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Why did Airtel drop Sachin?

GroupM's Mindshare Insights is puzzled about why Airtel did not renew its contract with Sachin, writes Anita Sharan.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2007 13:25 IST

GroupM's Mindshare Insights is puzzled about why Airtel did not renew its celebrity endorsement contract with Sachin Tendulkar. As of around four months ago, Shah Rukh Khan is endorsing Airtel.

The actor has big equity with Indians, agrees Manish Agarwal, business director — Insights, Mindshare. However, he argues, Insights's recently concluded celebrity research, CelebZ, reveals that among the top five "platinum" celebrities, Tendulkar stands second only to Amitabh Bachchan, scoring 80.7 per cent to the Big B's 91.6 per cent. Shah Rukh Khan, with 67.6 per cent, is in third place.

The Insights celebrity pull ratings, called mScores, are based on responses from a sample of 2,800 consumers across 14 locations in India. The sampled audience included SEC ABC, 15-to-55-year-olds, covered on the field by IMRB. The mScore is based on a pyramid rating system, starting with 'Familiar' at the bottom of the pyramid and building up through 'Interest', 'Acceptance' and 'Attracted', to 'Favourite' at the top of the pyramid.

In the consumer's eyes, Tendulkar stands for sympathetic, thorough, outgoing, calm, clever/smart and playful/fun loving. Airtel stands for sympathetic, calm, clever/smart, playful/fun loving, and easygoing/relaxed. On 'thorough' and 'outgoing' too, Airtel scores marginally higher than the category average. That's four-fifths of Airtel's persona represented well by Tendulkar. So why drop him, asks Agarwal?

Could prominent sponsorships by competitors Hutch and Reliance Communications for the World Cup, starting mid-March, be a reason? Add to that Kaun Banega Crorepati 3, also on Star TV, preceding (and overlapping at the tail end with) the World Cup, which features SRK as anchor. Airtel is a KBC-3 sponsor. Agarwal doesn't think so. "It could be about Sachin's injuries and non-performance over a year."

But Tendulkar is in a different league, he insists, capable of creating a strong pull with consumers. "Brand Sourav is a classic example. His return to international cricket has advertisers chasing him for endorsements."

So okay, maybe Tendulkar's mScore places him higher than SRK. But could the actor's persona fit be better for Airtel? A few calculations later, Agarwal reveals that Tendulkar beats SRK on both mScore and persona fit as far as Airtel is concerned. He delivers better than the actor on three out of four of Airtel's traits.

"And on every other trait on which Airtel over-indexes to Mobile Service Provider category, Sachin outperforms SRK," he points out.

"Airtel's dropping Sachin Tendulkar was a mistake," Agarwal concludes. "Unless Airtel has changed its strategy…"