As determined cricketers fight it out on the ground for the 2015 ICC World Cup trophy, brand marketers find themselves in battle of their own. And what makes it no easy feat is that each one is trying hard to grab the TV viewer's attention during this high-decibel mega-event.
The basic premise is that the average Indian cricket viewer is not in the most attentive, or receptive, frame of mind while watching a riveting game. So if ads are an unwelcome interruption in general, where does that leave ads between nail-biting overs? Not in a very good place - unless, of course, the spot is crafted cleverly. But what does that mean, exactly?
We tried to zero in on the thumb rules that brands, and their creative partners, ought to keep in mind while crafting communication for 'cricket spots'. Presenting a popular view is Ganapathy Viswanathan, senior vice president, Eureka Mobile Advertising: "With World Cup ads, clutter levels are high. It helps if the ad captures the spirit of nationalism. The safest bet, though, is to use a celebrity."
If only it were that simple.
Let's start with the most counter-intuitive tip of all. While one would assume the best route is to somehow link the ad to cricket, some strongly counter-recommend this tack. "If your ad is going to run during cricket, ideally it shouldn't even be about cricket. If you're a big brand, sure, you can have a take on the game. Otherwise you just look like a me-too," says Anuja Chauhan, creative consultant, JWT.
Chauhan knows what she's talking about. Remember the Blue Billion (Pepsi, 2007) World Cup campaign? "It was totally linked to the performance of the team and it was a total washout - that was quite a nightmare. So that is a lesson we've all learnt. Ads like those can backfire very badly," she says.
And "Ra-Ra ads" of the 'Come on India, dikhado' kind make her nervous too. Consider Star Sports' ongoing 'We Won't Give It Back ' campaign. "If the team plays well then it works and your campaign becomes the talk of the town. But if the team doesn't perform, then it's sad. So you'd rather talk just about things like the joy of the sport, all the world coming together and the final spectacle," she shrugs.
For example, for the Lay's 'Yeh Game Hi Hai Taste Ka' campaign, his team identified the inconvenient match timings as the most trending thought around this time's World Cup. "Thus," Mathrani reasons, "Our ads show Lay's being used as a tasty bait to get out of college/office and watch the matches live."
When it comes to thumb rules, Malvika Mehra, national creative director, Grey, puts it quite bluntly: "Viewer threshold for rubbish is very low during cricket, so if you air an irritating ad during the game, you've had it. You need to remember that it is a tougher mountain to climb when you're making a cricket spot. As agencies and brands, we have to try harder than usual."
Speaking of duration, we've noticed all too often how ads get cut short midway when the next over begins. Even if the advertiser pays only for the on-air time, it's unpleasant when the film is slashed suddenly.
Duration aside, many marketing experts feel that cricket spots ought to be funny or at least low on emotional quotient. The logic is that since high voltage matches generate tension, the job of a cricket spot is, in part, to provide some much needed comic relief. A bit like the humorous, lighthearted MTS Baby commercial that was launched during the India-Pakistan game.
An ad that was both short and funny was Fevikwik's soldier commercial. Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer, Bang in the Middle, decodes, "It was a new set up, a new plot, and more importantly it showed Wagah Border right in middle of an India-Pak match. What else do you need? It has entertainment, crowd support, enmity, valour, patriotism, and an Indian victory. It just caught fire."
This World Cup, some brands have boldly aired their call-to-action commercials, something viewers are believed to have little appetite for during the game. One of the ads at the receiving end of much social media flak is Lloyd's commercial for its air-conditioner.
"Who's going to listen to that Titoji fellow (a character in the ad, alongside actor Shruti Haasan) and take note of an SMS that has to be sent to Lloyd about a KKG (Khushiyon Ki Guarantee) number during an important match?" fumes the creative head of an agency. But, that's where we catch her: She recalls all the details of the ad! From where Lloyd is standing, well, mission accomplished.
So perhaps, a cricket game is, in fact, the ideal platform to release otherwise bland campaigns. By virtue of sheer repetition and guaranteed eyeballs, there's no way the TG will miss the message. "That's a brutal way of looking at it, and I will not endorse that point of view," says Suthan, going on to admit, "But yes, anything hammered continuously can influence behaviour and improve recall. It's difficult to ignore what irritates you... sometimes the really bad ones stick."
Hari Krishnan, CEO, Lowe LDB Sri Lanka, says, "If you drill any nonsense at high frequency, it will be remembered in the short term but that does not make the communication memorable or the brand endearing."
Lending a more balanced view, Sukumar Menon, chairman and chief creative officer, Black Swan Life, opines, "I really don't think a cricket spot has to be tactical. That shouldn't be the starting point. If it happens naturally, great. I don't think communication should be crafted keeping such assumptions in mind. Some brands will find a natural fit with the human attributes of World Cup and if done right people will lap it up, like the Beats commercial for the Fifa World Cup, but if it's a forced fit, it can boomerang."
Singhal insists that his ad presents a long-term, brand philosophy. "The film is about our differential service in the market," he explains, going on to say, "What's Sony talking about? A Triluminos Display - that's feature-driven; it's not in the brand zone. Lloyd's communication, on the other hand, lends a brand perspective, not a sales perspective." His second World Cup spot attempts to get viewers to log onto the brand's website www.MyLloyd.com.
Speaking of call-to-action though, most experts agree that if it is relevant, it will work wonders. For instance, Lay's ongoing campaign that requires viewers to scratch their packet of chips and then send an SMS. Domino's, through its Cricfeast campaign, is incentivising ordering a pizza during the cricket season. The carrot is always the same - a chance to win goodies, the biggest one being tickets to the important matches.
