Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cricket is back with a bang

The unexpected has happened. India has won the 20-20 world cup against odds as the bookmakers will sadly concede and against more fancied teams like Australia and South Africa. Of course nothing is more satisfying for Indians than beating Pakistan but that was only slightly less than my own personal satisfaction about my prediction about the bright future for the pint sized edition of cricket in my column in this very same newspaper and section as early as January 2007 under the title “A Hit-and-giggle or a laugh all the way to the bank?”. The response to the game and our victory has been nothing short of sensational. I happened to be in Mumbai on 26th September and one had to see to believe the scenes. In pouring rain, thousands stood on the streets to cheer their heroes. Old ladies went running after the gaily decorated bus to catch a glimpse of our stars and women and children braved the rain to squeeze into the Wankhede stadium hours before the cavalcade would enter, only to see our politicians hogging the limelight! So what’s new? But what is new is the speed with which our victory and cricket starved populace took to the spectacle of the new format. Some pessimists are already predicting the death of test cricket and questioning the need for the one day version of the game. I am sure people in advertising are familiar with predictions made earlier of the death of newspapers, radio, magazines and even television as one new medium or the other has taken the limelight. But today every medium has an audience, even if finely segmented and magazines and radio have found new audiences. Test cricket will stay on in mature markets like Australia and England at least. But what will certainly happen is that it will start to be played at a more frenetic pace. Already run rates of four per over are happening in test cricket and it could soon become 5 and a draw will become as rare as a maiden over in a 20-20 game. Anybody remember Bapu Nadkarni’s twenty seven maiden overs in a row or Barrington and Bolus? May we never see the likes of that in our future lifetime at least! But instead of waxing eloquent about cricket and its glorious (?) past lets talk about the future. Of advertising and its renewed obsession with cricket.

Advertising almost kills the golden goose

We saw a lot of advertising during the recent tournament in South Africa, most of it bad, a lot of it spilling over into the last ball or the first ball and quite often over both. Clearly the marketers felt that the time to make hay was now, while the lights were on! Late entrants to the advertising band wagon had, if media reports are to be believed, paid as much as 7.5 lakhs for ten seconds. But still the choice made sense. The TRPs if initial reports are to be believed have been vastly superior to the world cup held in the West Indies definitely and hit new highs. For one it has friendlier viewing times for our audience at least. Again our advertisers bought into the hoopla of the world cup without bothering to think that the matches would be in the middle of the night. Nor had we bargained for India’s poor showing. So the next time before you commit major moneys into a program, cricket especially, look at the timing of the match. Timing is not important only to Yuvraj, it is as critical to people in advertising and marketing as well.

Is there a smarter way?

Sometimes I believe our cricketers tend to sway emotions of not only fans but advertisers quite easily. So there is a herd mentality of following whether it is fans or sponsors. Remember the mad rush to sign on Sachin? He was even giving Amitabh a run for his money! Now one sees a similar frenzy in signing on Dhoni and Yuvraj. Why do our advertisers take the easy way out? Why not sign a budding cricketer at a fraction of the price? Maybe he will deliver disproportionate results. I remember a couple of years ago we had done a commercial with the firebrand Sreesanth for the Muthoot Pappachan Group. The company had the wisdom to sign on the local cricketer as one of his first sponsors even when his place was not certain in the team at that point of time. Today they would be sitting pretty as so many sponsors are falling over themselves in an attempt to sign on the bowler who castled Mathew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist in the semi finals. Mind you I have no problem with the biggies but even as they enjoy the adulation of the masses they simply cost more, much more. There is also the real risk of brand dilution as consumers may get confused and not really bother about who is endorsing what. We need to remember that every endorsement decision finally has to boil down to one of cost-benefit. What is the benefit that you are getting in relation to the investment that you are making?

Innovation the name of the game

Most advertisers have one plain vanilla commercial that they use across the board whether it is 20-20 or the K series. It is probably a fair comment given the fact that the advertising message does not change. However one saw Coca Cola this time around create quick ten seconders that were topical, on cricket, and probably not very expensive to produce. Advertisers need to look at properties that they can own cricket or otherwise. I remember TVS sa re ga ma. I am sure similar thought can go into properties around cricket. In the telecast of the recent 20-20 world cup Indigo Nation had sponsored player profiles. The Future Group is associating with cricket in a big way and the India- Australia seven match one day series is branded as the “Future Cup”. People want to not merely watch commercials, they need to be engaged, intrigued, and challenged even. So the question you need to answer is this-okay I want to get into cricket, maybe the twenty twenty variety, so what should I do? I am a great believer in advertising in non India matches. True the viewership will be lower .But the game will get a better audience than you think. The game will get viewers if it is tight, interesting and have twenty twists and turns like the India - Pakistan match. Just apply your mind. Don’t just follow the herd.

