BRAND, Pop Culture

The Millennial Cricketer – Virat Kohli (The Brand)

It’s no secret that Cricket is and has been for the longest time the most marketable game in the country. Such is the obsession that to acquire your entitled 15 mins of fame, all you need to do is  something out of the ordinary  at an IPL game. Easier said than done, well what if we suggest it can be off the field too. Often it is.

Such is the clamor that the real actors (read cricketers) and their performances are entrusted with our temper. If India loses, an articulate explanation is warranted. If India is going for a series abroad, a war cry must be bellowed for the media to echo till the evening before the tour starts. If India wins, anything they say will be chronicled in Gold. “The Boys played well”.

In the middle of this drama, our cricketers, often simple gentlemen coming from middle class homes are expected to don the armor and protect the honor of the country and the vibe of our evening conversation. Some do well; the others just end up being Manoj Prabhakar.  Those who do well both on and off the field make tons of money in the bargain. To do well on the field is no big deal though, you just need to be a batsman. It’s off the field that personalities truly come to the fore. Ok, maybe its half and half.

Here’s how some of them have fared over the years:

Cricketer Image
Ganguly Sharp tongue and long canines
Dravid Responsible Statesman
Kapil Dev The Sentimental Athlete
Sachin Tendulkar Genius (God, if you like)
Yuvraj Singh Brash Prodigy
Virender Sehwag Unpolished Jat
Mahendra Singh Dhoni Ice man

In marketing colloquial, once this is identified you can to do plenty.

Somewhere in a sham room this Monday morning, a Marketing Head must’ve said “Virat Kohli”. In that very room there is a young intern who is awkwardly scribbling this down on a white board. As pros get down to the business of discussing the next Indian Cricket Phenomenon, the intern sheepishly puts in bracket “(VK)”. What these gentlemen are really doing is finding a word or a phrase to describe VK and then compare it with their own brand’s personality definition. Somewhere, in another sham room VK’s agent  or his buddy from class XI (now an IIPM graduate) is crossing his fingers hoping these matches are made and he can take his girlfriend for a Euro trip. Puff, amongst all this a young cricketer is putting in the yards on foreign soil developing serious pride for having stood up against all odds (read Australians). Ok, throw in a mad party in a Sydney club to the mix.

Who is this guy?

Virat Kohli is a Delhi lad and a natural cricketer (except when he’s bowling he looks epileptic). Many people think he came into limelight (simultaneously under the strobe) in 2008, when he lead India to an U-19 World Cup victory.  It was however way back in 2006 when he picked up his first points with the media. At the age of 18 he batted valiantly to save the day for Delhi in a Ranji game. The pretext being the death of his father. Indian Express: “we’ll lap it up thank you”.

It isn’t inaccurate though that Virat Kohli’s top hour was the 2008 triumph. Rahul Dravid prophetically (actually with a little bit of experience) said then “I played for the U-19s in 1991, and was the only one in my team to go on and play for India. This is the start of a critical phase in your lives. What you do from here on is what matters.” What Virat has made of it, smells delicious. Becoming a Delhi regular, getting picked up by Royal Challengers Bangalore, winning the ODI World Cup, retained at RCB ahead of Rahul Dravid himself, touted as future captain, winning his Test cap, making that century, in essence  being a success.

Of course, in this journey there has been some obsessive love for saying “bhenchod” as a century celebration. Something he might have picked up from Yuvi. Then there is the case of flipping the bird at a section of the crowd that was just being themselves and then acting like a cry baby on twitter.

In the words of Virat Kohli himself “Shit happens”.

Na Virat it’s not that bad, to the best of our understanding you will be fingering out a lot of gold. It’s another matter that the gesture had Sreesanth written all over it. Tell you what though, we’ll let that be a secret between us.

Why must we talk about him?

Sham rooms apart, it is important Virat is spoken about as a brand. It’s because of the way he gives press conferences. The maturity and choice of words is great, when what you really expect is a translator. The hair style and tattoos are very spoilt West Delhi youth but the athleticism is equally Johannesburg rugby field. The adolescent demeanor on twitter (must be his agent) is in stark contrast to his mature on-field comeback. It’s these sheer contradictions that build his intrigue in the corporate but will have these same folks pulling their hair out.

