Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sports Stars, The New Cultural Icons

Today, sports stars are competing with film personalities for celebrity brand endorsements, writes Prabhakar Mundkur


Time was when you said ‘celebrity’, people took it to mean a film star. But no longer. While the earliest celebrities to be used in advertising were indeed film stars, today sports stars compete with film stars for brand endorsements.

For example, if one looks at the Forbes Celebrity 100 for 2019, Virat Kohli is No 1. In fact, in the top 5, there are two sports stars. The old style of rating celebrities was to look at their earnings. Today’s celebrity ranks are a function not only earnings but of their fame quotient arrived at through their print and social media reach. And because the sport is as big an industry as cinema at least in terms of visibility and exposure though not in valuation, sports stars are much wanted by advertisers.

Sports is also related to the fitness industry, and fitness is quickly becoming the national obsession, with strings of gyms opening over the country, and the familiar sight of runners and cyclists on the roads in the country every morning.

In India perhaps the first sports icon to bring fame to brands was Kapil Dev in Palmolive da jawab nahi. Almost everybody remembers that commercial. And of course, Kapil Dev in the Boost commercial with Sachin Tendulkar. After that, sports stars have ruled the roost in Indian advertising.

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Caution required

So, what is the difference between sports stars and film stars when it comes to endorsing brands?

I think sports stars have to be much more careful about endorsements. Because they represent ‘ideal health’ to the masses, sports stars have to be cautious about endorsing unhealthy products. They have an important responsibility to promote public health, unlike film stars. This is particularly true of food and beverage products. Virat Kohli ended a six-year contract with Pepsi because the product went against his ideals of fitness.

A sports star’s career is much shorter than that of the film star. Because their profession is dependent on physical fitness, most sports stars give up active sports by the time they are 40. But film stars have a career even when they get older because there is always a place for an older character in any script or story.

Then there is the sports star that eventually ends up as a film actor. A great international example is Arnold Schwarzenegger. A bodybuilder, he became famous as the Terminator and even became the Governor of California which is less unusual. Arnold has 50 film credits to his name. Many of our Indian sports stars have also become politicians, the latest being Gautam Gambhir who has been preceded by others like Navjot Singh Siddhu, Mohammad Azharuddin, and Kirti Azad to name a few.

Role in society

After retirement sports stars can help in the area of public reform. After retirement they often use their popularity and personal dedication to help reduce or prevent negative developments and participate in implementing reforms. Mohammad Ali, Pele and many others followed this route. Pele for example became Minister of Sport for Brazil.

As India moves from a single sport nation like cricket to badminton, football and other sports, sports stars in the country will be on the rise. Sports is an important aspect of any nation because it can teach you life skills like no other activity can. Sportsmen and sportswomen are often admired for their status, achievements, and sometimes for their inspiring journey to success. Many young people look up to them and for a young country like India, sports will become more important as our country moves into the future.

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Prabhakar Mundkur
Prabhakar Mundkur is an advertising veteran, a lateral thinker, storyteller and musician. A coffee aficionado, husband and a father of two, he also describes himself as dogs’ best friend.

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