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Making cricket a better ad bet

Advertising on cricket is not so much about the game itself, but about the fact that it draws huge viewership in India, writes Anita Sharan.

business Updated: Apr 05, 2007, 13:06 IST
Anita Sharan
Anita Sharan

First the dismay. Disappointment. Then the anxiety. Then panic reactions that saw advertisers scrambling to pull out ads featuring some Indian cricketers. Now, hopefully, hindsight realisations that will throw up more sensible commitments in the future?

Just look at how much emotion rings the game of cricket in India! ‘Game’ is perhaps not the right word; ‘emotion’ would be. For surely it was emotion more than rational thinking that led advertisers to commit Rs 400 crore on an ‘expectation’ that the Indian cricket team would go into the Super Eight in the ICC World Cup!

Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar International, agrees, “A lot of people bought hype.” Cricket-mad Madhukar Sabnavis, Ogilvy & Mather (India) Advertising’s head – discovery & planning, and regional director – thought leadership, also agrees. “When it comes to cricket, everyone operates on emotion rather than sanity.” He feels that the news media were also responsible for building up hype. But he does say that the expectation of India entering the Super Eight was not totally unreasonable. “India was expected to win against Bangladesh and Bermuda, if not Sri Lanka, which would have taken the team to the next level.”

Maybe, but it’s still a lot of money committed on an expectation. Ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey, also a cricket enthusiast, points out, “It should have been expected that 70 per cent viewers would switch off their TV sets if India didn’t go into the Super Eight. The adspend and media plan should primarily have been created with the 30 per cent of viewership that genuinely loves cricket, in mind. And then play it by ear.”

And then, after their expectation was dashed, advertisers scrambling to pull out cricketer-endorsed ads and asking their media buying agencies to renegotiate on contracts they themselves had signed and sealed! Sabnavis, known for his strategic, out-of-the-box thinking, comments, “Here, I agree that brand marketers pulling out cricket star ads now are getting as emotional as their viewers. Do you genuinely believe that Tendulkar endorsing a brand will lead to people rejecting it because of India’s cricket debacle?”

Pandey agrees when he takes a creative look at the World Cup-propelled advertising: “Those who made and released actual ‘cricket’ commercials—like the Nike ad—are not as hard hit as those who made their advertising around winning the World Cup—the ‘Hoo, Haa India’ kinds. Or the win-a ticket-to-the-World Cup types. Even those who used the cricketers in their ads are not as badly off as those concentrating on India winning the Cup.”

But why put so much money behind one sporting event? Are brands, in their desperation to get noticed in the clutter, getting too tactical, riding on events that draw large viewerships, rather than concentrate on creating true brand value that endures beyond tactical opportunities?

Pandey comments, “We need sharp, savvy media planners who know how to spread the budget more smartly.” But he doesn’t feel that an event such as this should not be taken advantage of either. “Advertisers will ride on whatever will draw the maximum audiences. Advertising on cricket is not so much about the game itself, but about the fact that it draws huge viewership in India. So do treat it as a great media opportunity, but don’t treat the Cup as the idea itself.”

Sabnavis says, “Cricket is the highest rating programme on television. Our hopes on Indian cricket will remain. Even today, cricket has not lost its edge.” He feels that in future, advertisers will go for contracts that are framed better, perhaps riding on India-played matches and TRPs.

Sinha, from the position of heading a media agency, looks at this possibility more closely. “In the short term, there will be some advertiser aversion to cricket; some pullback will happen. But beyond that, advertisers will become extremely careful about evaluating the opportunity, with better detailing, analysis and understanding built into contracts. Media buying will be based on results, with advertisers looking at ratings-based deals.”

He says that in our country there has been no focus on advertising contracts. The current World Cup experience has brought attention to that. “Advertisers will henceforth fine-tune their contracts, working with their media agencies and the channels.”

He has a significant observation on a larger level. He states it through an example. “If you look at the US, basketball, baseball and football are big sports. Only football has any international presence, the other two are more US-specific. They are great opportunities for advertisers and significantly, whichever team wins or loses, the advertisers get the desired ratings. That’s because the game itself is bigger than any team.”

Sinha anticipates the possibility of some cricket events created within India, something like the UK has-have some of the regular players in the team and invite players from other countries to make up the rest. Then play matches within the country.

Sabnavis and people like him who are worried about what will happen to cricket itself in India – “Hockey was bigger than cricket in India till out team started losing consistently, and then cricket grew in importance”—should find Sinha’s idea appealing.

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