The opponent may not have been top class, but when Yuvraj Singh took those three wickets in India’s T20 match against Afghanistan, the classy cricketer bowled over many Indians. That’s more because he is back on the field doing what he does best, after recovering from a rare form of germ cell cancer that saw him hospitalised in the US and out of action for about nine months.
It is now clear that brand Yuvraj is back with a bang. According to the grapevine, at least three top brands from the automobile, beverages and telecom sectors are negotiating with his managers for a possible endorsement deal and the cricketer’s brand value has already gone up by 25 per cent. Apart from Birla Sun Life, which has become the most talked about, Yuvraj is now endorsing brands like Puma, Investors Clinic, Oakleys and Ulysse Nardin (each deal is in the range of Rs 4 crore.
The interest in brand Yuvraj, experts says, is not a surprise as his appeal has gone beyond just the cricket-loving public; he has become the brand ambassador of hope and courage as it takes more than just medical treatment and prayers to get back to the top. Many are comparing his comeback with Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005, after surviving testicular cancer.
It’s quite a turnaround from the days when he was diagnosed with cancer and a lot of brands deserted him. Only one – Birla Sun Life – continued though the company attracted a lot of criticism for making commercial use of the cricketer’s illness. Ajay Kakkar, CMO - Financial Services – Aditya Birla Group, says, “I do not see Yuvraj as just a cancer survivor. For me he is a hero and a fighter. He is a big inspiration for the common man. I agree that performance is what matters the most. But the fact that Yuvraj is standing on the cricket field is a big achievement in itself, which will keep inspiring many.”
According to Kakkar, while people decide against talking about their fears, Yuvraj dared to bare his worst fear publicly. “He has made the fight against cancer his mission. He is not just another cancer survivor, or just another cricketer. Today his first love is life and that’s what the message he is communicating.”
The Birla Sun Life campaign that the company launched in January this year, showed Yuvraj against a dark background talking about the sudden mishaps in life. Kakkar says that it was just a coincidence as the commercial was shot much earlier.
The latest campaign brings together a plethora of thoughts under one big insight – when the going gets tough, it is human tendency to self-reflect and wonder “Why me”. The ad sees the cricketer narrate his life story – that when his health became an issue, he never asked himself the question “Why me?”, just as he did not when he was recognised as Man of the Tournament for the ICC World Cup. The thought that he leaves behind for this phase of the campaign is that “You can’t predict the future. But you can at least plan for it.
Melroy D’Souza, chief operation officer of sports management company PMG, which manages Virender Sehwag, Manoj Tiwary and Abhinav Bindra, says, “Earlier only cricket fans loved him (Yuvraj), but today his reach has widened much beyond. His fighting spirit and comeback have added a lot more maturity to his persona. He was earlier just stylish and flamboyant, now he is much more and a lot more brands will try to find a fit with him.”
Among other activities, Yuvraj’s YouWeCan has also partnered with Hindi general entertainment channel Colors, to show his journey through cancer in a three part series – Zindagi Abhi Baki Hai. The YouWeCan is an initiative to combat cancer by spreading awareness about the disease, advantages of early detection and fighting the stigma attached to it.
Some, however, say the sympathy wave won’t last long and the surge in interest in Yuvraj will last only if he does well on the field. Indranil Das Blah, COO at KWAN Entertainment and Marketing Solutions, says “the coming back of Yuvraj is a great inspirational story. But unfortunately, every story has a shelf life and six months to a year down the line, people will forget that. Ultimately, Yuvraj is a sports person and for a sports personality, what matters is only performance. Armstrong is what he is today because he won so many Tour de France (cycling competition) after surviving cancer.”
Blah adds that while the Yuvraj story is relevant today, there needs to be a plan around it to keep the buzz going — may be through the Yuvraj Singh Foundation and the initiative YouWeCan.
Yuvraj knows it the best. Even before his illness, he went through the highs and lows of life. For example, when he was out of the Indian Test team in 2010, many companies dropped him from their campaigns, which included the likes of Pepsi, Fiat and Seagram. But all that changed when he smashed India to cricket World Cup victory. The Man of the Tournament soon became the ‘Man of the Moment’ in the endorsement circuit and started commanding a 25-30 per cent premium.
PMG’s D’Souza also says that at the end of the day, performance is the king. “But knowing Yuvraj, he will want to prove himself and he will be back with a vengeance. Thus, there will be lot more interest from the advertisers.”