Brand Kohli

THERE is a touching story about Virat Kohli, team India's newest cricketing superstar and youth icon.

The year was 2006 and the youngster was batting on a chilly winter's day - with his team, Delhi, staring at a follow-on against Karnataka.

Kohli being the last recognised batsman was batting on 40 when the umpires called stumps.

In the wee hours of the following morning, his father Prem Kohli, the player's biggest supporter, died.

After completing the final rites, Kohli went straight back to the Feroz Shah Kotla ground to continue his innings.

His surprised teammates urged him to give the game a miss given the tragic circumstances but the youngster insisted on batting and took his team to safety with a well- compiled 90.

Big role of a lynchpin

Cut to 2016, a jaded Indian team took on all-comers in the ICC T20 World Cup. With the top order dithering in practically every match, Kohli played the big role of a lynchpin with well-paced innings in all the matches.

Small wonder that stadiums across India now reverberate to sounds of "Kohli-Kohli" where once there was "Sachin-Sachin".

After Sachin Tendulkar's exit, Indian fans have quickly found their new icon and the multitude of brands that are desperate to engage Indian consumers have found their messiah in Virat Kohli, 27.

Earlier this year, the gutsy lad who grew up in a middle-class family in west Delhi became the latest member of the Rs100-crore endorsement club; the third cricketer after Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

An exclusive club dominated by film stars, Kohli endorses 13 top-notch brands ranging from fast moving consumer goods, sports apparel and cars.

Coming into his own

He signed a three-year, Rs30-crore deal with sports brand Adidas in 2015 and an Rs6.5-crore contract with tyre-makers MRF, the brand his idol Tendulkar and Brian Lara used to sport on their bats. He recently signed a deal with German luxury car-maker Audi which is reportedly worth Rs5 crores over an 18-month period.

Having been part of the Indian limited overs side since 2008, Kohli, the brand, came into its own when he scored a brilliant 116 runs against Australia in a Test match played at the Adelaide Oval in a losing cause.

He managed to channel his aggression, which was seen in the Indian Premier League from 2008, in the longest and toughest format of the game, making people stand up and take notice.

For Kohli the period from 2008 to 2013 was important from a cricketing perspective as he shared the dressing room with his idol, Tendulkar.

It was during the 1995-96 season that Mark Mascarenhas, a Connecticut-based businessman, signed young Tendulkar for a five-year Rs25-crore contract that changed the entire equation of brand endorsement for Indian sportsmen.

As Tendulkar the batsman grew from strength to strength so did his contracts.

Following his idol, Kohli today has taken over the mantle from the Master on and off the field.

His approach while donning the India cap is as aggressive as his idol's was. Off the field, his interactions with his sponsors are also a leaf taken from the Master's book of professionalism.

Engaging with the fans is an important element for marketers who are looking for ways to have conversations with their consumers.

"Virat has learnt good things from Tendulkar whom he idolises.

His conduct with sponsors and stakeholders is impeccable," says veteran journalist and communicator Ganesan Rajaraman who has watched Kohli grow since he made his first-class debut.

"He knows how to get fans on his side.

On various tours, I have seen him go out of his way and engage with his fans, allowing them to take selfies and obliging them with handshakes and autographs," adds Rajaraman.

President of Rediffusion-Y&R Dhunji S. Wadia says: "Virat's raw talent and consistency has already resulted in comparisons with the 'God' of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar.

Add to it his feisty temperament, never-say-die attitude and roguish good looks and we have a heady concoction that is irresistible to brands and brand marketers."

Mr Wadia, who heads the well-known advertising agency, believes that Kohli makes Indian youths believe in their own power and potential and he reflects their thirst and ambition.

"Virat is likeable and the Indian middle-class identifies with him like they did with Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan.

They want Virat to do things they want to do but cannot," adds former Indian Test spinner and a pioneer of sports education in India Nilesh Kulkarni, who stresses that captaincy has transformed Kohli from an aggressive brat to an aggressive but refined individual.

Cricket apart, Kohli's association with Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma kept him in the spotlight with the couple hogging space in the non-cricketing media.

His recent tweet, after Anushka was trolled on social media channels, supporting his former partner showed a lot of character and revealed the positive, "human" side of the cricketer.

"His message to those trolling Anushka has shown that Virat is willing to take a stand, speaks from the heart and is categorical about what he believes in," adds Rajaraman.

Direct connection with fans

Strategic communications consultancy founding partner Pitchfork Partners' Jaideep Shergill, a veteran reputation manager, identifies Kohli as one who has a distinct character.

"Virat has a direct connection with young Indians, someone they look up to. More importantly for any brand, longevity is the key and Virat has shown that he is going to be around for a long time."

The teenager who won over the hearts of his Delhi teammates in 2006 has quickly connected with his fans, thanks to his unique personality that defines aggression, a strong character and performance.

So what does Brand Kohli need to do in the future?

Kohli typifies a metrosexual who appeals to both sexes with his tattoos and gelled hair, says Mr Sandeep Goyal, chairman of Mogae Media, an integrated marketing and communications company.

Charismatic person

"He is a charismatic person and is going through a golden period right now.

He needs to ensure, going forward, that he is selective about the brands he endorses and concentrates on brands that are synonymous with performance and not sign up with multiple brands that do not sync with his personality.

He has the Indian youth with him who relate to his charisma," adds Mr Goyal.

Performance is the key for Kohli the cricketer and the brand personality.

His commitment to the game and his fans is a given considering the time he spends on his tough regime with discipline. Marketers need a lambi race ka ghoda (the one for the long haul) and Virat Kohli fits the bill - perfectly!

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