is there, but tennis star Sania Mirza has failed. Cricketer Virat Kohli is aggressive and consistent."
On film stars, the verdict is equally clear. "The domination of the Khans - Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman and Saif Ali - was such that nobody else had the opportunity to take the baton," says Harish Bijoor, CEO of brand strategy consulting firm, Harish Bijoor Consults. "There is a shortage of male stars."
Ranbir Kapoor and Virat Kohli are, indeed, about the only male celebrities advertising insiders expect to see enter the big league. At present, both have around 10 endorsement deals each - while Kapoor charges Rs 7.5 to Rs 8 crore per deal, Kohli is well behind at Rs 3 crore.
"We believe Ranbir Kapoor symbolises the hopes and aspirations of contemporary Indian youth," says Varghese M. Thomas, Director, Corporate Communications, BlackBerry, India and Greater China region. Bijoor maintains the inability of new stars to match the appeal of the old favourites will lead to marketers hedging their bets. "Brands will remove single star ads. They will go for multistarrers," he says.
The looming shortage of icons with pan-India appeal is also changing the endorsement
scenario in other ways. So far, neither advertisers nor celebrities have been too discriminating about matching the celebrity to the product. "Both marketer and celebrity appear to be guided by short-term opportunism," says Kiran Khalap, Co-founder, chlorophyll brand & communications consultancy. "The marketer seems to be looking to win a lottery.
The celebrity seems to be saying, 'How does it matter what brand I endorse so long as I'm paid'." He cites the example of Bachchan who endorses products with widely varying target consumers - from baby massage oil (Dabur Lal Tail) to cement (Binani Cement) to diamonds (Tanishq), and more.
Marketers have been able to get away with this because of the wide appeal across target groups celebrities like Bachchan possess. With the new crop lacking similar acceptance, they are beginning to sharpen their focus. The Emami group's ads for their painkiller ointment Himani Fast Relief, for instance, uses the ubiquitous Bachchan no doubt, but also a host of sportspersons - Saina Nehwal, boxer Mary Kom, wrestler Sushil Kumar and cricketer Gautam Gambhir.
"Olympic stars are becoming popular. They were a good fit for this brand, as the sports they shine in often cause injuries," says Krishna Mohan, CEO - Sales, Supply Chain and Human Capital at Emami. Similarly, Olay has used yesteryear superstar Madhuri Dixit, 45, to promote its anti-ageing cream.
Celebrity management companies
, too, are looking beyond film stars and cricketers. Thus Percept Talent, one of the best known among them, has wrestler Sushil Kumar, shooter Vijay Kumar, boxers Vijender Singh, Shiva Thapa, Jai Bhagwan and Vikas Krishnan in the list of those whose endorsement deals it handles.
"It is going to be very difficult to replace the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. But, everyone has to move on," says Emami's Mohan.