Often cricketers of immense brand value are either a product of arriving just at the opportune moment in time or being so radically different that they become the zeitgeist. Both are attributes that sit quite well with brands and the free market. India has had its fair share of players who were held in high regards by their fans, with their popularity fetching them even more fame and wealth.
Farokkh Engineer was a breath of fresh air when a young nation was finding its feet. While Sunil Gavaskar was the country's first world-class run machine, Kapil Dev was the genuine all-rounder India craved for ever. Sachin Tendulkar was the thrilling new face of liberalisation and Rahul Dravid was the dependable guy next-door. Even as MS Dhoni has been the pioneer unfazed by pressure, Virat Kohli will go down as the braggadocio defining mascot of an Indian milieu that has tasted success and demands more.
All have given something that was out-of-the-box, something that you didn't know you wanted until you saw it in live action. Undoubtedly, brand value is a game of perceptions, which can be fickle and fluctuate fortunes like a yo-yo. But if the charm is witnessed often enough, it becomes a habit that you can't shake off, a face you can't say no to. And that is a quality few have had or will have. Let's look at seven of them in the order of their respective debuts.
#7 Farokh Engineer
A swashbuckling wicket-keeper batsmen, training to be pilot, Farokh Engineer established himself into the Indian cricket scene a few years after his debut in 1961. He became a household name after his exploits in the against West Indies and New Zealand in 1965. He was involved in India's memorable series wins in New Zealand in 1967 and versus England in 1971. Snapped up by Lancashire, where he met his wife Julie, Engineer was one of the first Indian cricketers to have offers from English counties - Worcestershire, Somerset, and Hampshire.
Renowned for his carefree hitting, outspoken demeanor, mutton-chop sideburns and flashy dimples, he certainly was ahead of his times - his good looks an instant draw for fans and brands, home and in England. Brylcreem saw its sales rocket after they signed him. He also featured in UK tabloids with his county exploits attracting brands for endorsements. In short, he was the MS Dhoni of the 60s and 70s.
Memorable Brand Associations: Brylcreem
#6 Sunil Gavaskar
Sunil Gavaskar made the most impactful debut in the history of Indian Test cricket with an impeccable 774 runs against the mighty West Indies on an away tour. With such a launch, he was destined to be a player and brand with huge potential. Thereafter, his metronomic run-scoring ability, against fearsome attacks on uncovered pitches while opening without helmets built the aura of a gladiator. The kind that brands like to bottle and shill.
Gavaskar was multi-dimensional too, releasing 4 books - Sunny Days (1976) , Idols (1983) , Runs 'n' Ruins (1984) and One Day Wonders (1986) during his playing years giving insights into his reading of the game. It fed a eager fan base. Well read and well versed, he was an inspiration for a generation who looked up to someone who was arguably the first world-beater in the game that India had produced. A batsman who is the first to achieve so many records as he went on, becomes by default and skill, one with tremendous goodwill.
Memorable Brand Associations: Sentry, Dinesh Suitings, Thums Up
#5 Kapil Dev
One of the first great cricketers to have come from a non-traditional center, Kapil Dev was also a rare breed - a fast bowling all-rounder ; something extremely rare to unearth in India to this day. An asset to the team since his debut, the 1983 World Cup win made him a legend. A steady interest from advertisers for endorsements followed till he broke Sir Richard Hadlee's world record. Kapil Dev had raw masculine force as his USP and brands loved him for it.
Like Gavaskar before him, he also ventured into businesses as just cricketing wages were not as economically viable as they are today. Kapil's all-round ability to influence a match gave him the sheen of a savior and someone who knew what to do. He dominated the decade of the 80s as a brand, although younger players like Ravi Shastri and Mohammad Azharuddin also benefited from the windfall of endorsements and ads post 1983.
Memorable Brand Associations: Palmolive, Boost
#4 Sachin Tendulkar
Sachin Tendulkar remains the person who had a pan-Indian appeal and who inspired at least 3 generations of youth while carrying their burden of expectations. From being marketed as the child prodigy to the next best thing to Bradman, his career has seen many phases. His clean image was another bonus. All through this, his super-stardom has branched out and reached global proportions.
A favourite of the MNCs who were making a beeline to enter a post-liberalisation India, he was signed by all and sundry and at unheard of prices. Tendulkar's squeaky voice and cherubic face rode on his unprecedented success and astonishing rate of shredding cricketing records.
Once in a while does come a cricketer who can captivate a stadium, control the mood of the nation and empty out the traffic on Indian roads, and that is a brand value that can't be quantified.
Memorable Brand Associations: Pepsi, Mastercard, MRF, Airtel
#3 Rahul Dravid
For an extremely handsome, well-read, articulate and astute cricketer with achievements to match, Rahul Dravid was relatively under utilised by the Indian advertisers. This might be partly due to him being picky with his brand associations, and partly because there were Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly to share the limelight and shooting arc-lights. For instance none of the cement brands thought, it'd be a good idea to the associated with 'The Wall'?
After Sunil Gavaskar, Dravid had all the qualities to write insightful books while still touring. Being too self-critical, he didn't. The stalwart had the smart, humble and dependable guy-next-door look going for him and was easily the best looking person in the Indian cricket green room from his debut to his last days. His brand value exuded qualities of being the thoughtful kind with a refined taste and it reflected in the ads featured in. He stood out by being under-stated.
Memorable Brand Associations: Hutch, Gillette, Britannia
#2 Mahendra Singh Dhoni
MS Dhoni tore the established scripts apart and rode into uncharted terrains. Refreshingly unapologetic about his small-town roots, insouciant in his demeanour and wise beyond his years when thrown the challenge of leading the side, he followed, matched and even breached frontiers that only Sachin had before him. Of course, leading the Indian side's most successful phase ever (2007-2013) and a overflowing trophy cabinet helped a lot too.
He is a prime example of getting hooked to someone or something that you had no idea you wanted, until you saw what was on offer. The effortless composure of MS Dhoni was evident from his days of long brown locks and to his spiffy crew cuts ones. Constantly innovating, surprising and succeeding in doing so raised his brand value to stratospheric levels. And he does it by being genuine. A trait everyone holds dear.
Memorable Brand Associations: Pepsi, Boost, Netmeds
#1 Virat Kohli
One can say, Virat Kohli has decimated his competition- both in the field and in being coveted by brands. None of his team mates, bar Dhoni are even remotely close to his brand value. He stands for everything that a more brash, outwardly confident, hungry for more India represents. His aggression is chiseled to appeal to them. The coiffed beard and the undercut is not surprisingly the most popular hairstyle in the saloons. He is the closest thing to the current zeitgeist of India.
In terms of the monies, he is going to comfortably top the charts for a few years to come and again, it is being achieved by being himself. The maturity in him has begun to show and he has branched into launching his own brands where he thinks there's a product and market lacunae (world class cricketing outfits). That's truly appreciable, for when has being a replica helped a brand?
Memorable Brand Associations : Fastrack, Wrogn, American Tourister