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“The IPL This Season Has Become Our Version of Escapist Entertainment”

London, UK
As cricket fans turn to the Indian Premier League, known as the ‘Super Bowl for India’, creatives explain what brands and marketers can do to keep consumers on side during a very unusual cricket season, writes LBB’s Natasha Patel
“IPL for India is a time for fun, friends, family and joy,” declares Mullen Lintas’ national planning director Ekta Relan. Though this year has been overshadowed by the spiralling pandemic in India, the major cricket competition is still attracting a lot of brand. The sporting event which started in April and will be running until the end of May is a key period for marketers, brands and creatives due to the global audience it reaches.

In fact, with more and more people staying cautious and keeping indoors, the games have the potential to provide the perfect escapism for millions more. Httpool India’s partner director Pankaj Jain explains how the pandemic accelerating ‘the virtual world’ has caused a shift in marketing. “We have seen conversations moved increasingly online, with consumers spending the money they would in stores now on online stores. Subsequently, advertisers also moved online. The new reality for brands is the digital one.” 

VMLY&R’s CEO Anil Nair echoes this and believes that a digital-first approach to brand building ensures “a more tropicalised view of their media investments.” He explains: “Brands have no choice but to continue with their brand building efforts. It’s the ‘how and where’ which is in question. Certain challenger brands have also leveraged this lean period to actually amp up their brand building strategies. If one considers investment in brand building non-negotiable, then one can mine the current ecosystem for brand building opportunities, new media vehicles and pivot spaces to actually steal a march over competition.”

It’s not just about big brand TVCs – mobile penetration in India is vast, with over 500m. In 2020, the country crossed the half-billion mark, with over 500m smartphone users, and industry analysts believe that Covid-19 has pushed that number even higher

In terms of creative, despite the spiking Covid-19 cases, brands have opted for upbeat and even comedic messaging. A year of fluctuating lockdowns and bad news means that that people are looking for an escape. BBDO India’s CEO Suraja Kishore finds that “Covid-19 has rearranged people’s relationship with consumption” and that what’s essential and what isn’t has been shuffled. “Covid has a very active hand in shaping a new consciousness in marketing and advertising. This IPL therefore, we will witness brands putting up an optimistic, we-will-overcome-anything tone to whatever messaging that they intend to deliver. In times like these, there will be rise of execution that’s humorous and brings a smile to our face. Narratives that make us feel warm, hopeful and comforted is the way to go.”

With Covid-19 affecting consumer confidence too, Pankaj believes that anything that there’s a growing demand for online services, e-commerce and experiences that don’t require physical touch. He adds: “Theatres, physical events are replaced by a massive surge on OTT platforms. A consumer cannot stay away from buying and consuming content; the medium of execution may change. It is even more important for an advertiser to proactively look at moving averages (data) and plan strategies based on changing trends and not current ones. Artificial Intelligence needs to be adopted in decision-making by marketers.”

This ‘out of the box’ thinking, is something that VMLY&R’s Anil believes is important for a country that views cricket as a ‘religion’ and brands should use this time to lock in partnerships. He explains how marketers should focus on the young, ‘go-getting’ teams and players who ‘can prove to be great brand building partners for Indian brands.’ He explains: “Considering that we have IPL and then the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup on the calendar, it will be huge and definitely a worthy investment. Brands that wish to exploit this need to move in early, be decisive about their investments, both in terms of sponsorships as well as media.”

Most cricket games last for a large chunk of the day and with an average of a game a day during the season, Ekta urges brands to use platforms wisely. “A game is for three hours, but the conversation can go on for the rest of the day. So, the brands that can spark and fuel a conversation that goes on beyond those hours of the game, are the real strikers of the tournament. You see many brands now approaching IPL with this thinking in a planned manner. The aim is not to just create an ad to sell a product. Here the goal is creating content that triggers a chatter, that creates curiosity and possibly even arguments.” She believes that during the IPL quirky, contextual ads are the most effective as they have the power to go viral, become members and take of WhatsApp chats.  She adds that as a platform, the IPL gives ‘immense opportunity’ to create conversations around brands.

What’s in those ads is yet to be seen, previous years have been big on using Bollywood celebrities, sports stars and endorsements driving the conversations. While right now the focus is on vaccinations, data and a growing number of cases, Ekta believes ‘the only shot they [viewers] want to discuss are the boundaries and the wickets, their favourite players and the teams, the hits and misses, crack some mindless jokes and simply have that much needed good time.’ She explains that some brands who understand this are choosing messages of entertainment, joy and hope ‘with that same mindless, carefree spirit of IPL even in their advertising content.’ Plus these are the ones that gain the most traction from their audiences.  

But one thing is clear for BBH’s ECD Vasudha Misra, “today, you will be hard pressed to find a single ad featuring masked people.” She explains: “It’s because people, and we advertisers are as guilty in this, took the falling numbers last year and a sign that Covid was going to end. And we have all gone ahead with doing communication that is almost post-Covid. It will be interesting, as more places go into lockdown, to see whether advertisers hit the reverse gear on the work, and try bringing a Covid context back to what they put out.”

She adds: “The IPL this season has become our version of escapist entertainment. It almost seems a world apart where all the chaos and the destruction that this virus is wreaking upon the real world, hasn’t affected it. And maybe advertising too will be a part of this non-affected world.”

Despite the ever-changing circumstances in India, Vasudha is certain that the IPL presents an unmissable opportunity: “What this IPL will most definitely have is a captive audience. Captive, in more ways than one.”

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