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What makes IPL click with brands?

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MUMBAI: Indians love for cricket is inevitable. And nothing can come between the fans and the most-awaited entertainment tournament in the country: The Indian Premier League (IPL). But that’s not all, like honey to bee; brands too get attracted to it.

Year after year, controversies galore, nothing has deterred brands from putting their money on IPL.  

Over the years, while the experts have debating that the overdose of cricket will make people lose interest in the game, but the fact is that even controversies – Lalit Modi fisasco, slapgate or even match-fixing – hasn’t affected the tournament when it comes to sponsorships. The Rs 2000 crore plus property has many lining up to sign deals.

With the expected ad revenue from this year’s IPL to be Rs 900 crore, the official broadcaster of the tournament, Sony Max and Six, have already brought on board, Perfetti Van Melle, Havells and Amazon as on-air associate sponsors while Vodafone and Pepsi will be the co-presenting sponsors.

So why do brands jump into the IPL bandwagon. The reason is simple: it is the biggest visibility platform in the country for brands.

Many in the industry feel that IPL helped its first title sponsor DLF become a household name.

“DLF was known in the north among the upper class, but today the name is known at every corner of the country,” says GroupM ESP Sports and Live national director Vinit Karnik.

The sports and entertainment arm of GroupM, in its SportzPower-GroupM ESP India sports sponsorship report 2014 reveals that Indian sports TV broadcasting was, is, and will continue to be dominated by cricket for the foreseeable future, contributing to 80 to 85 per cent of the total television sports media revenues.

In 2008, when tire major Bridgestone considered IPL as a medium for brand communication, it was put off by the price tags for premium rights. For example, real estate company DLF, at that time, was paying Rs 400 million per year for the title sponsorship of IPL. So, Bridgestone made a modest entry into cricket as a co-sponsor of IPL franchise Mumbai Indians.

The cricket tournament is a perfect platform to not only increase visibility but it also enhances the brands’ customer engagement. For instance, Karbonn Mobiles which, till a few years back, was fighting to make space in the market which was ruled by Nokia, entered the tournament through ‘Karbonn Kamal Catch’ and IPL Nights.

The deal helped the mobile company engage with its customers through the programme wherein spectators were selected and had to catch a ball. If they caught the ball, during a match, they would receive a ball signed by a player.

Similarly, Citi Bank’s ‘Citi Moment of Success’ helped the brand come out of the dark period it was witnessing because of the slowdown. “Citi’s initiative helped it rise above negative PR, especially what it was going through in the US. It used the platform well by associating itself with the ‘successful’,” points out Karnik.

Agreeing and adding on the subject, Madison Media COO Dinesh Rathore says, “IPL is one property which everyone knows will deliver for those 45 days consistently and hence, it increases the recall value of brands too. Why else would we see so many new launches (campaigns and products) during this time-frame?”

How can one forget the Zoozoos? Telecom giant, Vodafone, every year launches a new campaign during IPL. Vodafone India was one of the first few brands to get associated with the IPL and continues the relationship even in the seventh year. Zoozoos were launched in the second season and since then have helped Vodafone to establish a strong connect with the customers and enhance brand recall. One can even say that Zoozoos and IPL are inseparable today.

“Our experience so far has been that if you do things that are truly innovative and cutting edge during the IPL then the impact multiplies and bang for the buck is unmatchable. For example, apart from the ZooZoo campaign, our customer connect initiative ‘Vodafone SuperFan Contest’ has also received positive response from our customers,” says Vodafone India Brand Communications and Insights senior vice president Ronita Mitra.

She adds, “This year Vodafone customers can help a cricket crazy friend to get a dream come true opportunity to be selected as ‘Vodafone SuperFan’ and win all the privileges that go with it.  While the friend gets all the privileges available for ‘Vodafone SuperFan’, Vodafone customers, as the nominee also gets hospitality ticket to watch the match live.”

Highlighting that new brand launches have gained tremendously, particularly in the segment of auto, brand consultant Harish Bijoor highlights that the format is dear to not only men, but women and children alike. “IPL is today a family sighting and outing. Therefore, anything that attracts family eyeballs is a marketing opportunity not to miss for brands.”

Not only this, but established brands too have jumped on the bandwagon. Pepsi, for instance, has been associated with cricket per se for years now. The cola giant taking the IPL title rights has been a huge brand lift for the IPL. That time, the move surprised many market watchers because they thought that a brand that needed to build a national brand recall as well as presence, would bid for the IPL rights.

 PepsiCo India EVP Homi Battiwala has been quoted in the SportzPower-GroupM ESP report saying, “We are delighted that we have succeeded in rebranding the tournament as Pepsi-IPL, thus cementing a five-year partnership between two brands which enjoy an iconic status not only in India but globally. With our continuing sponsorship of the ICC World Cup, we are now the biggest supporters of the game of cricket.”

The cola giant also feels that the timing of the tournament is ideal given that packaged beverages is an impulse category and nearly 50 per cent of consumption happens in these months.

However, the controversies related to the tournament have left a dent in its sheen. Last year’s match-fixing fiasco hit it bad. And with elections coinciding with the tournament, many feel that it can impact the tournament’s TVTs and brand value.

“This year due to the various reasons the on-ground sponsorships may witness more desperation and many marketers may not invest for the long run.  The revenue for the franchise is also hit due to the shifting of large part of tournament to UAE as 35-40 per cent of revenue comes from tickets for these franchises,” points out IPG Mediabrands branch head Mukti Kumaran.

She adds, “Also, brands are more conscious as the money will get fragmented between IPL and elections.”

Similarly, Red Fuse Communications India CEO Shubha George says, “IPL is now a standard media property that will broadly fluctuate as it has in the past. The fact that it will be partly played outside India will affect viewership to an extent. Over the years, advertisers have a good pulse of what to expect from IPL and so it is no longer the imponderable it used to be.”

Others argue and believe that even though overall brand value might get impacted but the property will continue to attract not only brands but fans and players too. “There are always two sides of a coin. If we take the case of Rajasthan Royals, one set of people can say that RR’s management failed and hence we don’t want to get associated with it while others might feel that why penalize the whole team for the wrong of a few,” says Karnik philosophically.

The biggest sporting property is all set to start soon and the brands aren’t shying away from queuing to hit a six with IPL, yet again.

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