Brand Lessons from Clay & Grass!

17 Jun,2021


By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyayThe French Open 2021 tennis championships just got over and the Euro 2020 football championships are currently on. Over the last three weeks, events have happened that bear implications for the world of brands and brand management.


To me, the French Open winners were Novak S. Djokovic [quite obviously] and Naomi Z Osaka. While both are huge brands by themselves, this piece is about the way brands associated with them have performed over the two weeks at Roland Garros, for the world to see.


“Novak ‘S.’ Djokovic?”, you would ask. Yes. The ‘S’ stands for ‘silent’. The man silently went about winning his 19th Gland Slam title, silencing a lot of his critics. If one followed him through this year’s tournament it was easy to observe his evolved behaviour on court and off it. Gone were the ebullient celebrations after each match, especially in the semis and the finals. There was an occasional roar, but that was it. He was smiling at his own mistakes. He was calm as a monk at the breaks. One expected that all the pent-up internal pressure would see an exit valve sometime, but no. And then he gave his racquet to a little supporter on the sidelines after winning, saying that was the best way to express gratitude to his “cute little coach”.


Djokovic sports two brands apart from apparel sponsor Lacoste. One is a technology firm called UKG. The other is Peugeot. His association with the French car brand has been for more than six years now but this year, the brand, in a new avatar, took a really bold step to create a piece of communication with their brand ambassador released for Roland Garros. Announcing the launch of the Peugeot 508 SW plug-in-hybrid, it is a terrific demonstration of when the sponsor’s and ambassador’s DNAs totally are in sync.



And the words at the end, captured here in the screengrab say it all. The commercial can be viewed at


Coming to Naomi Z. Osaka. Yes, the ‘Z’ stands for Gen-Z. It does take immense guts and candour to withdraw from a tournament of this stature because she could not agree with the rule of appearing at post-match press meets which made her uncomfortable. [Djokovic was one of the few who openly supported her stand.] Why not appear at a press meet when one gets more exposure, one would ask? But Osaka belongs to a generation that most of us managing brands are still coming to terms with. I went across and asked two of my friends for some insights to understand Gen-Z better. One, Subhash Chandra, a market research analyst shared lots of short clippings about the ‘post-millennials’ as they are also called. The other, Nirmal Dayani, shared the same sentiments of his Gen-Z son on this issue.


[Source – YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey, March-April 2020]


In the older times, the sponsors would have taken serious offence to such a sudden move by their brand ambassador, and one might have even decided to pull out of the contract due to an obvious breach of the same. Not in the case of Osaka. Nike, ANA, and Nissin all stayed steadfast behind her as if endorsing her decision. Also, that way they continue to connect with the Gen-Z whom Osaka represents, for their own business interests.


Cut to the Euro 2020 being played across the continent right now.


On June 12, during a game against Finland, Christian Eriksen of Denmark had a serious medical emergency. While his teammates shielded him while CPR was being given and the stadium was in stunned silence, the television cameras were showing close-ups of the attempts to revive him and of his shocked wife being comforted by teammates Schmeichel and Klaer. After some time the cameras pulled back and stayed there. There was huge backlash on the broadcasters for getting too close to the medical activity and sharing personal moments. The BBC formally apologised the very next day.



This is a clear indicator on the maturity with which brands need to handle totally unexpected situations. It is easy to get carried away and behave in a manner that may bring in immediate social media chatter but eventually lead to social media outrage. A clear pointer to the media brands across the world, more so in India, who tend to sensationalise events for personal gains, at the cost of social propriety!


A few days later, at their respective post-match press meets, Cristiano Ronaldo removed a couple of Coca-Cola bottles from the table while Paul Pogba removed a Heineken bottle. There were news items of how Coke lost $4.00 billion in the stock market due to that action. We are yet to know how much Heineken lost, but then Pogba is not as big a star as CR7 is!



This is again a strong message going out to brands to be empathetic to people’s sensitivities. While one may question the very logic of having a fizzy drink sponsoring an event about fitness, the onus lies on the brand[s] to show respect. CR7 is known to espouse the cause of health food so it would be downright silly to position those Coke bottles in front of him. Pogba is a Muslim so would never like to have an alcohol brand with him. The logos of the sponsors are anyway on the backdrops, so why this urge to do the overkill with product placement? In todays times, these do not have the desired positive impact. In fact, if they boomerang, then they garner more social media space!


Anyway, the Russians are leading the Finns by a goal while Turkey and Wales are warming up for their game which is a must-win for both. So, I better rush back to my place in front of the screen. Cheers!


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