Mirabai Chanu is the flavour of the month, and everyone wants a slice of the pie. None more so than Domino’s—the worldwide dealers of slices.
No sooner had the Olympic silver medalist expressed her desire to eat a pizza after months of staying away from junk food, Domino’s came up with a cheesy offering of its own—a lifetime of free pizzas for the weightlifter.
Domino’s tweeted: "@Mirabai_chanu Congratulations on bringing the medal home! You brought the dreams of a billion+ Indians to life and we couldn’t be happier to treat you to FREE Domino’s pizza for life . Congratulations again!!"
This opportunistic move from the food brand didn’t go unnoticed though, with many pointing to how it had piggy-backed on an athlete’s success without really offering her any dough.But those speculations were quickly laid to rest when Chanu herself acknowledged the offer and even thanked the brand for its gesture.
“Thank you @dominos_india for sending some great tasting pizzas & celebrating with us. My family and I appreciate the gesture from Domino’s Pizzas. I look forward to our friendship" pic.twitter.com/asjz8L7yoc
— Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (@mirabai_chanu) July 27, 2021
“Domino’s reached out to us. They wanted an endorsement from Mirabai’s side too. And it all happened in an organic way,” says Neerav Tomar, CEO and managing director, IOS sports, the sports management firm that looks after Chanu’s commercial interests.
Industry insiders say that the deal, pegged at Rs25-30 lakh, involves a couple of social media posts by Chanu, and isn’t a long-term association. That begs the question: for a company that makes yearly profits in the range of Rs200-300 crore has it short-changed an Olympic star?
“We are just happy to get some commercial benefit for our athlete. We could have also ended up with nothing. After all, we can’t dictate what brands post on social media, and how it benefits them,” explains Tomar.
Apart from the financial benefits, there are also intangible gains to have come out of this association. While Domino’s garnered a lot of PR for this marketing move, it also resulted in Chanu’s photo transitioning from sport pages to the lifestyle sections of newspapers and websites.
On the other hand, it also gave rise to the question of morality: how does a professional athlete endorse a fast-food brand—something not in line with his/her lifestyle—and in-turn encourage people to consume it?
On closer inspection, the moral argument shows more holes than Swiss cheese. Because a) not all brand ambassadors consume the products they endorse, and b) not all sports stars are privileged enough to have a line of sponsors chasing them— a la Cristiano Ronaldo and Virat Kohli— that they can turn down the ones they don't subscribe to.
“Tomorrow if we get a Pepsi or a Coca-Cola deal, we will grab it. We know how hard this market is and our Olympic stars deserve to be financially rewarded. So whether it is a cola brand, a fast food or any other FMCG, we will consider most options,” confirms Tomar.
Then, there’s also the once-in-four-years factor. Unlike other, more popular sports like cricket and football that are on your TV screen all through the year, Olympic athletes are quickly forgotten after their events. This lack of TV exposure is a major reason why brands don’t find value in joining the Olympic bandwagon.
MC Mary Kom is a great example. While her status as a boxing legend was never in doubt, it was really the Bollywood film based on her that made her a household name in India.
Is something similar on the cards for fellow Manipuri, Chanu?
“I’ve had a few casual queries from friends in the film industry, but nothing that’s concrete or worth talking about as yet,” says Tomar.If ever the Mirabai Chanu biopic does get made, the actor playing the weightlifter would have the unenviable task of mimicking her million-dollar smile. For the moment, she can begin by practicing saying ‘cheese’.