Many brands, alternatives to the start-ups, have either repeated old spots or doled out dull work for an event considered advertiser gold.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is undoubtedly one of, if not, the most precious media property for an advertiser.
On the first read, this may sound like hyperbole, but let us break it down.
According to Disney Star, the television broadcaster of the T20 event, it clocked 870 crore minutes of consumption for the opening match between defending champions Gujarat Titans and four-time trophy holders Chennai Super Kings; a 47% growth compared to 2022. A total of 14 crore viewers tuned in for the first day’s broadcast, which included the opening ceremony, it claimed.
Viacom18’s JioCinema, the IPL’s digital streamer, on the other hand, claimed over 147 crore views for the opening weekend of the T20 league, which it says is more views than what the entire tournament enjoyed last year on digital. In addition, JioCinema registered over 2.5 crore downloads, a record for the most installed app in a single day.
As gargantuan and dizzying these numbers read, the ads between the overs of an IPL match in the first three days of the tournament — like the Super Bowl, many wait to see the ads like an event in itself — disappointed.
Not because they were inexplicable or offensive, it is because most of them were repeats of what viewers had watched or streamed in the past. Second, they, unlike the IPL ads of yore, were, for the lack of a better word, thanda.
Go back to 2020 and recall how the Download Cred campaign helped the app reach where it is today or how Swiggy Uncle’s love of ordering tasty and often unhealthy food home over the years turned Swiggy into a household name and verb.
Rewind to 2009 and remember Vi’s (then Vodafone) ZooZoos debut; it is now a legacy campaign.
On the other hand, IPL this year is playing a two-month-old Asian Paints ad starring actor Ranbir Kapoor in a double role. Add a month old Charged by Thums Up spot to the list. At least these works are from 2023.
The Vimal Elaichi ad — starring Messrs Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, and Shah Rukh Khan — which plays between the ad breaks on TV is from 2022. And the notorious Kamla Pasand ad featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Ranveer Singh which pops up after each over on television is from 2021.
“You can repeat an ad if it has rewatchable value if it is engaging and memorable,” says Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer, Wieden + Kennedy India. He believes that an uninteresting ad won’t cut it with the viewer just because it has big media money pushing it.
This case of repeats is not restricted only to television. Many ads on JioCinema are no different.
A Sting energy drink ad starring Akshay Kumar is from February 2023. There is an Ajio ad from 2021 and so is the Hrithik Roshan in a DB Siggnature ad.
“You are pouring 100 bucks on media, and spending 5 bucks to produce that film… When your quality is bad, you need to pour in a lot of media money to keep hammering it in the viewer’s head. If you have a quality narrative, you can win the race with half the media money,” Padhi states.
An all-pervasive dullness?
Mukund Olety, chief creative officer, VMLY&R, less than 10 days ago dubbed the IPL the ‘Super Bowl of India’ in an afaqs! piece. “… It’s naturally one of the biggest properties and opportunities for marketers,” he said.
And yet, the ads which brands doled out since the tournament’s start on March 31, 2023 feature the same old call to action (CTA), a celebrity’s face splashed on the screen hoping to get clicks or 10-seconds of nothingness; the ads till now have played on the edges of lacklustre barring a Dream11 spot from Tilt Brand Solutions which many have praised for its storytelling including Santosh Padhi.
“While just a few of them recycled or re-edited their old ads for IPL due to cost-cutting or budget constraints, I have seen most brands come up with fresh IPL campaigns,” says Manesh Swamy, chief creative officer and senior vice president, LS Digital.
He too calls the event India’s Super Bowl and says most brands keep their IPL budget aligned well in advance.
The Wieden + Kennedy India’s chief creative, on the contrary, blames this eclipse on the brands’ last-minute decision to do something on and/or around the IPL. “The ones who really want to do it choose to do so six to eight months before the event. You cannot decide a month before the event,” he bemoans.
Another reason Padhi places for the ads' nature is getting the celebrities' dates at the last moment. “Your script approved or not, interesting story or not, you have to shoot,” he explains.
He, lastly, says “most clients feel they know everything and interfere a lot in the creative process, and it is quite evident. Or else why are creative people and agencies capable of doing amazing work doling out such shoddy work?”
