Recently, when Sachin Tendulkar was travelling by a private airline, the airhostess offered him a cola. He politely turned it down and asked specifically for the soft drink he endorses, Pepsi. A fellow passenger, bowled over by the wonder kid's brand loyalty, relayed the matter to Vibha Paul Rishi, executive vice-president (marketing) of Pepsi, who interacts with Sachin on the company's behalf. She shot off a letter thanking him. All the little genius had to say was, "You can always expect that from me."
"That's typical Sachin," said Vibha. "It's pretty hard initially to get him to sign up for you. But once he does, he is totally committed to the product."
In fact the four major sponsors of Sachin, MRF, Grindlays and adidas, apart from Pepsi, whom The Week spoke to were quick to commend his commitment. "We were to shoot a commercial with Sachin at the end of a very tiring day," reminisced G. Kannan, general manager (marketing), adidas. "His commitment while doing the shoot was incredible."
Alok Jetley, director (card sales and marketing), Grindlays Bank, had a similar experience. "Sachin had just returned from a long overseas trip when he came for our shoot," he recalled. "Yet he patiently worked with our team."
"He is accommodating and easy to communicate with," said Rodrigues, general manager (advertising), MRF. And it is not one or two stray incidents that prove his loyalty to the people who pay him. Deepak Jolly, vice-president (corporate communication) of Pepsi, related another incident. "Pepsi's association with Sachin started in 1993," he said. "He was definitely a good player then but not a superstar. In 1997 we did not extend the contract. In 1998 we again approached him and the fact that we had first signed him even when he was not a superstar was very much there in his mind. He agreed to sign up with us again. He is not a person to sell his loyalty."
But why did these companies opt for Sachin in the first place? The fact that he is the best cricketer in the world today is an obvious reason. But it is Sachin's off-the-field demeanour that makes him a complete role model.
"When we talk of Sachin as a role model we are not talking of his cricket," said Deepak. "It is the way he has handled his success. It hasn't changed the way he lives. It is the strong principles and values he holds in spite of his amazing success that we are going to highlight in the future." In fact the Pepsi ad which shows Sachin playing cricket with the boys on the street was an attempt by the cola company to bring out his qualities as a person.
Alok had a number of reasons to explain why Grindlays signed Sachin. "He is hard-working, committed, a family person, intelligent, thoughtful, widely recognised yet approachable and friendly. This is what our target prospect aspires for and identifies with," he explained.
His views are echoed by Kannan. "He may not be the most flashy person around but he certainly represents the right values that we want to be associated with," he said. "He is just far ahead of the rest."
But the best definitely doesn't come cheap. Only a few companies can afford Sachin. WorldTel signed on the little genius for one and half million dollars annually for five years making him the most expensive cricketer ever. "It was a big risk," said WorldTel chief Mark Mascarenhas. "Somebody told me that he was available and that he wanted someone to represent him. I consulted people like Ravi Shastri and decided on signing the genius."
Mark is happy that he took the plunge. "This guy has got something that has been given from upstairs," he said. Mark is not the only person who seems to have struck gold. "For the masses their hero wearing adidas products conveys the meaning that it is a very valuable brand," said Kannan. "The moment we made the poster of him wearing the blue T-shirt with white stripes it ran out of stock."
In the case of MRF, the sales of its bat which bears the master batsman's signature are increasing at the pace the genius scores his runs. The company now has plans to manufacture other sports goods. "His sponsorship will definitely have a bearing on our sales in the long run," said Rodrigues.
So is he the Indian 'Brandman'? "He is just a huge brand by himself," said Kannan. "He represents lots more than other players. That's why companies are willing to pay the kind of money he is receiving. Adidas has signed him up for six years and we will definitely extend the contract."
When asked about his future with Sachin Tendulkar, Mark was quick to quote another cricketing great. "Allan border told me in Sharjah: If you thought you saw something on his 25th birthday, watch him at 28." If so, companies and cricket are in for a good time.