Friday, June 19, 2009

IPL to ICC in just 20 seconds!

Companies should go over advertising and marketing strategies given the situations the various T20 tournaments throw up, be it broadcast timing or duration of the match..

The IPL has been done and dusted. The Deccan Chargers have just won the extravagantly designed trophy that is another testimony to the IPL’s opulence. Even before the celebrations ended and the hangover subsided cricket teams are fighting anoth er T20 tournament, this time for the World Cup! (Unfortunately for India, it is out of contention, having crashed out in the Super Eights stage.)

Today cricket matches and tournaments are a process, not an event, as they follow each other like waves from the ocean. No one but the players and the spectators seem tired, as the marketers seem to be busy working out promotional schemes by the dozen and ad agencies seem to be producing hundreds of television commercials which seem quite similar to each other. All too often one ends up watching the same boring commercial 17 times on the same day!
If some media reports are to be believed the T20 World Cup is a sell-out for ESPN Star and prices are at least 20 per cent higher than the pricing of the IPL. Of course, there are different sets of sponsors for both these programmes. As we are not involved as advertisers or sponsors, but merely as consumers of advertising who are gifted with 20-20 hindsight, even if some of us are constrained to wear spectacles in real life, we are free to air our views on advertising, cricket, life after IPL, brands … in fact, anything that the editor of this august newspaper permits!

What’s the time, yaar?

I am a diehard cricket fan and watch most games ball by ball and then religiously watch the highlights and the Extra Innings and the Fourth Umpire and the Stumped and every other boring cricket-related programme that comes on air. Yet we are a dying breed and even the most ardent of us are having trouble staying awake at 1 a.m. to watch the epic struggle between India and Ireland. We are getting into trouble with our bosses in the recessionary times that we live in, as our bosses, sadly, seem to have lost their interest in cricket and in the bargain, their sense of humour as well. But seriously, the timing of the matches is an issue and while advertisers are putting up a brave face, I am not sure how good the viewership is likely to be for matches which start at 10 p.m. Thankfully, the saas-bahu serials and the Anandams of the world will continue jerking tears from avid viewers as there will be no clash of interest.

Contrast this with the IPL which had brilliant timings from the Indian viewer’s point of view. Oh, what a time we had! We could have a few drinks in readiness, get sozzled during the match and end up cheering the opposing team and would read the next day’s papers to see who the real winner was! One must hand it to Lalit Modi for his time management. I am sure next time he would make the teams play at 6 a.m. in some remote part of the world, just to ensure that Indians like you and me get to watch our favourite players in the comfort of our living rooms, with our glasses in hand.

Timing was the problem which the World Cup faced in 2007 as the matches were played at crazy times (for us at least) in front of empty stadiums and a smattering of unhappy Indians who could not manage to cancel their flights or sell their tickets!
We all know that the viewership in India is directly proportionate to the team’s performance. How many of us watched the engrossing one-run victory of South Africa over New Zealand? Not too many in India, I suspect. Large numbers of Indians will only watch India games if they are held late at night. So my first prediction is that for most of the tournament the TRPs will not deliver the numbers or the economics that media planners want.

Well, in any case, T20 is a lottery as any Australian supporter will tell you, even as the Australian team goes into hiding at Leicester after an ignominious exit. One just hopes that it does not turn out to be a lottery for the advertisers who have spent crores on it!

Do advertising types ever watch their own ads?

My crib is that bank managers never stand in the queue to collect cash on Saturday mornings, principals do not have to meet other principals for the admission of their children, cops never have to pay fines and agency creative guys for nationalised banks never experience their service!

But having said that, I really wish that the large advertisers and agencies would watch their commercials aired several times during a day’s play. In fact, I cordially invite them to my living room to watch the next match. They would writhe if they were to hear the comments and groans from my friends and family as the same commercials come on ad nauseam.
One such commercial that I have seen too often is that of Dhoni for Orient Fans. Mind you, I have several favourites (!), but as I have too few friends in advertising discretion shall be my operating philosophy. Incidentally Dhoni’s batting too seems as laboured as some of his commercials and he seems to be doing quite a few.

It is perhaps here that one should admire brands such as Vodafone, which, being one of the sponsors of the IPL, had the good sense to do 29, or was it 30, different versions for value-added services as they had bought substantial time during the tournament and did not want their viewers to be bored. Reliance Communication, which is the sponsor for the current T20 tournament, too has multiple executions with the handsome Hrithik Roshan (there, I have made my niece happy).

