Successful vehicle-branding exercises that involved Indian sportspersons

In the world of sports, vehicles are always up for grabs. In cricket, a lap around the ground by the victorious team in a car won by one of their teammates is almost ritualistic. In 2017, after the 5-0 drubbing of Sri Lanka in the ODI series, the Indian team went for a spin in a Eicher Polaris Multix vehicle won by fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah. This is one of the snapshots of the series that remain etched in our collective memory. It was a branding exercise for a vehicle placed in a category that Indians are not too familiar with — a 3-in-1 personal utility vehicle combining the services of “a people carrier, a cargo carrier and a power generator”.

Maruti Suzuki has been promoting its compact SUV Vitara Brezza through the Indian Premier League. The highlight of the branding exercise is the Vitara Brezza Glam Shot of the Season, where the winner gets to drive away in a Vitara Brezza, besides collecting a hefty cash prize and a trophy.

Successful vehicle-branding exercises that involved Indian sportspersons

Branding exercises involving sports, especially cricket, which assumes a quasi-religious character in India, are never without their benefits. However, the amount of mileage a vehicle maker derives from a branding exercise depends on how uncontrollable variables are arrayed. Sometimes, all these variables get into perfect array, almost magically. In the 1984-85 Benson & Hedges World Championship, they did for the Audi Division of the Volkswagen Group. It had offered an Audi 100 as prize for the Champion of Champions, synonymous with the Man of the Series title. There were seven teams in the fray. There had been many good individual performances, and the title could have gone to any player. But that the keys of the Audi 100 fell into the hands of an Indian, and that too Ravi Shastri’s, was a stroke of luck for Audi.

Successful vehicle-branding exercises that involved Indian sportspersons

For that generation, cricket was the symbol of a new India. In the 1980s, the country was emerging into a cricketing superpower, especially in the shorter version of the game. The Benson & Hedges title had confirmed that the 1983 Prudential World Cup victory was not a flash in the pan. Parked in front of the television set, the entire nation watched Shastri drive his teammates around the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with a glint of pride — and some tears of joy. Thanks to this, the word Audi 100 was branded, almost with fire, into our beings. And another significant feature in this story is that Shastri has cherished the memory of that victory as well as the Audi 100, keeping it in fine trim, which translates into additional success for Audi in this branding exercise. According to a recent news report, only a few days old, Shastri still drives this car regularly — which is probably the most befitting tribute to the marque. Launched in 1968 and long gone out of production, Audi 100 is in its golden-jubilee year.

Successful vehicle-branding exercises that involved Indian sportspersons

The dramatis personae in another vehicle-branding exercise that clicked big-time are Kapil Dev and the BSA SLR. In the late-1970s, Kapil had burst on the scene, dismantling what was a regular feature of Indian cricket: A spinner opening the bowling attack along with Karsan Ghavri. Though not a tearing speedster, Kapil had all the destructive weapons expected in a genuine fast bowler’s arsenal. He had clearly brought some freshness to Indian cricket. In 1980, TI Cycles of India had introduced ‘fresh wheels’: the BSA SLR, sleeker than its older stable mates, and targeted at a younger crowd. It was promoted as ‘The Sporty Bike’ and the television commercial in which a stranded Kapil reaches the airport riding a borrowed BSA SLR just in time to catch a flight and reach a match venue, is now part of Indian advertising-and-branding lore. And, as in the case of the Audi 100 from 1985, a Volvo from 1973 found its way to the ‘right’ garage. At Bretton Woods in 1973, Vijay Amritraj beat Jimmy Connors in a fiercely-fought final of the Volvo International tennis tournament, and returned home with a Volvo car.

If Connors had won the tourney and the machine, it would have been just another win for an American tennis star.

Vijay’s win led the entire nation to rise in a roar of applause, and the spotlight was on both Vijay and the Volvo, for a long time.

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 3:05:14 AM |

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