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Digital-first & internet- based brands and the magnetic appeal of IPL 2020

With digitisation accelerated courtesy Covid, how can brands leverage IPL's wide appeal

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NEW DELHI: Apart from the brands and services available in shop shelves and in brick and mortar stores, a slew of players in the digital ecosystem has also boarded the IPL train and ridden on the track of success. The telecast of the league has played a vital role in building mass awareness and adoption of digital-first brands thus accelerating digital adoption in India.  Something which the SARS Cov2 virus has further hyper-speeded up over the past few months.

Digital-first start-ups are normally on a fast-growth and customer acquisition path right from the get-go, egged on by investors to increase valuations and revenues. Marketing guru and director of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute at the University of South Australia Byron Sharp in his book How Brands Grow – what marketers don’t know highlights that “growth primarily comes from gaining new users rather than driving increased loyalty. Most brand users are light users. Hence, marketers need to build brand availability and mental availability. What this basically means is that if brands want to grow, then they have to ensure they reach non-users consistently.”

Observers point out that this is something which digital brands can effectively do using the unparalleled large scale and simultaneous reach that the IPL offers. The league itself has taken a page out of Byron’s marketing theories, has innovated, increased its reach in different languages, added viewing platforms, increased viewers, thus growing year on year. Inventory on the IPL telecast on the Disney Star India channels is limited at 800 seconds an hour with shorter ad breaks of 50 seconds each because of the fast-paced nature of the T20 game. Thus the OTS for a TVC is higher than on other television genres leading to high TOM recall. Research has also shown that increasingly TV viewers are constantly using their mobile phones as a second screen; hence cleverly crafted TVCs or ads leading audiences to respond instantly using their handheld device can generate instant and repeat interaction with a digital-first brand and even a transaction during IPL matches.

Consider the experience of digital lending marketplace Paisabazaar and insurance price-comparison and booking portal Policybazaar.  Brand managers at the two companies have regularly put their ad bucks behind cricket to build their brands and reach out to potential customers. In 2019, the duo advertised around IPL as well as the ICC World Cup and made a huge impression on viewers.

Paisabazaar chief marketing officer Sai Narayan is sold on the efficacy of the IPL as a national promotional platform. “IPL is one of the important vehicles for digital-first brands to increase their reach,” says he. “Brands continuously spend on digital mediums to generate ROI but TV gives scale. It generates a huge amount of free traffic and people end up searching for the brand. It creates a pull effect for the brand instead of the push effect.”

Narayan agrees that IPL is costlier than any other platform but the returns are also better as the conversion rate is higher and the brand recall and impact are much higher.  Says he: “Brands are ready to pay a premium for the incremental jump. If you advertise around it regularly, it helps in creating a strong brand salience,” says Narayan.

Additionally, his teams have been consistently witnessing jumps in the free traffic from 40 per cent to 50 per cent above the usual. Elaborates Narayan: “Whenever we have considered cricket, we have observed a substantial surge in our web traffic, resulting in lowering our cost per lead at a daily/ monthly/ campaign/ market level. The canvas to play within live sports is far bigger than traditional mediums, there are so many elements you can play with. A typical sporting event is long enough for brands to build a lasting recall value. If there were no live sports we might not have reached 40 million monthly users on Paisabazaar and 30 million monthly users on Policybazaar.”

Urban Company (formerly Urban Clap) went aggressive with its Ayushman Khurana-anchored TVC during the IPL 2019 promoting the company’s air conditioning (AC) services targeted at males on Star Sports’ HD channels.  The net result: searches and bookings for the sorely needed air condition repair service in the summer climbed. This allowed the management to expand Urban Clap into newer services as well as its footprint to newer Indian cities. Earlier this year, it went in for a rebranding exercise calling itself the Urban Company.

No wonder Dentsu Aegis CEO APAC & chairman India Ashish Bhasin believes that this season’s IPL presents a perfect opportunity that digital brands should exploit. “The pandemic has benefited digital companies as we have all moved more to digital as we have been working from home,” he says. “It’s obvious there is a distinct advantage to digital businesses to associate with the IPL as they are running well whereas the brick and mortar companies are still struggling to get back on their feet. The digital firms also have cash as they are well funded. Associating with the IPL gives them distinct benefits as well as tremendous exposure and engagement.”

Online food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy partnered with the IPL in 2018 and 2019 as an official associate broadcast sponsor.  It created six witty slices of life TVCs which were focused on the love of Indians for cricket and food. The core message the commercials conveyed: Swiggy allows consumers to enjoy the absorbing battle on the ground even as it looks after their stomach’s needs.

“Our TVCs are reflective of the national brand that Swiggy is today,” says Swiggy VP marketing Srivats T. “Post the last IPL campaign, we had millions of users download the app, waiting for Swiggy to go live in their cities. We saw growth in both new and repeat users. There was a phenomenal engagement on Swiggy Sixes – a property using which fans would get discounts if they placed an order within six minutes of a six being hit – with over a million viewers opting for it.”

Edutech company Byju’s has backed the IPL and even team India in recent times. According to VP marketing Atit Mehta, the Byju’s app sees increased downloads during India matches as compared to non-cricket days. “Other measurable objectives like awareness, audience engagement, time spent on the app, conversation rates, etc., also have shown an upward trend,” he said.

Digital payments company PhonePe too met with successful results when they chose the IPL as a consumer outreach and acquisition platform.  “We wanted to build awareness around digital payments and PhonePe amongst both rural and urban audiences in 2019,” said PhonePe founder &CEO Sameer Nigam. “We used a mass media platform like TV, the most popular sport cricket, and the IPL – the biggest sporting event of the year – to launch our new brand campaign.”

His faith in the league was justified when PhonePe reported a 115 per cent growth in the number of transactions.

These are some compelling figures marketers at startups and emerging digital businesses simply can’t ignore. The IPL has always been one of the largest marketing platforms for brands and marketers to gain from. With so many testimonies that prove this in more than just one way, it’s evident that this is the right time to get a lot of traction with the IPL and the festivities coming together from a timing perspective. It’s all about the right choices when it comes to Adex and spends. And when timed right, this can really turn a brand’s journey around. As the saying goes, success – though it may seem unsure initially - embraces those who go boldly were few have gone before.

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