But I too have a Reliance mobile connection and have no clue as to what the commercials are saying, other than the fact that Hrithik is a nice guy who remembers his old friends including the light boy even if he is a bit old! But imagine if Reliance had had only one commercial!
This leads me to something that I feel strongly about. If the T20 calls for a different strategy and execution then how is it that the advertising agency is serving its own boring fare whether it is a K serial or a T20 game? If crores are being spent on the promotion, should at least millions not be spent on the creative product? Imagine running 30- and 40- second commercials in a match that lasts all of 40 overs! Come on guys, get creative! Shorter, edgier, more versions, not more of the same!

IPL, T20 or what is the way ahead?

The purists might refuse to accept the “hit and giggle’ as the way to go for the game, but there is no denying the fact that advertisers and marketers should have no doubts that the future of commercial cricket is here. Money is obviously not unlimited and brands continually have to make choices as to where they will park their funds. So where would I put my money if my brand were to be associated with cricket in some way, as quite a few brands have been? Make no mistake; the World Cup is a big event. But so far it has been a low-key affair if not a damp squib. Even the opening ceremony was dumped, courtesy the glorious English weather!

The crowds, I suspect, are still waiting by the sidelines for the Ashes to begin and the grounds are half full if not fully empty. After all, every Englishman and his brother-in-law know that the Ashes are going to change hands this summer, never mind what the form book says.
While national support can muster up the numbers, neutral games have very poor viewership in India, even if they are interesting. Many of the teams that have made it to the Super Eights are quite sad, to put it mildly, and even making allowance for the fact that T20 can cause upsets. A few of the games will make for poor viewing.

Contrast this with IPL with several close games and spectators forming alliances and rooting for teams even if they have foreigners in them.
The charm of T20 is close games, with each over likely to turn the game around on its head. I wonder how many close games the current World Cup will have? I just wonder.
I do know that this is a global event as 216 countries could be sharing the broadcast lead but then India is where most of the money is being spent. And a phenomenal number of eye balls are expected.

I think companies need to think through their future strategies as IPL is here to stay and gives much more flexibility for marketers and sponsors, as the ICC seems to be looking the other way whenever Lalit Modi does or says anything.
So what’s your pick? IPL or ICC? Or should we do an sms poll on Extra Innings?

P.S. Just to lend credence to my crib about ads in the T20, Maruti has this corporate ad which I am sure is a hastily done edit of earlier commercials. So there is a sequence where a boy has a placard saying “want to go home for Diwali”, never mind the fact that the ad is being shown in June.
Oh, well, Happy Diwali!

(Ramanujam Sridhar, is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly-Branding on Indian Turf.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Winners, losers and also-rans

Branding and marketing, rather than sport and team spirit, triumphed in this IPL..

It’s been a week since the spectacular IPL final and the not so spectacular closing ceremony. You don’t need to be very smart to know that Deccan Chargers won a taut final after facing the ignominy of being the winners of the wooden spoon last year.

The runner-up was Royal Challengers, a team that was perhaps rightly branded last year as a test team and had finished seventh. They were not much different this year as the highly valued Kevin Pietersen, who was supposed to give momentum to the side as captain and key batsman, nearly derailed the challenge till Anil Kumble, the former test captain, stepped in to show the way with a little help from Ross Taylor to end up a close second.

After 59 matches, several thousand seconds of commercial time, hours of buffoonery behind the mike and countless bumps and grinds by Jacques Kallis’ sister and her clan, let’s examine who are the real winners and losers after this event. Are there any learnings at all from this exercise?

Losing matches but winning the brand war

A recent report by an independent brand valuation firm suggests that the Kolkata Knight Riders are the most valuable of the eight teams that are currently part of the IPL. While critics of brand valuation may carp at the subjective nature of the process and while cricket fans may deride the team’s performance, there is no denying the fact that the team owner has got his marketing act right, even if he could not organise the team’s performance.

They were the first to unveil their uniform, create a winning anthem if not a rocking team, get sponsorship of leading brands such as Sprite with visible advertising and extensive sale of merchandise. I am no fan of John Buchanan or Shah Rukh Khan but even I ended up buying the black and gold T-shirt on a JetLite flight to Delhi. (Bored air travellers have been known to do strange things.)

The other teams have a lot to learn from the Knight Riders in marketing and branding while the Knight Riders team can learn lots of things from other teams such as the Chargers and the Royals on the value of team spirit and the importance of a single captain. John Buchanan demonstrated the value of the statement that a “coach is something that the players use to travel to the stadium from the hotel.” Clearly the emotional SRK would be well advised to change both coach and captain next year, but who are we to comment on his team, after all it’s his money!

