Monday, May 11, 2009

The setting and its selling

With the IPL matches shifting to South Africa, marketers are finding ways to retain viewer interest and stay relevant.
Brands have floated promotions giving customers a chance to view matches in South Africa

The IPL is alive and kicking, but in South Africa. As I write, Rajasthan Royals, the winners of the first edition of IPL, have just won a tight game at Centurion. There are conflicting reports on the TRPs, one version says it is dropping while another says it is strong. Speaking for myself, I have watched the matches however much they have been interrupted by rain, and however many times Lalit Modi has been shown and however one sided some of them have been. (But I am an advertiser’s dream viewer and perhaps a dying breed!) Staying with Lalit Modi, I must mention however that if I had been responsible for his personal profiling I would have asked for a substantial bonus as the television crews seem to be infatuated with him! The grounds seem to be filled with people who seem to be having a good time if the amber coloured liquid in their hands is any indication. Consumers however are chafing at the bit just like Glen McGrath, who still has to get a game for the Delhi Daredevils. What is the consumer’s problem? She knows that the strategy break is a con, just to get in more commercials. She has to stay awake longer as the matches end later, defeating the very nature of T20 cricket. And batsmen are hard pressed to retain their momentum during an unnecessarily long break and usually end up holing out in the eleventh over. So quite a few people are being challenged by the matches being held in South Africa, whether it is Set max, which is wondering how to handle the extra talk time thanks to the frequent and persistent rain, or the Royal Challengers, who are wondering where their next win will come from or the Kolkatta Knight Riders, who must be dreading what new scandal will hit the media. But none of these, to my mind at least, is equal to the challenge that marketers and sponsors in India have faced with the shifting of the matches from the known to the unknown (for us at least] rainbow nation suddenly.

The theory of constraints

Marketing and management is all about optimization of resources that invariably are never enough for what we want to do. Another scenario is the presence of constraints that prevent organizations and brands from moving forward and the smarter companies handle these by taking them in their stride and working around them. I have nothing but the highest praise for the companies which had bet on the IPL second edition happening in the Chinnaswamy stadium at Bengaluru (good God!) and the Brabourne stadium at Mumbai (not much better), who found to their chagrin that the venues were the Wanderers and St. George’s Park in Centurion and several others that one had merely heard of or seen on TV. One of the most annoying aspects of the IPL commentary for me personally this season has been the way commentators have gone overboard on Lalit Modi and his team, who organized the transfer of venue in a mere three weeks. Commendable, but spare a thought for the marketers who had planned a whole range of promotional activities and ground activations in India, who were told that the matches would not be in Indian cities. Yet they have got their act together and have tried to make the most of the changed scenario within the same short time window and by and large are up and running, something that neither the Royal Challengers nor the Kolkata Knight Riders have been able to do, at least at the time of writing. So let’s take a look at some of the promotions that have been built around IPL and see what brands and companies have been doing here in India.

Ring in an idea

Idea Cellular launched the Special IPL-666 recharge where the consumer will get talk time of Rs. 666 and can earn up to 6 minutes of free talk time with every six that the Mumbai Indians score. May Jayasuria hit more sixes and may the residents of Mumbai talk more! Another visible scheme “Talk to Mumbai Indians” gives callers an opportunity to talk to Sachin, Zaheer and Harbhajan. There is a cute commercial where the phone rings and Harbhajan picks it up perhaps hoping that Symonds or Sreesanth would be on the line, but unfortunately it is a young female voice that wishes to speak to Zaheer Khan! I guess no one has told the feisty sardar that he should not pick up someone else’s mobile! For all you know it might have been someone from the Government of India asking him why he did not come to pick up his Padmasree in person! Idea has another scheme by which those who use roaming nationally or internationally have the opportunity to win a tour to South Africa. Aircel the sponsor of the Chennai Super Kings team has launched “Kaun dega man of the match award” contest for its mobile subscriber who can guess which is Dhoni’s favourite love song. The winner gets the rare opportunity to go to South Africa and hand over the man of the match award thereby getting instant recognition across continents and with millions of viewers across the world. Of course both Aircel and Chennai Superkings must be hoping that the highly paid MS Dhoni, around whom so many promotions have been built, scores a few more runs and even picks up a man of the match award as the current Indian T20 team is by and large sitting back and waiting for the foreigners to deliver whilst they poor, conscientious souls are doing it match after match - whether it is Hayden, Gilchrist, De Villiers, Sangakkara or Dilshan. Of course the veteran Indians (imagine calling the baby faced Sachin that) who are not part of the T20 team are showing our much touted youngsters a thing or two about commitment and passion. Back to the marketers, Virgin Mobile not to be outdone launches “Indian Hatke League” which gives Indian youth and not only Virgin Mobile users the opportunity to play this online mobile game where the user has the option to play for any of the eight teams participating in the second edition of IPL.

McDowell’s No.1 whose brand idea and theme has been built around friendship continues the theme with its T20 Fan Friendzy league (FFL) for the ongoing T20 season. Fans have the opportunity to form their own dream teams and virtually play ahead of every game and the group of friends scoring the highest points at the end of the season will be sent to England to watch the ICC T20 finals.

McDowell No.1 has an interesting concept “Loyal fans, die-hard friends” built around the theme that fans can support different teams and yet celebrate together while watching the games. Indigo Nation, the brand that designs trendy and fashionable formal wear for the young, edgy and maverick man is the official formal wear partner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. Let’s hope that the fashionable team will carry the edge on to the field. For every purchase of Rs. 1000 from indigo Nation, the customer gets a chance to win a trip to South Africa to watch the IPL semi-final and final. For every purchase of Rs. 1500, the customer gets a red satin tie, as is worn by the RCB team.

Continue to engage, continue to sell

In India, cricket sells, whether brands sell or not! While the big ticket brands like Pepsi have the capability and resources to put their money where their mouth is and spend crores of rupees behind concepts like “first ball ka captain” other brands may not have the same luxury and yet would like to capitalize on the mania that the game inspires in this diverse country. While it is relatively easier to do it in the stadia and around them when the matches are being held in India, the current scenario posts an entirely different challenge as the excitement has to happen in pubs, lounges and in sports bars. Thankfully the timing of the matches are just right for the Indian viewer (or should one add, the guzzler) as the day matches in South Africa are during the “happy hours” in India which enables one to forget how badly the team that one is supporting is playing! But back to the customer connect. While brands and marketers have been quick to cash in on the challenge they would be well advised to revisit the basics before they embark on an ambitious programme of promotions.

What is the essence of the brand?
What is the selling proposition?
How strong is the association with a particular interest like cricket?
Is it a “One off” idea or can it be long term?
Does it add to the brand’s equity or is it diluting it?
The trouble is that, at times, marketers get emotional about their brands and sometimes about cricket. An emotional attachment may or not be right for the brand. So think carefully and objectively and come up with your own strategy and here is hoping that it does not end up like John Buchanan’s multiple captains theory!

Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”.

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