Beware the Ides of Merch: Mumbai Indians’ new jersey carries the odour of marketing BS

I have to declare something here. I have spent my working life in marketing. That means two things.

Firstly, I’m an absolute sucker to be sold to. Add a bell and whistle or some extra sizzle to something, stick a tenner on the price and I’ll pay it. Secondly, even as I’m doing that, I have a highly tuned nose for marketing BS.

When a football team suddenly decide to wear their second choice away kit at home, I know that there will be loads of that kit burning a hole on club shop shelves. As a cricket DRS review drags on and on, I know that the time and suspense is largely for the benefit of the sponsor, not the fan. At least I’ve now discovered that Cycle Pure Agarbathies are purveyors of the finest incense sticks and not as I originally thought, bicycle lubricants.

The off-colour odour of marketing BS wafted under my nose this morning when I read about the launch of the new Mumbai Indians’ jersey, that “captures the essence of five natural elements, five IPL titles”.

I could have been in the marketing brainstorm meeting myself when they ran ideas up the flagpole to see what got saluted. Ok, so we’ve won five times. What else comes in fives? Fingers? – no, people will get picky about thumbs. The Great Lakes – lovely bit of scenery, but not in India. The Marx Brothers? – Who? We’re a capitalistic cricket franchise, not communists. The Elements? – Brilliant let’s go with that.

The elusive Holy Grail for marketers is a USP. Unique Selling Proposition. If one doesn’t exist, you make one up and then keep repeating until people believe it.

A “perceived” benefit in the words of marketing’s hidden persuaders. Think “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” or “Persil washes whiter”.

The failed marketing graduates responsible for the ECB’s Hundred tournament certainly got the idea as they dreamt up laughable nonsense for teams that didn’t exist and have yet to play a match.

Choice amongst these were “Powered by Positivity”, “Endlessly curious, with an insatiable appetite for adventure” and my personal favourite, “Raising the bar higher forever”. Presumably an aspiration not favourable amongst short, thirsty cricket fans.

So, what of the new Mumbai jersey? It’s apparently the vision of renowned fashion designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil, and captures “the composition of the five basic elements of the universe – earth, water, fire, air, and sky”.

It also signifies the essence of the five-time champion. These elements hold an astronomical essence as the building blocks of the human body, “each signifying the power of the universe”. Wow. That’s a few rupees on the price right there. A Mumbai spokesperson (whoever answered the phone), reflected how Mumbai Indians has been built over the years resonating stability, cohesion, confidence, compassion, and exploration as signified on the jersey by the earth, water, fire, air, and sky respectively.

They added: “Mumbai Indians has carried forward a legacy every year, built on our core values and ideologies. Our five IPL titles are testament to our commitment to these values and it is extremely fulfilling that we have been able to signify it through our jersey this year.

“There is a lot of thought which goes into designing our jerseys every year because we understand that it is worn by our players and fans with a sense of pride and honour. This season we decided to wear the elements of our DNA on our jersey, which has enabled us to become the most successful sports club in the country. We shall wear the pride of our Paltan whenever we step out in this jersey.”

Oddly, the spokesperson neglected to mention that the jersey has Samsung plastered across the front of it. The more time Mumbai’s stars spend in the gym, the broader their chests and the larger the sponsor’s logo!

Merchandising has actually been an unexplored area for IPL franchises with less than one per cent of revenue coming from this. Teams across major sports leagues such as New York Yankees (MLB), Green Bay Packers (NFL), Manchester United (EPL), Boston Bruins (NHL) etc. sell a wide range of own- branded products from doormats to car windshields via their online stores with worldwide shipping and a few experience-centres/ showrooms.

Among IPL franchises, Chennai Super Kings has its line of merchandise (men & women’s wear, watches, kids’ toys, collectables, school kit, board games, mobile cases etc.)

Manchester United entered into a £750m merchandising deal with Adidas for 10 years in 2014, where Manchester United gets £75m ($128m) a season. This is a three-fold jump from its previous deal with Nike. Liverpool FC has collaborated with CRC Sports to open three retail stores in Thailand to sell cobranded products.

Merchandise is big business and Mumbai are right to be jumping on the gravy train. By all means buy a shirt and wear it with pride, just don’t believe the marketing speak that sells it. Better still, invest your money more wisely in Guerilla Cricket Merchandise and support the independent voice of global cricket listening.