Cricket analyst and former team director of IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders Joy Bhattacharya is assured about the salience of the IPL brand. In fact he says it will only gain in equity as an advertising avenue because for months, advertisers have had little else.
In other words, India’s biggest advertising property (even the most conservative estimates peg last year’s ad spends over Rs 2,000 crore) can only get hotter, thanks to the bumper TV ratings it has enjoyed till now and the vacuum created by almost no sporting action in the country for months together. But it will be played in cooler climes, a very different affair from the summer months that IPL is traditionally played in. Seasonality, will induce the first set of change, beli- eves Bhatta- charya.
“For some brands, this is a really strong blow. For example, a pouring partner like a Coke or a Pepsi is not going to get value because their sales are maximum in the summer. The other category that will be hit is air conditioner because it is during the summer months that their demand is really high,” he says.
Yet, he cautions them from breaking long-term contracts. “If you have a long-term contract like a three year or a five-year contract, next year you will be returning to the market. Usually, you don’t want to cancel such a relationship just for one blip year. So smart IPL teams will try and negotiate with brands and say ‘take a little less value this year and see if they can make good the next year’ and somehow keep those brands. Conversely, brands should also try and negotiate for discounts.”
Harish Bijoor, founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, has a somewhat different take. He says brands that don’t have deep pockets should completely stay away. Many brands need to decide not to participate in IPL at all because there is going to be a huge clutter now that there is one outlet to reach out to the consumer. “If you want to stand out you need money,” he explains, “so brands that don't have that kind of money should totally stay out of the IPL.”
Bijoor also feels that the Chinese smartphones brands, say the title sponsor Vivo, would find life difficult in the given scenario — the prevailing anti-China sentiments in the country. “That memory will be there for a while and Chinese brands that have already taken a hit will have to wait it out for memory erasure,” he says.
With Diwali round the corner, many consumers who were shying away from purchases may take the dive and this opens up a new realm of possibilities. “So for consumer durable companies there is a huge incentive to get in, more so for those in emerging categories like dishwashers and air fryers that have found traction due to work from home,” says TRA Research founder N Chandramouli. The same is true for food delivery companies. There might be even categories emerging that we cannot think of as of now, say women’s apparels, which might start betting big on cricket in the absence of any other sport.
Interestingly, he doesn’t see much scope for firms selling pharmaceuticals and/or immunity-building products, a category that has done well in recent months. “That is because the situation has already created the kind of awareness on health and immunity that these companies had been trying to do for so long,” says Chandramouli.
How will the content be different? Chandramouli lays down three rules that advertising agencies should keep in mind while coming up with content. “First, the piece of communication should trigger sales as IPL is a momentary thing where you do two things — you build a brand and you try to push sales. But because the current situation may continue far into the future, brands have already suffered, so they might not want to spend much any longer. Second, show functionality — this is what my product or service will do to improve your life. Three, whatever strategy you have followed during the ongoing Covid period might need fresh thinking and perspective.” Basically follow trends and respond accordingly.
Bijoor also agrees with the need to avoid repeating the kind of content we have seen in recent months. “Everybody now is hooked onto the word ‘immunity’... this has to be avoided during IPL. Second, the messaging has to be driven by empathy because people’s emotions are ruffled.”
Then comes the restrictions part. Despite the gradual easing of the lockdown restrictions, one has to agree that the situation might be challenging for the franchisees and broadcast partners vis-a-vis fan engagement, more so when the league is played abroad. While the franchises and big sponsors are keeping their cards close to their chests till a formal announcement is made, Bhattacharya lends some perspective on what the challenges might be.
“Activation will be difficult — that includes meet-and-greet kind of things, event shooting or ad shoots during the tournament. So technology has to step in like the European football leagues have done,” says Bhattacharya. Things like fan cut outs at empty stands, patching in fans through Zoom and beaming them live on giant screens at the stadiums and giving the fans a digital peek into more avenues of player training and team building exercises, even the dressing rooms, have been some of the things tried out during the ongoing English Premier League and other tournaments that have been hosted lately.
Anubhav Sharma, founder and CEO of ad-tech platform SyncMedia, says that in a much cluttered environment, the impact tends to underperform and that is why leveraging technology to identify the same audiences who watch IPL and reaching out to them through other TV programmes across genres or on their second screens could really bring about the optimisation brands seek.