Will IPL become the Super Bowl of Indian advertising?

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Over the years, Super Bowl in the US has become as much an advertising event as a sporting event. Broadcasters charge an arm & a leg (30 seconds of airtime cost $2.5 million to $2.8 million) for advertising on the event. And advertisers seem to have no issues paying up. It guarantees eyeballs in millions: this final drew 106.5 million viewers, beating previous Super Bowl records. The pre- and post event buzz ensures that the event (and by association, the advertised brand) stays in the public eye beyond that just one day of the finals. Sure, some advertisers have begun to question the logic of the high investments – notable among them being Pepsi & FedEx, who stayed away from this year’s Super Bowl.

Advertising on the Super Bowl has traditionally been either whacky, funny, bizarre, or mega. Some of the spots made for Super Bowl ran only once – the oft-quoted Apple ‘1984’ being one of them. Brands like Budweiser, FedEx, Miller and several others have created ads for the event which then went on to become viral and hugely popular. Agencies had the freedom to think wild – the whackier the better. It was all about outsmarting the competition in terms of humour, scale of production, capturing the public imagination etc. So ‘created for Super Bowl’ deserved special focus as far as ads went. In short, it is an event looked forward to for it’s advertising too.

In India, I thought the Indian Premier League had the potential to go the Super Bowl way: purely from an advertising point of view. Here is a media event which has clearly caught the public’s imagination. Presence on the live telecast guaranteed huge visibility for the brand. Yet, most of the ads I see on IPL 3 are either short edits or regular ads, which will see life beyond IPL. Sure, we had Vodafone’s Zoozoos, but I don’t think it was conceived as ‘specially for IPL’. Some new ads (e.g. from Havells) have also been launched during this season’s IPL. But, none have gone the way of ‘Super Bowl Ads’. A few thoughts:

1. Global advantage: The most visible brands on Super Bowl are global brands. So an ad created for Super Bowl by FedEx, Miller Lite or Budweiser has the potential to become an internet sensation outside the US and add to the brand’s ‘cool quotient’. That is not an advantage enjoyed by Indian brands. One can hardly recall an ad that has gone crazily viral even in India – save for Zoozoos. Also, even if those ads are rooted in American culture it has an audience outside the US, thanks to Hollywood which has made ‘Americana’ familiar to us. That can’t be said of ads rooted in Indian culture or idioms.

2. Small brand, funny creative: Relatively unknown brands (who perhaps never advertise outside of the Super Bowl) use the event to propel the brand into the public eye – e.g EDS, e*Trade, Interflora etc. They do this by creating ‘talked about’ ads usually relying on humour. In India too, brands like Karbonn, Maxx mobiles and K7 anti-virus could be examples of using a big event like IPL to gain visibility, but not always on the back of pathbreaking or memorable advertising. Their visibility could be attributed to smart sponsorship deals (Karbonn is the official mobile partner for IPL and organizes spectator catch contests in between innings breaks), use of celebrities or innovative media buys (remember seeing a telecom brand ad in between deliveries. Sigh.). As an aside, there was a time when a Top 10 programme on TV used to be referred to as Philips Top 10. Has DLF got a similar mileage being the title sponsor?  J K Cement ad which debuted during the India-South Africa cricket telecast is more like the GoDaddy kind of approach – some skin show and buzz. At least the first lot of GoDaddy ads were funny – though the gag has become stale now. Despite the high cost, small brands thought it was wise investing behind the Super Bowl – on the back of funny scripts that they hoped will create buzz. We haven’t seen such an approach from small-to-medium advertisers vis-a-vis IPL.