Price losses and value gains

Clearly the losers in the IPL were those who failed to attend the session on “cost benefit” analysis in management school. Some of the most expensive players were easily the duds of the tournament. The English players Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff must have been flattered by the prices they commanded by owners who went by reputation, but they merely flattered to deceive.

Other Englishmen such as Collingwood and Owais Shah travelled halfway through the world to warm the dugout benches on really cold South African nights. The costliest exchange has been that of the vastly overrated Robin Uthappa for India’s premier fast bowler Zaheer Khan, which, incidentally, was announced with major fanfare and someone would have thought that we were watching history in the making.

Of course, Uthappa created his own unique record by spending more time with Mandira Bedi, giving more media interviews than he did at the middle batting. His dropped catches also provided enormous entertainment to his opponents. In retrospect the relatively underpaid Australians such as Hayden, Gilchrist and Warne demonstrated the value of experience particularly in the context of the tournament’s sudden and unexpected move to South Africa. Maybe the talent scouts would be better off by getting the likes of Justin Langer, who is still making a huge number of runs in England, to play here in future series of the IPL. Value buys are the winners while the high-profile buys will be consigned to history.

The loss of a professional reputation

They do say that a reputation is slowly built over years and can be lost in a jiffy. Well, most of the commentators lost their reputation in this three-week period as they outdid themselves in trying to pander to Lalit Modi and the sponsors in a manner that was almost pitiable. The likes of Mark Nicholas, Danny Morrison, Robin Jackman, Rameez Raja and a host of others should not be allowed anywhere near a stadium where a serious cricket match is being played here after.
I urge these illustrious gentlemen and a host of others who were part of the circus to watch their own performances again in replay and perhaps they will understand the agony that some of us went through as we watched them over after over.

Broadcasting has been the loser and I am not referring only to the quality of telecasting, which left a lot to be desired despite the helicopters crisscrossing, and the host of cameras which were focusing only on the celebrities.

Winning captains, losing captains

If last year Shane Warne was the captain of the tournament, this year it was another leggie, our own Anil Kumble, who, surprisingly was an afterthought. There was a host of other captains who not only stepped up first for the presentation ceremony but were also last in terms of innovation and ability to handle pressure.

I will not run the risk of talking about Sachin Tendulkar’s captaincy as I do not want to be lynched alive, but a few prospective Indian captains were on display in addition to the incumbent M. S. Dhoni who was his normal, unflappable self for most of the tournament except when his bowlers let him down.

Yuvraj had a permanent scowl on his face, Sehwag was smiling despite committing the cardinal sin of not giving Glenn McGrath a single game despite his team having a huge lead. Of course, Kevin Pietersen and Yuvraj had one thing in common – they had no clue as to the team composition as they went out to toss! Gilchrist turned around his team and kept smiling equally when his team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and when Rohit Sharma did the impossible in the final over.

BCCI wins the earnings battle but loses the ethics war

BCCI and Lalit Modi have been behind this amazing marketing success story that has got the world sitting up and taking notice but it has not covered itself with glory on one important aspect and that is in resolving the conflict of interest issue.

Whilst all sorts of rumours float around about the ownership of various teams, let me stay with something that I saw on television that bothered me enormously.

Mandira, poor thing in her sad new look, was asking Kris Srikkanth who his favourite was before an important game and the Chairman of the selection committee broke forth into the Chennai Super Kings jingle. Is his sponsorship with the team more critical to him than the prestigious job as Chairman of the selection committee?

India wins, Lalit Modi loses

The second edition of IPL has been a major achievement for India and its organising capabilities. It speaks of skill, logistics, execution, all brought to bear in a short time in a foreign country when the chips were down. The world sat up and took notice.

And yet Lalit Modi’s basking in the glory and cornering the camera and the limelight demonstrates the trouble with BCCI and its in-your-face approach. India is the most powerful cricketing nation in the world and it has shown more than eyeballs this time around.

It has shown tremendous marketing acumen and organising ability. But Lalit Modi needs to remember the simple branding principle: “You become a brand when others talk about you.”
People will certainly talk about the IPL and not Lalit Modi in the years to come, one hopes.

Bye bye Johannesburg, hello London

Now the caravan moves to England where teams will play as nations. Zaheer will clash with J. P. Duminy and David Hussey with Ishant Sharma.Former team mates will rediscover the hatchet and forget the recent friendships in South Africa.People such as Andrew Symonds will continue to sledge with renewed vigour and people like me who are suffering from withdrawal symptoms after the IPL will go back to predicting winners and losers.We will also remember that the biggest winner is the game of T20 cricket with its furious ups and frenetic downs.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly - Branding on Indian Turf.)