Aishwarya Ramesh
Points of View

Representation matters - the case for showcasing a variety of sports in ads

With the increasing popularity of our athletes performing well at global tournaments, will we be seeing different sports in ads?

Indian athletes have been on a winning streak lately. At the recently concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games, they brought home 22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze medals, for a total of 61 medals.

India was ranked fourth, in terms of performance, and athletes like PV Sindhu, Lakshya Sen, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, Sakshi Malik and Vinesh Phogat won gold medals. The winning athletes excelled in a variety of sports, including badminton, weightlifting, table tennis, wrestling, boxing, judo, squash, long jump and high jump.

Despite winning so many medals across a variety of sports, India is still predominantly, a cricket-crazy country. Multiple cricket tournaments are played throughout the year and the Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the tournaments that has the most number of eyeballs glued to it.

Cricket is also the sport that is represented in a lot of advertisements. Will things change, now that the brand equity of these winning athletes has also gone up? When creative professionals sit down to make an ad, featuring an offbeat sport, what are some of the considerations they have to keep in mind?

We spoke to a few advertising industry aces to find out.

Edited excerpts:

Akshay Seth, executive creative director, Ogilvy Mumbai

The most important creative demarcation to make at the start of the creative process is, are you making an ad for the sport or are you intending to tell a human story set in the context of sport. Unless you are specifically designing communication for a sport property or brand, don't let the sport dictate the story.

One must always try to put the human story first. Take Cadbury Bournvita, for instance. Since the brand operates in a very real and raw space, we practice the same. If the story seems less vulnerable and believable, one shouldn't proceed further.

The visual appeal of the sport is important from two aspects - communication objective and creative output. If the brand intends to convey building of physical or mental or overall strength, for example, then a sport that does best justice to this visually, should be looked at.

Then, from a creative output, a decision on what makes for a visually engaging piece, can be made. This could be a new sport, which has been explored or even be a sport that is popular, as long as the story being told is fresh.

The TG does play a key role in depicting a sport, to the point where the sport represented isn't completely alien to the audience. They need not have to play the depicted sport, but should have some knowledge or connection to it.

Akshay Seth
Akshay Seth

A game of lacrosse, for example, won't have relatability for an Indian audience. The key is to strike a balance between speaking to the heart and the head of the TG. Based on the age of the TG and the tone of the brand, the choice of sport should be made.

Ramakrishna Desiraju (Ramki), founder and creative director, Cartwheel Creative Consultancy

There’s no denying that these sports are becoming more popular, and brands are looking beyond cricket and football in their ads now. I think brands will benefit from being associated with non-cricket sports. It also makes economic sense to employ non-cricketing athletes, since they may charge less, as opposed to a cricketer.

Many people are also becoming increasingly aware of these sports, the most recent example being the Commonwealth Games, when India won multiple medals. Everyone is talking about these victories and there is also a lot of interest around it, when Indians from different parts of the country are pursuing these lesser-known sports.

There is interest around these stories because most of the time, these athletes are the ones who have beaten the odds to make it. They may not have access to coaching, infrastructure or equipment, and there are many such stories of athletes who have made it big.

D Ramakrishna (Ramki)
D Ramakrishna (Ramki)

When it comes to selecting a sport to portray in an ad, we tend to see it in a myopic way. At the end of the day, people relate very strongly to these stories and the sport (that's portrayed) is incidental. More than Mary Kom winning a boxing match, it's Mary Kom, the person and who she is, that people relate to.

I am yet to come across a sport that doesn’t have some sort of visual appeal. People didn’t think a sport like kabaddi could have visual appeal, but now there are shots of the athletes jumping through the air. It’s about being creative when you shoot an ad.

Kaustuv Paliwal, SVP, HealthKart (parent company of MuscleBlaze)

For our latest campaign, we have intentionally stayed away from cricket, which has enough exposure already.

In 2018, we released an ad, titled ‘Ziddi Hoon Main’, in which we portrayed sports like boxing, swimming and cycling.

In 2019, we brought back that campaign and this time, we represented bodybuilding as a sport. When we choose a sport for our ads, we go for the ones that involve physical activity and bodily movement. We do not portray, for example, a sport like chess in our ads.

Three months ago, we released ads featuring Neeraj Chopra. People are getting into different sports now and ideally, this should have happened a long time back, at a much faster pace. Instead, it is happening slowly and steadily, but the good news is that it’s happening.

People also recognise athletes like Chopra and Sindhu more easily these days. However, what doesn’t work for these athletes, in terms of the equity they have, and what works for cricketers, is that cricket is a 365 days-a-year sport. These athletes may win Olympic medals, but the events that they participate in, are limited and happen once every few years.

Representation matters - the case for showcasing a variety of sports in ads

The appeal and popularity that a sport has, is also determined by how approachable it is. Abhinav Bindra won a gold medal in shooting, but the sport itself is not easily approachable, even if someone does feel inspired to take it up.

Kedar Teny, chief executive officer, Lowe Lintas

Different athletes and sports will be represented in ads, depending on the trajectory of the popularity of the latter. For example, India now has world-class badminton champions and players like Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi, who have made the sport popular.

Kedar Teny
Kedar Teny

For that matter, during the recent Commonwealth Games, Indian women won a gold medal in lawn bowling, and I’m not sure how many people had even heard of that sport. But now, more people will get inspired, and probably start training and practicing in that space. Keep in mind that these women are self-taught and self-motivated. That’s how a sport becomes more popular.

A brand’s main goal should be to tell a story. The story a brand chooses to tell, depends on the brand itself. Also, in sports, handsome is what handsome does. Achievement is what makes a sportsperson look great. Brands need to find synergy with the right athlete, to tell a compelling story.

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