Decoding PV Sindhu Moment Marketing Debacle: Is it fair to use celebrity image to drive brand mileage? Experts Opine

PV Sindhu moment marketing

With the PV Sindhu Moment Marketing gone awry for some brands, we speak with a cross-section of industry experts to understand how can the phenomenon of ‘Moment Marketing’ be balanced out to avoid such issues while maintaining the authenticity in the future.

PV Sindhu has brought several laurels to the nation. Her recent bronze medal win at Women’s Singles (Badminton) at Tokyo Olympics, paved the way for another landmark occasion in the socioverse when brands, audiences, and marketers expressed their enthusiasm and delight over the national pride and triumph. 

While many generously showered accolades for the only Indian woman shuttler to win the medal twice at the Olympics, many brands seemed to harp on the athlete’s name to drive commercial interests. This led to an uproar in the A & M industry when Baseline Ventures announced legal proceedings against brands accused of breaching IPR and privacy policies such as P&G, Perfetti Van Melle, amongst others, seeking damages worth 5 Crores for the unauthorized usage of the name and images of PV Sindhu for commercial gains.

This is not a one-off case when the brands have treaded the thin line. In the past, Baseline Ventures had filed a suit against leading Brands for projecting an association with the Cricketer Prithvi Shaw. Tuhin even highlighted how some brands have used the Hockey India team image and other athletes’ images too.

It is to be understood that there is a commercial cost attached to associating with the celebrities or signing them on as Brand Ambassadors. As the debacle over PV Sindhu moment marketing continues, the industry gets divided over the issue of moment marketing gone awry, when brands tread the thin line of genuine appreciation on one hand, and unauthorized usage of a celebrity association, on the other.

In light of this debate, Social Samosa speaks to a cross-section of industry experts to understand their thoughts and how they think can the phenomenon of ‘Moment Marketing’ be balanced out to avoid such fiasco and execute such tactics in the right manner.

Experts Take:

PV Sindhu Moment Marketing gone awry: The Do’s and the Don’ts

Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and former Marketing Head of HP Asia, Motorola, and PepsiCo India

Moment marketing is fantastic in itself, however, when a brand uses a specific sportsperson and his/her achievements to gain commercial mileage without prior permission or getting into a contract with that individual, then it is completely unfair. Brands must be more sensitive and seek permission from the athlete or agent before using them.”

Speaking about the recent events, he adds, “There has been a rush from brands to use moment marketing on social media to celebrate Olympic medal winners with hashtags plugging their brand. This borders on the unethical and are akin to hijacking a sportsperson’s achievement for business gain. The responsible brands must stay away from this. While a business wanting to award an athlete for his performance is welcome, using this to derive brand mileage is completely unfair.”

Ambi Parameswaran, Founder, Brand-building.com, Independent Brand Strategist, Brand Coach, Start-Up Mentor, #TEDx Speaker, and Podcaster

I think brands cannot take a free ride on the success of a sportsperson! They should take the permission just as they will take the permission of a political leader or a film star.”

Imagine a brand running a campaign congratulating Salman Khan on a hit film? He may sue them too, he exclaims.

To deep-dive into this further, Parameswaran even shared several tweets trying to gauge the sentiments on what might cross the line while executing moment marketing campaigns and even questioned people on why can’t big brands do a blanket deal with the Indian Olympics committee and where do you stop this free ride?

Vani Dandia on PV Sindhu Moment Marketing

Vani Gupta Dandia, Marketing consultant, CherryPeachPlum, Growth Partners, Sr. Advisor KPMG. Ex Marketing Director, PepsiCo India

When a brand congratulates a player on their stellar performance that in my view is alright. But when a brand looks to draw mileage out of a player’s victory, intends to confuse the public into believing that this player is endorsing the brand – it’s wrong.

So, for example, when Happydent advertises using Sindhu – it’s wrong in the name of moment marketing. It is about drawing mileage opportunistically for one’s own purposes without rewarding the player herself which is wrong. That in the name of moment marketing cannot be pardoned and I can understand Sindhu’s angst. She is absolutely right in going to court.

Also read: Avoid piggy riding on the back of an athletes’ success: Tuhin Mishra on PV Sindhu Moment Marketing Campaigns

The Approach: There is no Free Lunch

Naresh Gupta on PV Sindhu Moment Marketing

Naresh Gupta, Co-Founder & Head Intern, Bang In The Middle

I have always believed that ‘Moment Marketing’ is unfair on celebrities and makes the brands look like being opportunistic and even parasitic. Highlighting the approach for moment marketing, he explains, “Brands can approach moments, by not naming the celeb, by not using their picture, caricature, or cartoon, by paying the celebrity if they have to create a branded content. Brands need to be on the right side of the law. Many of these MNC brands will not do the kind of posts they create here in India in many other markets. 

We, the folks at the agency, have to remember, there is no free lunch, adds Gupta.

Ambika Sharma on PV Sindhu Moment Marketing

Ambika Sharma, MD & Founder, Pulp Strategy

More than one brand is in hot water, while creating moment marketing creatives brand must be cautious of the fact that ‘the star’ is not their brand ambassador. However, keeping with the core objective of congratulating the celebrity, a straightforward congratulations stays on the correct side of the line.

She adds, “Trouble starts when the creative takes a simplistic route of associating the celeb directly with the brand or product. The beautiful thing about moment marketing is that there is no reason to explain anything in detail, its top of mind recall already. Creating context is possible without using the celebrity face, to make for a far better creative.”

The Way Forward: Is Moment Marketing here to stay?

Harshil Karia

Harshil Karia, Founder, Schbang

From the standpoint of brands being sued, perhaps it is more to set a precedent than legal action directly. It will make brands more careful & cautious when using the names/logos of celebrities. 

He highlights that brands going forward will refer to the event without naming the individual. “It needs to be understood that the core principle of moment marketing is around a National/International event that everyone is talking about, which a brand finds itself in the midst of – that won’t go away however brands are going to be more careful about using the name/image of a celebrity”, he quips. Overall, Karia puts forth, “It is a positive move, I don’t believe that Moment Marketing is going anywhere though.”

Manesh Swamy, Sr. VP – Creative, Social, PR, Marcom, Logicserve Digital 

Over time, social media marketing has evolved into a format where brands celebrate or tag on these fluid moments which they feel are relevant for their brands and the audience, and if there is a national event, every brand wants to celebrate it. Some brands overdo and make it all about themselves without being officially onboarded.

The industry expert opines that If the brand is just celebrating the small moments of joy without selling anything, it shouldn’t be harmful. “Having said so, from now on, I am sure every brand will be cautious and will opt for the surrogate route with naming the athletes or showing their faces like the age-old “Nothing official about it” approach. It will be interesting to watch the trending moments on social media going forward and how content calendars change from here on”, Swamy concludes.

The story is co-authored with Sneha Yadav


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