Benita Chacko

Unlike cricket, with multi-sports events, we have a symbiotic relationship with brands: Sony's Sandeep Mehrotra

The head of ad sales, network channels, Sony Pictures Networks India, speaks about why brands chose to partner with Asian Games.

There are different ways to express excitement about an event. In 1982, the government of India allowed the import of over 50,000 colour television sets from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai, to give the citizens of the Asian Games’ host nation a colourful viewing experience for the first time; the 190% custom duty didn’t deter buyers.

Sprint to 2023 and the same country watches its athletes in Hangzhou through myriad screens mounted on walls and held in hands and brands are astutely leveraging the multi-screen landscape to align with the Asian Games, even amid cricket-centric schedules.

While the whole country rallies behind the contingent, it is the brands of India which are expressing the most excitement, or how does one explain 90% of broadcaster Sony Sports’ ad inventory being sold out despite Asiad being scheduled between the Asia Cup and the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.

Hyundai, JSW, LIC, Limca Sportz, Paisabazaar, Ultratech, Amul, SBI, Panasonic, Parle Products and RBI have associated with the Asiad, and Sony LIV has signed up exclusive sponsors including, EatFit, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, JSW, ACKO, and Limca Sportz.

Sandeep Mehrotra, head of ad sales, network channels, Sony Pictures Networks India, says brands want to be associated with events like the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games that represent India's growth and change.

"Asian Games is unique; it's about building brand association with a shared thought process. This aligns with what the common Indian believes in today. Brands desire this narrative, and we've capitalised on it. We are providing brands an opportunity to become a symbol of aspiration for countless young individuals."

Paisabazaar has invested around 50% of its September budget for the Asian Games. It used the platform to raise awareness about its entire range of products. 

Sachin Vashishtha, chief marketing officer, Paisabazaar, says the Asian Games allowed it to connect with customers who may not be the focus of its usual advertising campaigns.

"Paisabazaar's origin was to democratise credit, with a commitment to reaching every individual seeking credit nationwide. Primarily, our advertising targets major metropolitan areas and the top 30 cities in the country. However, the Asian Games provides us with a unique opportunity to extend our reach beyond these urban centers and connect with consumers in remote areas, as it's a widely followed event," he says.

The network promoted the Asian Games with its campaign 'Iss Baar Sau Paar, Phir se, Hum Hongey Kamyab’. The network encouraged the Indian contingent to win over 100 medals in this event. 

"As broadcasters and marketers, we have to create a dream. The final outcome is secondary, but many brands wanted to partner with that aspiration," he says. 

Sony Sports is offering innovations such as Split Screen and contextual advertising options on LIVE broadcast. It has also created exclusive co-branded content series for brands with Asian Games athletes. 

"Sports viewers are extremely driven and like to interact, so we are also utilising our social media handles to amplify the reach of our advertiser's campaigns and to drive engagement by posting co-branded promos and branded segments on to our handles," Mehrotra says. 

The Asiad is sandwiched between two major cricketing tournaments- the Asia Cup and the ICC Cricket World Cup. Yet, the multi-sport event managed to attract a host of advertisers. Mehrotra says there's an inherent need for brands to align with a narrative of positive change in India. After the Commonwealth Games in 2022, the Asian Games emerged as the only platform offering this opportunity. 

"Brands seek cricket to build reach, not association. Further, in a cricket-dominated ecosystem, there is more appreciation for the game than loyalty to one's country. Many brands recognised the chance to integrate and support various sports, not just for performance but also for contributing to India's transformation. For example, Limca Sportz partnered with the Games for a clutter-free environment to foster brand growth and association," he says. 

Paisabazaar is actively present in major cricket tournaments. It was the Associate Sponsor for the Asia Cup and is participating in the World Cup as well. 

Vashishtha says, "Cricket is a major impact property, given its wide reach. However, there is an audience beyond it for other sports like badminton, hockey, athletics, etc. Thanks to a few key players, these sports are gaining new audiences nationwide. That's why we've chosen to invest in this tournament – to connect with this expanding audience beyond cricket." 

The Asian Games 2022 has drawn more eyeballs as the Indian men's and women's cricket teams have made their debut in the T20 tournament. The ongoing festive season has additionally contributed to a favourable viewing environment.

Mehrotra notes that while some brands align with these events as part of their festive campaigns, most aspire to be part of something bigger. 

"They want to associate with inspirational content and contribute to the sense of national interest and unity that these sporting events evoke, creating meaningful impact and forging connections with their target audience." 

Unlike cricket, with multi-sports events, we have a symbiotic relationship with brands: Sony's Sandeep Mehrotra

Virat Khullar, AVP and head of marketing, Hyundai Motor India, says the automobile company's association with the Asian Games helps it reach a diverse Indian audience, including sports enthusiasts, the youth, and families. He believes that there is no better way to connect with their consumers  than sports, both cricket and non-cricket. 

"Hyundai's sponsorship of the Asian Games promotes a wide range of sports, which aligns with India's efforts to encourage sports beyond cricket. The Asian Games provide a significant sporting event in the calendar between cricket tournaments, helping Hyundai maintain a continuous sports presence," he says. 

Sony Sports Network is consciously positioning itself as a destination for multi-sports events. It has hosted three multi-sporting events in the past three years- the Tokyo Olympics, Commonwealth Games and now the Asian Games. Mehrotra says unlike cricket, where the network just offers ad spots, with multi-sports events brands have a much more meaningful association.

"With cricket, clients just want 10-second ads, while for these multi-sport events, it's a deep, immersive relationship. We craft unique narratives for each, ensuring a symbiotic connection. We've worked extensively, from Hyundai's augmented reality to co-creating content, understanding each brand's communication needs and tone. It's highly customised, not one-size-fits-all in the multi-sporting landscape," Mehrotra says.

Brands are increasingly associating with these events as they transcend demographic boundaries and tap into a deep sense of national pride and unity. 

"Brands joining us aren't solely driven by their pre-planned campaigns; instead, they believe in the power of the content and the narratives that unfold during these events. Many of our advertisers are repeat partners, and this is because they have experienced firsthand the incredible value that can be derived from these partnerships," he adds.

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