Those ahead of the curve in terms of signing him have done well doing just that.

In terms of exploiting him though, except for Fastrack and Nike no one’s glistened even half as much has his hair gel. Virat must be like, “I’m ready, you need to up your game ******* J”

The others who’ve signed him are TVS, Sangam Suiting (his agents Europe trip) and Flying Machine.

Will the real Jerry McGuire please stand up?

Virat is managed by a celebrity management agency (Cornerstone) with an impressive portfolio run by by one Bunty Sachdev a former Globosport man. Globosport has infact acquired 50% in Cornerstone ;). All in the little fraternity I tell you.

These are old pros who are cynical about innovation which will be left to the brand. So their will be limited to get Virat as many and as big associations possible. Great! Except that’s an extremely short term view about making him a brand. The Fastrack ad above would have been equally good with or without Virat. It’s just a great commercial and Virat should be happy he was in it. Not the other way round.

Flying machine is again an interesting tie up but apart from catalogue like shoots not much has been done. “I’m sexy when I’m me” flying machine’s latest campaign is perfect for the young and contradicting Virat Kohli.

But there seems no leverage by the brand. I mean they could have literally spun a web with Kohli’s middle finger. The youth doesn’t mind it (what that says of the youth is different though) have a look at the comments at this forum to know what we’re saying.

Where is he going?

Virat is no FloJo original or  Michael Jordan competitive. He is not a Mohommad Ali ferocious winner, nor is he Bjorn Borg Cool. He’s not even the Genius of Tendulkar or the steel of Steve Waugh.

What he is though is a very good representation of the Indian urban youth. Intelligent, talented, hungry and self conscious. The first big english track he might have heard wasn’t “Taking it easy”, it was more like “Just don’t give a Fuck”.

What’s working for him is that:

  • In his chosen field he is now likely to be most visible at more times than not. With a place in the Test Squad near guaranteed he will be around and everywhere.
  • He is young and in all probability be a leader in a few years.
  • He’s well spoken and extroverted.
  • He has an opinion on brands and his market “Winning the World Cup after 28 years is no small feat and everyone from the cricket board to the brands recognizes that” to ET post the World cup win. In the same interview he went on to compare Bollywood and Cricket  “Bollywood has always had a big advantage over cricket so bringing the cup home may have shifted the balance a little!”
  • Playing for the RCB allows him to overcome the North-South divide and get close to fans across the country.

What’s not working for him

  • Distractions. Not many professional sportsmen can manage a flamboyant lifestyle and a successful career. Imran Khan was an exception. And Vinod Kambli is a sad example. Still young and influential Virat has tasted success early and will always have detractors

  • Lack of sense of humor. One of the things that make celebrities popular amongst their likely fans is a unique sense of humour. Sharukh Khan has it, Sidhu has it, Kapil Dev had it, Mcnroe had it. Sachin does not, Ganguly does not, Gambhir does not, MSD does not.
  • Accomplished Competition Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, Prateik Babbar, Abhay Deol, Ranveer Singh

Where could he go?

  • Virat Kohli could be a superstar brand if he focuses on the core. Have fun succeeding on the field.
  • He must embrace his own contradictions and not be apologetic about it. Humility will come with experience but he has the gift of confidence.
  • Have an opinion and say it with heart “We’re young and real, not many can tick those boxes these days” is something I’d love to hear from a young sportsman like him. It will kick the growing bollywood variety in the chin.
  • He seems interested in fashion. It wouldn’t hurt developing a style uniquely his own, a signature. Printed Diesel t-shirts is what money can buy, Connerstone would do well to get him GQed. That’s automatic PR.
  • Most of all, Be a man. That’s what the team and the sport is missing amongst the young crop and that’s how he can separate himself and be the most sought after.


One thought on “The Millennial Cricketer – Virat Kohli (The Brand)

  1. lucky genelia

    Posted by kimi | April 13, 2012, 9:05 pm

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