Celebrities as brand ambassadors:
The 'hang in there' mantra
By Sanjiv Kataria
a young management student I was taught that using a celebrity
to promote a brand was a risky proposition. The risks, I can
recall, included questions like "What if the celebrity's
ratings were to drop? What if you could not handle a celebrity's
tantrums? What if the celebrity was to become a super celebrity
and dump your brand?"
had forgotten this lesson until one winter morning in 1997
when I was getting ready to meet the Indian chess prodigy
Viswanathan Anand and his wife, Aruna, for a cup of coffee.
I did not share my apprehensions with my boss. But I did get
two of my colleagues to join me to reinforce my decision if
I were to overrule the lesson I had learnt years ago.
the end of the meeting, I nervously proposed that Anand and
Aruna meet up with NIIT's entire leadership team to understand
the company vision, its innovative practices, the depth of
instructional R&D and the entire education delivery process.
We set apart two full days for this and went through a series
of presentations, walkthroughs and discussions to make sure
that Anand believed in our product offerings as much as we
believed in him.
NIIT announced its relationship a few months later, marketing
gurus were the first to comment on the smart move and the
great synergy between Vishy and NIIT! The coming together
of the Champion of the Mind Game, cess, and the trainer of
manpower for an equally cerebral activity, Computer Software,
we knew, was just the beginning of a long relationship.
million plus NIIT students and NIIT-ians cheered Vishy on
every single day of the month-long NIIT-sponsored FIDE World
Chess Championship played in New Delhi and Tehran in 1998-99.
And the Chess Grandmaster won the hearts of a billion Indians
by bagging the World Chess title.
sight of hundreds of budding cess champions from around the
world during the tournament and a 30-minute meeting with FIDE
president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov changed NIIT's approach to associating
with its brand ambassador. Kirsan shared with us the experience
of the Russian state of Kalmakiya after introducing chess
in schools. Not only did the students' improved concentration
led to a better pass percentage but it also saw an equally
dramatic drop in crime rate in the state.
NIIT MindChampion's Academy (MCA) with active support of Viswanathan
Anand was born a year later to touch thousands of government
schools where NIIT was imparting computer education. An attempt
to take the game of chess to the deep interiors of the country
soon took shape in the form of Chess Clubs, purely on a voluntary
basis and costing them not a penny.
was Vishy's and NIIT's commitment to igniting a passion for
chess in the young minds - so that one day we could proudly
salute not one, but a hundred Viswanathan Anands.
NIIT's MCA has grown to be the most comprehensive chess programme
being run in the country. It works to a year-long calendar
of tournaments that begin at the school level and go all the
way up to the national championship.
have grown to 4,000 government and private schools and nearly
200,000 students voluntarily is a magic that Vishy expected
from NIIT. But what he could not have imagined is that MCA
has managed to produce budding challengers to him so quickly
and in such large numbers.
Anand's passion for Chess and imparting his tips for success
were visible in his regular column "Success Mantras"
that he contributed to several newspapers without charging
has this 12-year-old celebrity-brand relationship - perhaps
the longest in India - experience been? I must say both sides
have had their challenges. Not every game was a cakewalk for
Vishy. The Russian chess players like Vladimir Kramnik hung
on to their World Chess title not by playing the game but
by abstaining from the game. But Vishy's message was clear:
You have to hang in there.
has been through the tough times of 2001-2002. That was when
the Product Managers at NIIT would come and plead to me. Can
you not pick up Vishy Anand's endorsement fee this year? And
my message to them was clear as well - for a relationship
to endure, you have to hang in there.
I go to my alma mater a few weeks later my marketing mantra
is going to be: Brands gain in strength by demonstrating passion,
firing up the ambitions among larger audiences and delivering
more than what's expected...time and again.
Kataria, a strategic communications counsel, was brand custodian
at NIIT until 2006. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)