Cricket fever is raging across the country. The other day, I heard a group of young fans discussing who would win the World Cup. “I think it’s going to be Castrol,” said a bright young lad, “they’ve managed to rope in Sachin.”
His friend violently disagreed. “Airtel DTH is bound to win, because they’ve got both Saif and Kareena,” he opined. Another said it would be a toss-up between sponsors Sony Bravia, Vodafone and Hero Honda. “One of them is sure to be the champion with the maximum number of ads during the tournament,” he added.
At this point, I butted in on their erudite conversation to ask diffidently, “But you do think India will win, don’t you?” The look they gave me was of unalloyed contempt. After a withering silence, one of them condescended to say, “Seeing that India generates 70% of global cricket revenues, there’s no question of losing,” before they all turned their backs pointedly.
At a cocktail party, a cricket enthusiast said you had to take the on-ground advertisers too into account. “The viewer these days is literally assaulted by these ads on the cricket ground popping up on TV and they’re certain to leave a lasting impression,” he said. He believed LG Electronics would deliver the goods, because it has Dinesh Karthik, Genelia D’Souza, John Abraham as well as Abhay Deol. A cricketing correspondent backed Pepsi, pointing out they had a tough act to beat in Dhoni, Sehwag and Harbhajan going topless.
Crawling home late that night, I overheard two bookies in the shadows discussing cricket. “With those Pak cricketers suspended, we’ll have a tough time at the World Cup, Dawoodbhai,” lamented one of them. The other laughed heartily. “My dear Mastanbhai,” he said, “betting has never been easier. Spot fixing is yesterday’s game. Thanks to the extraordinary evolution of cricket, we are now taking bets on which brand will be displayed on a player’s chest, pads, sleeves, cap and bum.”
Cricketing quizzes too have mushroomed. I dropped in on one of them and was awed by some of the questions. “How many seconds have been sold for every match on each of the channels on which the World Cup will be aired?” was one of them. A sporting type got the right answer: 5,100 seconds. These guys really know their cricket.
Meanwhile, at a marketing conclave the other day, I found a group of executives complaining bitterly. “If you watch TV, you’ll find the advertising during the World Cup is punctuated by breaks, during which some demented people in the ground hit a small round object with a stick and then they all run helter-skelter,” grumbled a senior manager.
An irate marketer wanted to know why on earth they ran around like headless chickens when they could instead look at ads. A wise ad man said it was a quaint ancient custom handed down from time immemorial. Some of them wanted to ban the activity completely, because it distracted people from the ads. A sage old consultant, however, said he was all for a compromise. “I have a dream,” he said, his voice choking with emotion, “of seeing a Nike brand ambassador’s right arm with a Boost logo deliver a Whirlpool spin down the Pepsi pitch to a Reebok brand ambassador with an LG bat, who then does a Baskin Robbins scoop shot over the Bombay Dyeing covers, beyond the outstretched arms tattooed with the message ‘Bedekar’s Pickles’ of the player wearing a Big Bazaar cap, for a Wills (Smoking is injurious to health) Super Six, while the fans sms which brand display was the best.”
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint. The views expressed by the author are personal