From social media campaigns to the Whistle Podu Express ferrying CSK fans, we speak to Chockalingam S aka Chocka of OPN Advertising, the brain behind the campaign.
For a nation that takes its cricket emotionally (no offence to Bollywood), blingy, and glam IPL videos, launched prior to every IPL season, fail to excite us anymore. But the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) franchise went an extra mile in 2018. Picture this - a special train - the Whistle Podu Express - ferrying over 2,000 hardcore CSK fans for a match in Pune. Sounds exciting? Yes, it was; that's precisely why we thought it deserves some space outside a fan's heart too.
As reported by The Hindu in 2018, India Cements transferred the IPL franchise rights of CSK to its wholly-owned subsidiary, Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd. in 2015.
A quick recap to the second season of IPL in 2009, the year Whistle Podu was born. Because of that year's elections, the tournament was shifted to South Africa.
Over to Chockalingam S aka Chocka, director/co-founder of Chennai-based OPN Advertising and the man behind the catchy Whistle Podu campaign. Chocka started off as a copywriter in Lintas, Chennai before moving on to JWT. He was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug soon after and has garnered almost 22 years in the ad industry.
According to the agency that had been handling the Super Kings account since its inception, Chocka had this to say, "The client told us not to do a campaign for the season since there were no matches to be played in Chennai. The sponsors were already on-board and there were no ticket sale requirements either. Coincidentally, a few of the players were assembling in Chennai prior to flying to South Africa. We took this time to brainstorm on what was easy to do and something we could build on in the days to come."
And this is where the idea of shooting a spontaneous video with the team, centring it around whistles, came to be.
"As true-blue Chennai-ites, we know that the first-day-first-show of any Rajini film is filled with whistles that drown out all the dialogue. That was the same electricity we witnessed in the stadium and what better way to engage with the city than by owning that auditory expression! Why simply ask Chennai to cheer for the Super Kings, when it would be better to show them 'how' to cheer for them as well, and Whistle Podu was the outcome," Chocka explains.
Coming back to the Whistle Podu Express, the team was coming back from a two-year ban and unfortunately, the age-old Cauvery issue was also making a comeback. Some politically motivated groups were protesting and wanted all CSK matches to be held out of Chennai in support of the farmers. As a result, only one game happened in Chennai and the rest were shifted to Pune.
Some of the heartbroken fans approached OPN asking if they could arrange match tickets. Hearing this, the CSK management came up with an interesting idea. The fans enjoyed an all-expense paid trip, without spending a penny of their own, on the famous - Whistle Podu Express.
Initially, OPN hadn't anticipated the scale to which the Whistle Podu video would grow to. They put the 2009 video up on the website and YouTube and registered some 50,000 views organically (this was in the pre-Kolaveri days).
"It was only at the very end of the tournament that the Whistle Podu video enjoyed air-time during the match itself," shares Chocka.
It was only in the third season that they got to shoot with MS Dhoni for the Whistle Podu video, but by then it had caught the public's attention already and there were more than 200 fan-made videos on YouTube on the Whistle Podu theme.
"We started showcasing these fan videos on the official CSK social-media channels as well. Initially, we were worried whether it would detract from the attention paid to the official video, but we realised that this 'official' attention to fan-made content inspired so many more to send in their work. The objective was met," Chocka elaborates. And just like that the OPN team made the much-quoted marketing jargon a reality - they converted brand loyalists into brand evangelists!
The OPN team is currently 20-people strong, "... with a large helping of millennials to offset the average age of the prematurely greying founders," quips the self-proclaimed Rajni-fanatic.
When asked about the challenges that cropped up in this 10-year-long journey, Chocka says that it was mostly in cracking campaigns that could become part of local culture.
This is a video rooted in local culture and captures the spirit of Tamil Nadu, but what adds to its charm is the people from the rest of India (and the world) occasionally (mis)pronouncing it. However, Chocka feels that they always, somehow, understood its spirit. This is also possibly the reason why #WhistlePodu trended on social media for the finals of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons of IPL (when CSK was not playing).
Albeit, CSK as a brand is not the first one to come up with such promotional hacks to create buzz.
It seems like the so-called 'ad biggies' are not lagging behind when it comes to the cric-biz.
• Lowe Lintas tried out a digital-first approach with #MIEmojis, in its last year's campaign for Mumbai Indians.
• JWT India won the creative duties for Sun Group's IPL team back in 2012. Along with creating communication for the Hyderabad franchise, the agency also developed the team's jersey.
• Cut to 2019, the conceptualisation and creation of Rajasthan Royals' #VIVOIPL2019 campaign video were done by Ogilvy.
But, what's a starry campaign without earning a generous dollop of trolling. How can the troll army be left behind when a major chunk of non-CSK fans hail from all across India?
In 2018, with the Super Kings coming back to the IPL after a two-year hiatus, expectations were sky-high for their return, not just of the team, but of the Whistle Podu anthem as well.
"With so many fan-made videos popping up on social media, our job, to make the new Whistle Podu even better, was made so much tougher to handle... it was not so much 'hate mail', but rather ' love mails' that gave us sleepless nights!!" And with that Chocka signs off.