22/08/2016 8:13 PM IST | Updated 22/08/2016 9:14 PM IST

Sindhu And Sakshi Eschew Fast Food, But Pizza Brands Attempt Guerrilla Marketing Nonetheless

Wrong message.

Marcelo del Pozo / Reuters
P.V. Sindhu (IND) of India plays against Wang Yihan (CHN) of China at the Rio Olympics.

All the Sindhus and Sakshis of India, come and enjoy a Pizza. Free, Free, Free.

The Pizza Hut chain said it was a "small token of appreciation for Indian Olympians who won medals at Rio". As a marketing strategy, Pizza Hut's initiative was innovative and designed to get the namesakes to the nearest store. It had announced that on Friday and Saturday, anyone with Sindhu as her name, could walk into any Pizza Hut store, produce valid photo identity proof and the pizza will be on the management.

The message went like this: "Congrats #PVSindhu! What a stellar performance yesterday. Here is a small token of love we want to present to all the #Sindhus out there. Ladies, if your name has #Sindhu in it, just walk into any Pizza Hut today, take a selfie to wish #Sindhu #AllTheBest and post it on our Facebook & Twitter page. Treat yourself with a Small Pan Pizza, absolutely free!"

Till the time of writing this story, Pizza Hut was still collating numbers from all its outlets in India. The manager at the outlet in upscale Banjara Hills in Hyderabad said 11 Sindhus walked into his store to avail of the offer. A similar offer for those with the name 'Sakshi' had been made after the wrestler won the bronze medal.

The irony of it is that even if all the Sindhus in India walked in to grab a pizza, the original Sindhu--badminton player Pusarla Venkata Sindhu--won't. Or let us say, even if Sindhu would want to, her coach Pullela Gopichand would not approve of her consuming junk food. He did allow her a meal at McDonalds in Rio after the finals but knowing Gopi, that is more a rare exception than the rule.

I wonder why didn't outlets dishing out more healthy eating options, like idlis, think of a similar marketing gimmick.

Like any teenager, Sindhu too is fond of going out to restaurants but for the last one year, with a weight trainer appointed specifically to keep a watch on the shuttlers bound for Rio, what Sindhu ate was decided by Gopichand. So close was the scrutiny of her diet that if he saw anything on her plate that he did not approve of, he would remove it. High cholesterol Hyderabadi biryani, sweet Mysore pak and chocolates, three delicacies that Sindhu is very fond of, were strictly No-no. On a couple of occasions in the last year, Gopi did allow her a plate of biryani on condition that she would have to run 10 rounds of the badminton academy as price for fulfilling her gastronomic desire.

Pusarla Sindhu, right, who won the silver medal in the women's singles badminton at the just concluded Rio Olympics, with her coach, Pullela Gopichand, in Hyderabad, on 22 August, 2016.

Gopichand himself is extremely strict about his diet but even that underwent rigorous monitoring in the run-up to Rio. The coach also cut down on carbs, so that he was fit to spar with Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth during the early morning sessions.

Over a decade and a half ago, Gopichand incidentally had turned down a lucrative offer to endorse a brand of soft drink, arguing that aerated drinks were harmful and he did not wish any child to consume the product, influenced by him. This when all top cricketers of the time were happy to make big money by promoting colas.

Which is why Pizza Hut trying to ride on the success of a Sindhu and a Sakshi to sell junk food is not a healthy sign at all. By tempting the Sindhus and the Sakshis of the country to avail of the free offer, the pizza outlet is undercutting the larger messaging of physical literacy and fitness, that the two sportspersons bring to the table. From a marketing point of view, Pizza Hut has managed to make a subtle connect in the subconscious mind of the consumer between the two medalists and the outlet's pizzas. Almost as if they endorse pizzas as THE snack to consume. This borders on irresponsible, given that obesity is such a huge problem among the really young lot of Indians.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 had reported that healthy people who ate junk food for just five days performed poorly on cognitive tests that measured attention, speed and mood, besides leading to a deterioration in memory.

A Big BP survey done on 23 September 2015 on 1.80 lakh people throughout India in the same eight-hour period on prevalence of hypertension in the age group of 18 to 80, found out that 40% of those with high blood pressure were under the age of 40 years. One third of the sample size was not even aware that they suffered from hypertension.

This borders on irresponsible, given that obesity is such a huge problem among the really young lot of Indians.

Hyderabad-based cardiologist Dr J Sivakumar who was part of the survey team said, "18,900 people of those surveyed were from Hyderabad, the city Sindhu hails from. While the national average for those suffering from hypertension was 26%, Hyderabad recorded 33%. That is worrying. One of the causes for that is obesity and physical inactivity and these are also the people who consume junk food regularly."

But then, perhaps, these marketing gimmicks are necessary for pizza outlets to survive as well. In July this year, the Kerala government imposed a 14.5% 'fat tax' on junk food like pizzas, burgers and sandwiches, in sync with World Health Organisation's emphasis on using fiscal laws to promote healthy eating. That has affected the bottom line of the outlets as it has given parents reason to dissuade their children from consuming junk food.

It would perhaps be apt to publicise the diet that a PV Sindhu consumes so that children who are inspired by her achievement, also are aware that a healthy diet alone can help develop a healthy mind and a healthy body.

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