What about creativity?

Sometimes our advertisers believe that merely being present is enough. I saw some pretty pathetic advertising during this series. I do not want to upset my friends in the industry by naming them and I am sure you have your own list of diabolical commercials. Why is so much of the advertising that we see on the TV so poor? Or am I being too critical? Imagine the hatred that you can have for a brand which has irritating execution and that is bereft of ideas that also eats into the live telecast of the match or an Australian wicket. That is what happened quite often in my view. So advertisers who are putting in so much money behind cricket, particularly the accelerated version of the game need to take a long, hard look at their own creative product. Once again the cost of producing a commercial is a fraction of the media cost. Do not throw good money after bad. And yet I must mention one nice topical press ad that Pepsi had done which went something like this “Shoaib uncle, Adam uncle, Shaun uncle….zhara side dena, humko cup lena hai” said the ad. I saw this in Mumbai, the day the team returned. I wonder if it was a national campaign. It certainly deserved to be. That to me was a smart example of using the occasion and being creative as well.

Monitor, course correct

At the time of writing there is a major hysteria about cricket and euphoria about the team. But by the team the column appears things might change, such is the volatility of the Indian cricket viewing public. We have a gruelling season against Australia that will be followed by a series against Pakistan and a long and arduous tour of Australia with test matches and a tri series featuring Sri Lanka and the home team as well. We could lose focus, get injured and lose games. We all know what happens when the Indian team loses. While there is nothing one can do about the average Indian cricket fan’s extreme views, there is something that marketers can do about their own efforts. Look for cheaper opportunities. Look to do things around cricket if not during the actual telecast. Try to engage the audience with your brand using cricket if necessary. Try not to link your fortunes too much to the Indian team’s performance. 20-20 has been described as a lottery that we have just won. Try not to make your marketing a lottery as well.
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)


Sunder said...

Agree with your sentiments as far as the advertising possibilities et al (shades of Ashok Sahni) are concerned. But, to me it is still not cricket - I prefer the ups & downs of Test cricket to the masala stuff. Also, the adulation given to the cricketers is way over the top. How about our hockey stars who beat S Korea 7-2 or the football team, which finally did something of note.
I think Australia is going to come at us with a vengeance - remember what Marshall & co.did to us post the 1983 victory.
Moral of the story - let us remain calm in times of both victory & defeat.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Yes our reaction was a bit over the top and it seems to be a national malady.If the first two games are any indication, Australia is already coming strongly at us.

Ram said...

When one day cricket first came up experts said test cricket wont survive.They were totally wrong. Likewise 20 20 is going to survive alongside the other two formats of the game. 20 20 is not so much hit and miss. It is more talent and less temperament. 50 50 ( maybe that should be the new name) and test matches need both talent and temperament. 20 20 will make the sport cut across and it could even make its way into Olympics one day.
As you say the Indians fans have taken to 20 20 very quickly. But it has got a lot to do with India going the distance in the tournament. Indians are always looking for opportunities to celebrate. And why shouldn’t they celebrate. Because such wins and celebrations happen only once in 25 years. Doesn’t matter if we get subsequently rolled over by the aussies. We still are the 20 20 champs. And that is what people are going to remember 5 years from now, not the series before or the one after. The Indian fans wont take a defeat in this aussie series too seriously and it wont take the sheen out of the 2020 win.
One could say luck played its part in the Indian 20 20 win. But weren’t we lucky to win the 1983 cup. I would think even more than this one. Defending 183 against the most celebrated batting line up. With a bowl lineup which could at best be described as a ‘bunch of trundlers’(besides dev saheb) some even slower than kumble. The striking parallel however between the two wins is we had an ‘aggressive, uninhibited, village rookie’ as a captain(both were only 3/ 4 years old in international cricket) and on both occasions the expectations from the teams were at an all time low.
The aussie series hasn’t started well for India mainly because we have the old stars back and the stars of the 20 20 series are warming the benches. And we have lost the momentum and also the tosses. What we need is a new young Indian team since the old stars are anyway not going to be playing the next world cup. The are only creating insecurity for the new young bunch. You are right on the advertising opportunity that lies in picking a future star. A Rohit Sharma or a Robin Uttapa could be a good punt. It is a bit like buying a turnaround stock which currently has a low P/E. But the astronomical advertising rates for the 2020 actually baffle me. When 13 runs are required of the last over would any advertsing message go into the head of a real cricket enthusiast however good the commercial might be? If it does then he is watching more of the commercials than the cricket and doesn’t qualify to be a cricket fan. We should also remember that cricket will always be more popular than any other sport in India. Dosn’t matter if Anand becomes the world champ or the hockey players fast outside the CMs house.