Thankfully all the pre-World Cup hype, hoopla and spin are over and it is time for the actual cricket to take centre-stage. All the former World Cup-winning captains have done their promotional bit and will give way (reluctantly perhaps) to the winners of the 2011 World Cup. Since I believe in the wisdom of the statement “Forecasting is difficult, particularly of the future” I will not stick my neck out (as I did before the Ashes) and stop with merely saying that both my heart and head say that this is perhaps India's best chance to win the cup.
Looking back, my mind goes back to India's finest World Cup moment and that was easily 1983. As I did not own a TV then, like millions of other Indians, I went to a relative's house in Jayanagar and watched that wonderful game live that has since been shown thousands of times. India's moment of triumph was celebrated with payasam! What else would get served in a ‘Tambrahm' house in the early '80s?
Since then I have been involved in several capacities with the World Cup, primarily as a cricket-mad wanderer travelling to different parts of the world in the forlorn hope that India would win the coveted World Cup that strangely in recent times has not gone past the alphabet “A”. But that will have to change; four times is often enough for Australia and surely, surely, a new captain and a different team will hold the cup aloft, one hopes.
The looks of a winner
The first World Cup that I watched live was the 1987 World Cup, where I was one of the lowly executives who was handling the event as the agency of Reliance Industries. I remember frantically scurrying around the Chinnaswamy Stadium hoping that nothing went wrong. In fact, my greatest regret was that in the finals at Eden Gardens I hardly watched the match on TV as my entire focus was on hoping that the Taj Mahal tea runner (that I had marketed) kept appearing again and again as I was worried about the client. So much so that I almost missed Gatting's since immortalised “reverse sweep”!
I must also remind you of a minor coup that Mudra and Reliance Industries effected. They had signed on three cricketers — Ravi Shastri, Vivian Richards and Allan Border — for the princely sum of Rs 50,000 each to promote the brand and as luck would have it, the unlikely winner was Allan Border. I wonder if such cost-effective options or opportunities to make marketing coups exist in today's World Cup!
The thrills of watching it live
Since then I have religiously travelled to different parts of India and the world as a cricket-crazy enthusiast searching for the Holy Grail – an Indian World Cup win. We had our chances in 1996, 1999 even and most certainly in 2003 till Ganguly won the toss and lost his nerve.
And everywhere, I must tell you, the marketing people have got it wrong — starting with the “carnival of cricket” in 1999 in England when India t- shirts were not available to thousands of fans. The worst, of course, was the West Indies in 2007 where empty stands greeted sheepish marketers who had the wisdom to ban musical instruments in the stadia!
My highlight so far in World Cup matches has been the celebrated India-Pakistan rivalry – I have watched each one of those since 1996 and I went promptly to keep my date at Barbados and watched Ireland vs. Bangladesh!
I am sure this time around the tournament has been designed keeping in mind the importance of the biggies and that means India and only India. You can perhaps throw in a Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or even a Pakistan. Remember this is a tournament being played in the sub-continent and we don't want an Australia-South Africa final at the Brabourne Stadium, do we?
It's all about the game, silly!
I think marketing people are too full of themselves and often forget that they are in business because of the game. The success of this World Cup will, as always, depend on the Sachins, the Sehwags, the Pontings and the Steyns of the world. Let's hope they perform and create magical memories like the tied match at Edgbaston or the Venkatesh Prasad moment at Bangalore. Moments like these are not created by marketers, who can only hope and pray that the players perform in the middle like Gilchrist and Warne did in the past, and hopefully Dhoni will do this time around. But it is perhaps worth reminding the people in the suits that this game owes everything to the spectators and the viewers. Please do not take them for granted. Give them good stadia and don't interrupt the telecast with irritating commercials, otherwise they will just move to more welcoming pastures. So here's wishing we have a wonderful World Cup and what can be more wonderful than the best team winning, particularly when it is India!
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html