The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Served: first brand girl
- Ad offers explode on new star, but Sania to be choosy

Mumbai, Jan. 23: She is the most sought-after face at the moment, but Sania Mirza is not going to be a walking billboard.

India's newest tennis sensation has been flooded with offers of ads ever since her dream run in Melbourne. But the 18-year-old, the first non-cricketing sportsperson for whom advertisers are queuing up, will be choosy.

'There were enquiries from at least 15 brands in the past three days,' says Anirban Das Blah, vice-president, Globo Media Solutions. Globosport, a part of Globo Media Solutions owned by tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi, promotes Sania.

The offers cut across a range of products ' from mobile phones to beverages to bhujiyas. 'There was also a leading construction and building company that was interested,' Blah says. 'We have narrowed down the choice to four categories: mobile operators, mobile handsets, an FMCG product of personal care and sports and leisurewear. There were at least two enquiries from leading companies from each of these four categories.'

Sania's managers say she will take on only one or two more in addition to the five brands she already endorses: the Hyderabad-based GVK Industries, her first sponsor, Atlas Cycles, Tata Tea, Sahara India, of which she is a brand ambassador, and Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh.

They say it is to keep Sania ' the first Indian woman to have reached the third round of a grand slam event ' rooted to what she really is, an athlete, not a face that is visible even while surfing channels.

The dig, perhaps, is aimed at the Indian cricketers, some of whom are the favourites of marketers. But it is only when the team stumbles that the barbs fly.

Blah says Sania will 'play for 20 to 22 weeks a year, spend 10 to 15 weeks on coaching and about five weeks for commercials'. That is about half the time a Bollywood star with the largest number of campaigns spends. Being focused on her game should also help her keep a steady head in a world where attention spans are famously small.

Sania's promoters say she has become a role model for the young, girls in particular, and more so because she is 'real', as opposed to being an actress. She is also confident, they say, has the drive to achieve and is articulate. On another level, she represents the 'new India', as a force that can stand on its own and face the world.

The ad world agrees.

'She is good-looking, young, athletic, gutsy and consistent,' says ad man Prahlad Kakar. 'She is on a roll. She is very hot for the advertisers. She is the first woman in Indian tennis to have reached there. Plus, she is sexier than Leander Paes ' and wears a nose-ring.'

Ad guru Alyque Padamsee foresees a Sania craze. 'Not since P.T. Usha has India had a female sports star of this calibre. Sania is young and hasn't yet achieved full potential. So I feel she is an advertiser's dream. She can become a superstar and an icon for youth in this country. Soon there will be Sania mania sweeping the land!'

Others talk of the human angle to every relationship. 'Sania has come up on her own. She's young, she's going to face challenges, face disappointment and she will overcome them up to her potential. That is the emotional chord that consumers will connect with,' says Tata Tea managing director Percy Siganporia.

Blah feels the response from advertisers has come a little late. 'We have been managing Sania for two-and-a-half years. Some of the brands that have approached us now are the same ones that had turned us away before.'

But her promoters hope that with Sania's commercial success, a path will be charted out for other non-cricketing sportspersons. 'In another two years, let's hope there will be more people like her enjoying commercial success,' says Blah.

That is why his outfit is trying to market other non-cricket sports 'personalities-in-the-making' like California-based tennis siblings Neha and Shikha Uberoi and snooker player Pankaj Advani.

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