By Abhishek Purohit, Ahmedabad Mirror | Updated: Apr 4, 2018, 02.00 AM IST
It is business as usual for IPL and Indian cricket. The fans cheer Chennai Super Kings, back in the league after a two-year suspension for role in 2013 spot-fixing scandal, during practice recently
Unlike Australia, sponsors care two hoots about Indian cricket’s controversies as its stocks keep rising
The recent ball-tampering episode caused tremendous outrage among the Australian public, and sponsor response in the country was swift. ASICS ended its ties with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, LG dropped Warner as brand ambassador, and Weet-Bix dumped Steve Smith. While these were individual tie-ups with the banned trio, even one of Cricket Australia’s major sponsors, Magellan, terminated its three year deal signed last August.
These actions are in stark contrast to the response of sponsors in India after the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal of 2013. Even after three players were arrested, Pepsi, then the IPL title sponsor had said that they remained “committed to the property.” Kent withdrew advertisements featuring one of the three players, S Sreesanth, but continued as sponsor of his franchise Rajasthan Royals. Pepsi eventually pulled out more than two years later in 2015 only to return as associate sponsor for home international games.
What explains this difference in sponsor responses in the two countries, when the issue of spot-fixing should have arguably caused more outrage and damage than ball-tampering did?
Mirror spoke on the issue to three prominent advertising and branding veterans, who elaborated on a few broad differences between the two cultures. Among them were the public tolerance for corruption and the way celebrities are treated, which in turn determines how sponsors react.
“We are complacent about corruption. We don’t have moral spine,” Prahlad Kakkar said. “The common man understands figures up to a lakh. We don’t even understand the astronomical figures that are thrown about in scams. Someone such as Nirav Modi escapes abroad after not repaying thousands of crores to banks. We make some noise about it for a few days and then it is back to normal.”
Not only is outrage in India weaker, its nature is also different, according to Santosh Desai. “Power seeks to extract its price in India. Negotiating for opportunities is a part of life here. Rules do not apply and it is not seen as a big betrayal. Outrage is not deep in India. There is a gossipy element to it. It becomes a talking point in the news, people start talking about how much Indian stars are paid. Nobody did that in Australia. So the nature of the outrage in India is more transactional than moral.”
Both Desai and Sridhar Ramanujam said the outdoorsy, sports-playing culture of Australia was also a factor in their fans’ immense anger.
“Even the Prime Minister got into it in Australia. Steve Smith did not understand the extent of the negative reaction in Australia initially when he said he would not resign as captain,” Sridhar said. “The sponsors did not have an option at all. National pride was offended.
“And if you do a random sampling of Indians, the majority will say the Australian reaction was over the top. We are a lot more forgiving about these things as Indians. We are fairly casual.”
Kakkar gave the example of Salman Khan and Desai that of Mohammed Azharuddin when talking of how India has lax standards for its celebrities. “It is a relationship founded on admiration. They are held to a celebrity code, and not a hero code,” Desai said.
“The celebrity culture is different in India. A celebrity abroad has to use the products they endorse,” Sridhar said. “But a Shah Rukh Khan can sell a Santro when his preferred car may be a Pajero. A celebrity is viewed as an entertainer in India. And advertisers are guided by consumer preferences.”
Would Indian cricket consumers, and in turn, advertisers react differently had the spot-fixing happened in an India match as opposed to in the IPL?
Desai said it would not have made much difference, but Kakkar said it would, for then patriotic feelings would have been hurt.
“Fixing at national level would have been different. But if it is Hyderabad v Pune who cares yaar? That kind of fanatical following has never been there for cricket anyway, the kind that you would associate with say, East Bengal or Mohun Bagan in the past. And now, especially with the IPL, it has become tamasha or entertainment.”
All three experts agreed that cricket was too important a property for advertisers to ignore in India, ethical considerations notwithstanding.
“Cricket is too big in India, you cannot afford to miss out on it,” Sridhar said. “Large mass brands cannot miss out on the game. ‘Cricket is king’ is an understatement in India.”
Essentially, because the Indian public does not get too worked up about corruption and celebrity behaviour, advertisers follow their lead in being more tolerant of taint.
“In the heat of the moment, there may be calls for doing something drastic in Indian companies because there are people involved after all,” Desai says. “But eventually saner minds prevail, calculation overrides ethical considerations, that ‘let us wait and watch, let us be pragmatic.”
Outrage is not deep in India. There is a gossipy element to it. It becomes a talking point in the news, people start talking about how much Indian stars are paid. Nobody did that in Australia