The curious case of Novak Djokovic, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity
By Sandeep Das
In the world of tennis, Novak Djokovic will go down in history as the undisputed greatest player of all time (GOAT). He will have the record for most Grand Slams (currently tied with Federer and Nadal at 20), maximum number of weeks as # 1 (already 35 weeks ahead of Federer), at least 2 wins in each type of Grand Slam and a better head to head against Federer and Nadal.
Despite his astounding achievements, he doesn’t seem to receive the same level of adulation as Federer or Nadal. His peers, journalists and tournament organizers seem annoyed by his success and always seek to corner him.
For example, if Federer had accidentally hit a linesman at the 2020 US Open, would he have been disqualified? Maybe not because of the goodwill he enjoys.
This article examines from a marketer’s perspective what is wrong with the Novak Djokovic brand and how he can fix it.
Novak Djokovic has all the makings to be a world-beloved sports superstar
What does it take to be a globally loved sports superstar? The following three conditions, in my opinion, go a long way towards achieving this status.
The first condition is a modest childhood with difficulties overcome by MS Dhoni or Christiano Ronaldo. Novak ticks the box as he grew up in Siberia with massive political unrest. Even though he wasn’t poor, he always said he had to worry about his next meal.
The second condition is to come back from the dead when the whole world has forsaken you. Dhoni’s final antics against all odds and his IPL victory at the age of 40 only love him to his fans. Michael Jordan’s incredible ability to shoot 3 points in the dying seconds of matches has made him a global icon. Another big tick is Djokovic’s ability to win big games when he’s lagging behind (e.g. the 2011 US Open semi-finals at Federer and the 2019 Wimbledon finals at Federer again).
The next, and possibly the most important, requirement is consistent performance throughout your reign as a world champion. Certainly, Djokovic has shown this over the past decade. This is the reason Nick Kyrgios is entertaining but can never receive worldwide adulation.
So if he has all the makings to be loved and worshiped around the world, why doesn’t that happen as much as Federer or Nadal?
From a brand objective, it is the lack of authenticity that is costing Novak dearly. He’s trying to be Batman when he’s actually Joker, which is ironically the name some tennis experts give him.
The main reason fans are asked why they don’t like Novak Djokovic is because he looks “wrong”. It’s a very interesting word given to a tennis superstar. The reason Novak seems to be wrong is because he’s always trying to win and appease an audience. His act of throwing kisses to the public after winning a match did not appeal to the world public at all. His brutal style of play with broken rackets, screaming in Serbian, using stoppage to his advantage in matches rarely overlaps with the image of a nice boy he tries to portray at the end of the match.
In consumer marketing research, Gen Z and Millennials have often spoken about the brand’s authenticity and importance. Consumers will disproportionately value a brand if it can talk and walk.
In essence, the problem with Novak is that he’s trying to be a nice guy like Roger Federer when he’s actually someone else. He’s trying to be Lionel Messi when he’s actually Christiano Ronaldo. He’s trying to be MS Dhoni when he’s actually Ricky Ponting.
Novak has to embrace his real personality and appear “genuine”.
Novak needs to stop trying to be nice and appease a billion tennis fans around the world. He needs to carefully accept that he’s the greatest of all time and needs to let his media and social media interviews reflect that outward personality. He should be looking to make media headlines not only with his title wins, but also with his self-proclaimed greatness and quotes on his own amazing game. The role model he should ideally follow is football superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Moreover, the vile act of throwing kisses to the public must end. At once!
In conclusion, Novak should embrace his true authentic personality to the outside world. As Novak continues his 10th Australian Open in early 2022, he is expected to sound the bugle of domination by saying the following at the start of the Australian Open,
“I am the greatest of all time. The Australian Open is my backyard. Everyone should be ready to have a life time boost. “
And he should watch his fan base, TRPs, and favorable social media traffic soar.
(The writer is the author of “Hacks for Life and Career: A Millennial’s Guide to Making it Big.” Opinions are personal.)