3. Costly entertainment: advertising on the IPL is not cheap. A 10-sec spot reportedly costs Rs.5 lac and the sponsorship costs are fairly steep, I would imagine. It’s natural that the focus is on frequency thereby placing ads of short duration (15-25 seconds). Add to it the competition for space – both time & mind space. The time slot between overs sees so many ads (some cut short, mercifully) that it’s difficult to create an impact in such a short duration. So, leisurely 45-sec or 60-sec ads are virtually non-existent. Also, the whole event is more like a tamasha – there is so much going on in terms of entertainment even on the live telecast, the viewer is bombarded with visual messages. There is the Citi Moment of Success, a DLF Maximum, ads between deliveries – nothing is spared of monetization. So is the approach one of making one’s brand name memorable and being satisfied with the high TVRs?

So, two events similar in so many ways, yet so different in terms of approach to advertising. What are your thoughts on IPL as an advertising event? Do comment in.


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  1. IMO what is different is that the two sports allow
    for different advertising formats and hence advertisers should take advantage. Im not sure if you can squeeze in ads like you do between deliveries in IPL in other sports like football or soccer.

    It would take one advertiser to say "this is an exclusive IPL ad" – everyone else will line up to do the same.

  2. Your comparison of IPL-SB is apt. But IPL have one advantage over SB, it is more transnational. If properly marketed, the IPL virus can spread to more territories. Indian subcontinent alone have about 1.25 billion population and that too with high cricket craze density. If not in terms of revenue then I am sure IPL will overtake SB in no. of eyeballs it attracts. Within 3 yrs the brand value of IPL is about $4 billion as against $12 billion of EPL.

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  4. Sriram Iyer Reply

    I think because the IPL guarantees such high TRP's, marketers would want to play safe and not do something crazy or weird. And forget the out-of-the-box ideas, the ads in the first week of this IPL season have been below general standards.

  5. The depth of analysis is impressive. May be the lack of penetration of internet in India and especially lack of attention to the medium explains the difference in type of advertisements.

  6. Hi

    One of the big differences is that Superbowl is that the Finale' of the NFL season. I think you imply that the IPL finale' would be something like the Superbowl. For starters the IPL Final should be branded on the lines of Superbowl (NFL Finals – American Football) or the World Series (MLB Finals – Baseball).

    So I guess we should wait for the IPL Finals and see if they broadcast any special ala 1984esque ads. Mind you, that was only aired once. Don't think Indian brands have that guts, but they sure can surprise you (pleasantly) once in a while.

  7. It will very soon. But the broadcasters will have to clean up their act. Patching every space-time discontinuum with an ad is much too irritating and disappointing. Hike up the rates for a spot, make a 15 second spot a prize catch, go the superbowl way. They will still make as much money. Pardon me if I digressed but i am a bit too irked at the ads coming from all the corners of my screen when I watch a match,

  8. Bit uncertain if the sports marketing boffins attempt is to make it the "World Series" Super Bowl or the Premiership. If you consider the sports appeal, but may be a different story from the media (rates) perspective.

    Which brings me to another point, in all the brou ha ha and indeed, "crowdsourced" commentary on the quality of IPL advertising, how come no media boffin has commented on the advertising? Or what could have been done to integrate ideas better (say, for instance, like the Axe 10 seconders). Pretty glaring example of the divide in Indian advertising.

    Perhaps another way of looking at the creative work, is to think that the only real way to judge IPL commercials, is that they should not cause any damage to the brands (being advertised). Or, erode the past equity of the brand.

    By this logic, a new brand would be ill advised to depend only on the IPL to give them a boost, and hopefully, someday resort to a more holistic strategy.

    As an aside, am frankly more concerned that team franchisees are already comparing themselves to the brand successes of say, Manchester United. May be a minor point worth noting, but clubs/brands of that stature have been around for more than a 100 years. With a limited track record of success, I may add.

    The problem may stem from a overt western (north american) worldview on advertising. Try to be as brash as possible, without trying to understand nuance and above all, sell by all means. Which is all very well on the face of it.

    But proves that the problem isn't necessarily advertising, but greed (and a fundamental lack of clarity from both marketers & their agencies)

    Oh dear, quite a rant. Imagine if I had to actually get things off my chest.

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