While the creativity of the cricket spot is the focus for most marketers, for some, the media planning and buying comes under the spotlight during events like the World Cup. For instance, for team MTS, the media planning aspect of the Baby film was the most important one, behind the scenes.
"For large events like the World Cup, media planning is crucial, as the frequency of the ad plays a big role. Brands need to plan their edits accordingly," says the MTS spokesperson, adding, "For example, I need to have a master edit as well as many shorter edits ready. I need to ensure that the frequency with which these edits are played, helps the ad stay on top-of-mind. A lot of planning goes into deciding the frequency of each version." The Baby film has 50-, 30- and 10-second versions.
Is it right to dub the World Cup as the Super Bowl of Cricket? While one may argue that it's the annual IPL, and not the World Cup, that warrants being dubbed 'The SuperBowl of India', the problem facing marketers remains pretty much the same, either way - how can I make a big impact with my cricket spot?
In the US, brands and their agency partners try and put their most creative foot forward while making ads for Super Bowl spots. Sure, in India too there are many thematic, made-for-IPL spots - like Vodafone's ZooZoo ads, first launched during IPL Season 2 - but many of them continue to be functional and product-centric in nature. Consider the recent 'Dettol, Dettol...' World Cup jingle.
As JWT's Chauhan puts it, our cricket spots "are not necessarily the most creative advertising. But brands are, however, trying to put their most sticky advertising forward during the games."
Why do the two markets behave differently on this front? Grey's Mehra has a simple answer: "In India, people don't watch cricket for the ads. They watch it for cricket only. We (agencies and brands) haven't reached that kind of God status yet, where a layperson says - 'Arrey dekhtey hai kaunsa ad aayega'. But that's exactly how it is in the US when it comes to Super Bowl commercials."
True, but the difference runs deeper. The Americas are what experts call "saturated markets", especially across categories like F&B, telecom and FMCG. Brands, therefore, are more focused on addressing their existing loyalists in a manner that transcends the functional aspects of their products. But in India, the reverse is true. As the MTS spokesperson puts it, "Here, everyone is still fighting for market share. We're still in the race of getting consumers to come to our platforms and to try our products. That's why, as a short term strategy, functional advertising works."
Why not? "What is important in a high-growth, evolving, market like India is to grow one's brand. Things like brand franchise, brand awareness and brand usage come first," he answers, adding, "Yes, brands can make IPL or World Cup-specific communication if they have organised a promotion or an event or a special product/pack for that tournament. But that doesn't happen too often in an emerging market like India, because here brand specific-communication will always take precedence over event-specific communication."
Moreover, the Super Bowl is, strictly, an annual affair, whereas we have multiple high-interest cricket events through the year. "Therefore, from an ROI perspective, I would want my advertising to last over multiple campaigns over time," Sharma says.
Also, a single cricketing tournament takes place over many weeks but the Super Bowl is all about one big crescendo of a game. The World Cup is a phased tournament. A World Cup campaign, therefore, must have the potential to run over a period of time, so as to sustain consumer interest, which keeps fluctuating. As PepsiCo's Mathrani argues, "For Super Bowl, the focus is on one day - the Super Bowl Sunday. Thus, it boils down to that one huge creative and that's it. But in India, a brand needs constant ammunition through a cricket tournament; we have to focus on releasing different, customised creatives over time to keep engagement levels high."
Another implication here is that cricket spots ought to be crafted in a way that makes them suitable for repeat viewing, unlike a Super Bowl ad that is not hammered away at viewers as much. As Pidilite's Sharma puts it, "Since the ad is going to be aired frequently during the tournament, it is important for it to be entertaining and watchable multiple times over."
As the ICC World Cup 2015 enters its most exciting phase, here's hoping more and more brands are able to utilise the great Indian cricket pitch to their advantage.
A Note From the Editor
Ever noticed how the reaction of the ‘classic Indian cricket enthusiast’ - oh, it’s a type, alright! - to an ad at the end of an eventful over, depends, almost entirely, on whether the team he is supporting is playing well or not? The same ad can evoke a hearty laugh, tolerant silence or a barrage of expletives (mostly typed on a social media platform while being uttered out loud), depending on whether the viewer is cheering for the winning team.
Which is why, marketers are painfully aware of the fact that the success of a World Cup or IPL campaign is contingent upon a lot more than just the usual variables like the quality of the brief, the creative idea, the insight and the budget. It depends on arbitrary factors, all of which boil down to the mood of the viewer. Which, in turn, depends on the swing in Virat Kohli’s bat.
In such a scenario, what’s the best an agency can do? Creating a mood-proof spot would require magic. The next best thing, however, is trying to play safe by heeding a tip or two from those who’ve been there, done that - and then emerged victorious or learnt the hard way.
One of the most amusing tips of all was one given by an advertising executive quoted in the story - she said, “First of all, let’s not fool ourselves. In India, no fan of cricket waits to check out the ads we’ve made. So let’s be humble about it, follow a few simple rules and go home.” (One read and you’ll figure out who said it).
But on the other side of the globe, fans of American football actually look forward to sampling the ad films that play during the annual National Football League (NFL).
Can the Indian cricket spot become as popular as the great American Super Bowl spot? The aforementioned exec. seems to think so. It’s a matter of time, she surmises. And her clients feel the same.
In the meanwhile, no harm in doing things by the book, is there?