Brands, Sports & Sustainability

One of the interesting parallels of marketing products & driving sustainability messages is what we can do with mass platforms, like sports!

Given the strong following for cricket that we have in India, it’s surprising we haven’t used it to leverage more sustainability-driving messages like “upliftment of the vulnerable” or “what the heck are we doing about the air pollution” or even a simple “it takes all types to make an Indian”.

Almost 70% people in the world follow some kind of sport

Geert Hendriks, CEO Sports & Sustainability International (SandSI)

And that’s really strange, because sport-persons across the world are driving socially relevant messages, like most famously Colin Kaepernick.

One instance I do remember of sports driving messages beyond brands, is when cricketers wore their shirts and put their mothers’ names on it instead of their patronymic. But even that was still, at the end of the day, a corporate campaign and ran only for one day. Recently Virat Kohli also got his men to wear army caps, but that’s a rather contentious decision. Other than that, our sportspersons are sadly only giving out brand messages.

The then Indian Cricket Captain, MS Dhoni wearing his mother’s name on his tee instead of the usual surname. This campaign was a fantastic one from Star TV (now Walt Disney Co.) that wanted to relaunch one of their channels with the message of “nayi soch“/ “new thoughts” with more content related to women breaking barriers.
Image source: Cricket Malaysia

We need to start thinking about how we can leverage sports to truly make a difference.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to imagine and execute social campaigns where cricket, football, kabbadi and a host of other sports could make a real difference? Here are a few examples of how one sporting event, the Paralympics, made a difference!

authentic inclusiveness should be everywhere. You can be from anywhere and you should be able to do whatever you want

Liz Johnson, Paralympian Gold Winner & MD & co-founder of The Ability People

Paralympians got more employment opportunities after they were able to show potential recruiters that they were capable of successful participation in sports. It also created better infrastructure in cities for paraplegics. What if the sport you love could help create roads in villages, and get more kids to attend school?

Nyasha is a Tennis star from Zimbabwe who now trains young paraplegics in basketball and other sports. Image source:

Brands could do better integrations that are more authentic. They need to use sports to reach out to their consumers with a message that’s beyond a blatant product placement. And they definitely need to stop using sportspersons like props.

Brands and marketeers need to realise that when they sponsor a cause, it should be about how they can support the cause, not the other way around. One good example is Toyota- they plan to make 80% of their taxis in Japan disabled-friendly vehicles, just in time for Tokyo Paralympics 2020, and yes, they also sponsor the Paralympics.

Brands need to explore ways to sponsor sports without making sportspersons clotheshorses for their brands! Toyota has done some amazing campaigns with their association with the Paralympics. Source: Toyota on Youtube

My only message to brands is a variation on that old Kennedy quote: “think not what sports can do for you, but what you can do for sports