Not long ago, almost every facet of Indian cricket --- be it the team’s performance, selection or any controversy --- revolved around Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He was easily the most marketable name in the advertising world once Sachin Tendulkar signed off. The aura he commanded was visible on Tuesday.
The way an entire stadium filled up on Tuesday only to watch him captain a side for the last time showed Dhoni will always occupy a special place in the hearts of cricket lovers.
The market forces however are more ruthless. The experts in the ad-world are divided over the impact on Dhoni’s brand value but unanimous that he would have to reinvent himself from a leader to a team member now. Harish Bijoor, Chief Executive Officer of brand and business strategy firm Harish Bijoor Consults Inc says it’s a life cycle.
“The brand value of sporting icons as well as Bollywood stars goes through different stages. First they are on top, then middle before hitting the bottom. The brand status has changed for Dhoni now from the leader of the team to a member of the team,” Bijoor told HT.
“It is inevitable that when there is sunrise, there is a sunset. The brand estimation goes down as well. It’s all about status, position and who is the leader of the team. The same offers will gradually go to (captain) Virat Kohli, the right to first refusal will be with Kohli (from now on) because the Indians typically believe more in who is the captain than team player,” said Bijoor.
But advertising guru Piyush Pandey is confident Dhoni’s iconic status will keep him marketable.
“He comes from a humble background and then made it so big, he is a symbol of hope and aspirations for the people of India, I don’t think it (stepping down from captaincy) is going to matter so much. He is a hero for the people of India,” said Pandey. “He is lot more than just performances. He is an all-round package and his brand is not based on his being captain. And he will continue to play one-dayers and Twenty20.”
Another legendary ad-maker Alyque Padamsee also gave a thumbs-up to Dhoni, linking his future value to his form. “Captaincy has very little to do with his brand value. It all depends on his playing skills, if he continues to be the best wicket-peer and batsman he will continue to be in demand. The brand value varies every year but Dhoni is solid gold, it never goes down. It doesn’t zoom up like Virat Kohli’s but is steady - he gives value for money,” said Padamsee.
Another stakeholder who would be apprehensive is the IPL franchise owners of Dhoni. For them, a current India captain is easier to market. But Padamsee dismisses such doubts, saying Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar are examples of candidates who were not India captains but were bankable captains with their respective franchises, Kolkata Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians.
“Dhoni is the most successful captain in IPL history. His brand value is still strong. Tendulkar was captain of Mumbai Indians but he was not captaining India. Gambhir never captained India but as captain of KKR his brand value is strong,” he said.
But as Bijoor summed it up perfectly, from now on Dhoni will need to make his bat do the talking. “He has to reinvent himself as a batsman, come up with swashbuckling performances which will capture the imagination of the people”. For the advertisers, the answers will be clearer at the end of the ODI and T20 series against England.