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Global pitch

For long, our cricketing heroes have been the poster boys of advertising. But now the world’s best sporting stars are here, selling everything from swanky flats to fizzy colas. Rohit Bhaskar reports. Home to the stars | Then and now

india Updated: Dec 31, 2012 02:10 IST
Rohit Bhaskar

What makes a good marketing campaign? A slick advertisement, an intelligible catchphrase or that x-factor: a celebrity endorser.

Before you, courteous reader and consumer, answer that just give this pearl of advertising wisdom a thought. In the early 1990s, a shampoo company in Chicago wanted to build up their brand in the area.

To endorse their line of hair products they signed the most popular sporting hero of the city, basketball wizard Michael Jordan. So what if he was bald?

Of course, in advertising, ideas far south of a bald man selling a shampoo have been hatched and executed. But, when you have the pull and charisma of one of greatest sporting heroes of all time, you’re bound to succeed. Home to the stars

And so it proved as it became the largest selling shampoo in the area within months of Jordan signing on. Go on, you… place that eBay bid for the Roberto Carlos comb and the Brian Lara fairness cream!

That’s not cricket
For long, India’s cricketing heroes have been the poster boys of Indian advertising selling this, that and the other.

But now with economic independence many brands have started looking beyond Indians and cricketers. The world’s best sporting stars are jetting to your homes, smiling at you from giant billboards and selling everything from swanky flats to fizzy colas.

When UK-based real estate developers Homestead needed a big name for their opulent debut project in India they signed seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher.

The German racing legend lent his name to a signature tower — a lavish, single-tower residential project decked up with its own helipad, café and Schumi museum.

For their next project, they signed up Russian tennis queen Maria Sharapova. The blonde beauty flew down to the country and dazzled as India watched.

But, how strong is the selling power of these international big-wigs and is there a market connect? Then and now

Homestead India COO, Manoj Shrivastava, certainly felt so, especially since their target consumer was the “well-heeled, well-travelled, high-end home buyer”.

Going for these international sporting superstars, he said, is the right way because they are admired globally for their excellence, which is the kind of image they want to project for their high-end product.

The Gamechangers
The trend of bringing in international sporting stars has even caught on with brands that were, at least locally, exclusively reliant on cricketers, and to an extent on Bollywood icons. Pepsi is one of them.

Pepsi India director, Homi Battiwalla, explains: “Our 2011 Change the Game campaign for the ICC Cricket World Cup celebrated the new unorthodox, yet immensely popular face of modern cricket. That campaign aimed to inspire the youth to ‘change the game’, be innovative, take risks, and do things differently.”

“In 2012, we took forward the thought of Change the Game to celebrate the emergence of football in India. We launched a comprehensive football campaign that took forward the philosophy of Change the Game with a refreshing twist. The first step was to seed the platform of football via an irreverent TV campaign and then take it forward to a mega campaign that paired some of the world’s best footballers against some of our finest cricketers in a never before seen campaign that combined the best of both sports,” he adds.

As part of the campaign, Pepsi banked on their global brand ambassadors, Chelsea stars Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba. Ivorian Drogba even flew down to India and was greeted by thousands at Delhi’s Thyagaraj Stadium, where he stole the limelight from a host of India cricketers, including skipper MS Dhoni.

The results of the campaign was a clear indication to Pepsi that football is fast emerging as the favourite of their target youth market.

“It’s exciting to see the interest shown by leading European football clubs in India and the growth of branded bars, apparel and merchandise across the cities.. All this indicates the sport’s growing popularity and Pepsi decided to take this to the next level by giving the sport the required scale and visibility,” said Battiwalla.

“We believe football is a fast emerging youth passion in India and the objective behind our campaign was to give it the scale it deserves. Our campaign this year, managed to celebrate the fervour associated with the sport and bring focus to it like never before. Football ,like cricket, is going to be one of our strong youth platforms and will continue to be a part of our marketing calendars going forward,” he added.

The numbers don’t lie, 448 teams and 3,136 amateur players got their kicks; over 3 lakh consumers across 7 cities came to the show.

Through the initiative Pepsi India’s Facebook page grew from 2.06 million fans to 3.17 million fans; on YouTube, the campaign received 1 million views; on Twitter, #PepsiT20Football trended nationally 6 times during the city finals across 7 cities.

During the grand finale, #PepsiFootyFinale trended worldwide.

Kicking up a storm
But it’s not just Pepsi who are digging into their coffers to get the world’s best footballers to the country. At the start of the year, German auto giants Audi got Bayern Munich to India amid much fanfare. The Bavarians put on a show for the delirious fans and everyone went back smiling, some all the way to the bank.

In October, Kerala’s Chemmanur International Jewellers, owned by tycoon Bobby Chemmanur, got Argentine legend Diego Maradona to open a jewellery store in soccer-mad Kannur town.

Over 50,000 fans turned up as Maradona sang, danced and, for good measure, showed what he can still do with a football.

Maradona’s association with the group goes further back, last year he inaugurated a Chemmanur showroom in Dubai as well.

Most recently, it was another South American football wizard, Ronaldinho, who flew down to Pune to market his upcoming foray into movies.

After a year that saw India’s cricketers continually come up short on the field, their woes have now stretched beyond the ground, with foreign superstars taking a big bite of their sponsorship pie.

Thank god, they still have all that IPL money to fall back on!