The television or streaming conundrum
One of the major reasons for the IPL ads’ state of affairs this season lies in the media platform where they’re and will be run. Advertisers wondered whether they should run their ads on Disney Star’s television channel Star Sports or video streamer JioCinema and please note, neither comes cheap and hence the hesitancy in shelling out big bucks on new ads.
Some of these repeat ads, as per dentsu Creative's chief executive officer Amit Wadhwa, “would have worked brilliantly for the brands in the past” and considering how expensive IPL is, they’d want to be absolutely sure. “Second, these ads haven’t run their due course. There must be juice in them… data might be telling this to brands,” he feels.
Rediff in January 2023 said Disney Star had pegged its ad rates between Rs 16-18 lakh for 10 seconds, 15-20% higher than 2022, and Viacom18 would charge a cost per thousand impressions or cost per mille (CPM) of around Rs 180-200 for digital ads, which is lower than the Rs 220-250 CPM charged by Disney+ Hotstar in 2022.
JioCinema roped in 21 sponsors for this year’s IPL while Star Sports has 13 to its name. And going by the viewership numbers from the first three days, digital may have moved a bit ahead in the race.
“People these days are technically living on their phones, and hence the shift from TV to digital is evident,” feels Manesh Swamy.
He points to the tournament’s young TG which led to “digital becoming the first preference for most of the advertising brands” and that digital also “gives marketers the flexibility of targeting the way they want and measuring their reach.”
Viacom18 paid the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), India’s cricket governing body, Rs 23,758 crore for 410 matches from 2023 to 2027. Disney Star shelled out Rs 23,575 crore for television broadcast rights.
This greater emphasis on digital, says Ashish Bhasin, has been building up over the past half-decade and is not unique to the IPL. He is co-founder and chairman, RD&X Network.
“Post-COVID, the trend is gaining more momentum, particularly in tier three or four towns and rural areas where digital penetration is increasing. This trend is reflected in the increasing value of digital rights every year,” he adds.
He, however, does not underestimate the impact of television. “This year, it's evident that digital and television complement each other well and this trend will continue for a few years.”
The April report of the India Consumer Sentiment Index (CSI) from Axis My India, a consumer data intelligence company, says 57% prefer watching IPL on TV, and 30% on mobile.
Bhasin believes TV remains a powerful medium in India and “India will be a unique market where it's not TV or digital, but both TV and digital that will coexist.”
Another interesting aspect of digital streaming is the call-to-action (CTA) button visible at the bottom-left side of the screen. Click on it and you are led to an app download page or the brand’s website.
Innovative? Maybe. But, for LS Digital’s Swamy, they are a big no and brands, from an experience point of view, can use other ways.
Who replaces the start-ups?
The IPL is not only a cricket tournament which cricketers use to nab a place in their national sides or make good money, it is also the tournament where start-ups have built themselves from scratch.
Be it Unacademy or Byju’s or Cred or Swiggy or Licious or Tata 1MG, the eyeballs they received helped propel their reach to the boundaries of India. However, start-ups, barring a few, are missing from this year’s IPL. Blame the funding freeze or a general economic uncertainty, someone else had to take their place.
The advertisers this year range from consumer goods giants like Thums Up and PepsiCo to fantasy gaming apps such as Dream11, MPL, and My11Circle to paan masala cos such as Vimal, Siggnature by Dilbar, and Pan Bahar to others such as JioMart, Airtel, Kingfisher, American Tourister.
Bhasin says enthusiasm among start-ups for advertising has overall declined and it is not just limited to the IPL.
"The overall market situation and the impact of the SVB collapse has affected them globally, not just in India. However, cricket remains of universal interest in India, and traditional brands are filling in the gap. The market trends show changes every few years, with different industries becoming popular.”
The IPL will go on till May 28, 2023. And as dentsu Creative's Amit Wadhwa says, “it is the beginning of the IPL, a lot of the ads will come up during the later parts of the tournament.”
Will they perform the magic one has come to expect from IPL ads? We are not in the business of prediction. We will, however, quote someone who knows a thing or two about making a comeback: “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.”