Of celebrity advertising and IPL

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The dearth of good ads during the IPL 2020 broadcast was discussed in social media and trade portals recently. The use of celebrities as a default option was also mentioned in this context. Some asked if working remotely led to a dearth of good IPL ads this year. In my view, the constraints of the lockdown periods were applicable to all.

Yet, some managed to still create clutter breaking communication as seen even in the early days of total shutdown. Even during the IPL, a couple of brands – Dream11 and CRED, in my view, created compelling ads anchored on a compelling idea and (or) good execution.

Remarkable content is rare

Fact is, a majority of the ads are mediocre and go unnoticed. A simple check on the ads we recall over the last 24 hours – despite being bombarded with commercial messages on every screen imaginable is proof enough. In fact, there was a concept of Day After Recall (DAR) research among consumers in advertising, tracking the ads and brand names recalled correctly, 24 hours after an ad was released in media. Not surprisingly, only a handful would be recalled correctly. When you consider the millions of dollars spent on buying media space & time everyday, it is a colossal waste. But the industry seems to be okay with it relying on media spending power as a means to drive awareness and recall.

But this skew of ‘remarkable content’ being low is not limited to advertising alone. A majority of movies, music, books, media reports, social media posts are pretty much run of the mill. So to expect something radically different from ads during the IPL may not be practical.

Made for IPL or edits of thematic ads?

The IPL has become an annual advertising event, just as Super Bowl is in the US. There are differences though. The Super Bowl game is limited to one evening though the ad campaigns and stories about them are seeded in media a good month in advance. So the lead up to the Super Bowl has the media talking about the ads already. Even on the day of the event, the ad reveals are discussed threadbare on media. The IPL and the game of cricket are different. The game itself is an advertiser’s delight as there is scope for an ad break of 30-60 seconds every 5 minutes (in between overs) and during the innings break. Also, the event lasts well over a month and hence the scope for visibility is high.

During the early days of IPL, advertisers simply aired shorter edits (as the property was expensive in terms of air time) of thematic edits they used to run during the rest of the year. The ‘made for IPL’ is a recent phenomenon led by new age brands such as Swiggy. It makes sense to create bespoke campaigns for IPL (if brands can afford it) given the viewership and options in placing regular and interactive ads on streaming platforms such as Hotstar (which can have specific CTAs such as purchase).

Since it is a sporting event, anchoring the plot on the game or consumer behaviour towards it (passion, addiction, rooting for favourite teams, heart breaks, cheering etc.) seems natural. But force-fitting a cricket celebrity or a situation just for the sake of it doesn’t feel right. As with regular advertising it all depends on the central idea and relevant, smart use of celebrities.

Celebrity endorsements – sought after and easier route?

Even though ad industry seniors may see it as a lazy option, the route of signing up a celebrity (either from the film industry or sport) is considered an effective option among those who control the purse strings – advertisers. Common sense indicates that a remarkable, clutter-breaking ad will require less media investments to be noticed and talked about than a ‘regular’ ad. The latter will need higher opportunity-to-see and rely on repetitiveness to create awareness. But achieving the former is a far tougher task than the latter, which is an easier option – hence adopted more.

Also the belief is that even if it is a fairly straight forward script the presence of a celebrity gives it firepower and a reason to be noticed. I have been part of such regular ads, commonly seen in FMCG like soaps, beauty products and staple foods, during my ad agency days. Take these two ads for example – imagine both without a celebrity and they may not achieve much traction.

Using a celebrity the right way also requires hard work and other constraints such as availability of the celebrity. The easiest route (and boring) is simple endorsement – pointing to the pack or product in question. Casting the celebrity as a character in a plot is an option which requires a central theme and a story line, like in this ad for Tata Sky. Celebrities playing themselves but in a manner which is charming, believable, relevant is a rarity – as seen in the ads for Aviation Gin featuring Ryan Reynolds or the recent ones for Dream11.

In sum, remarkable ads will continue to be a small portion of the total advertising output and celebrity endorsements with simple ‘buy this because I say so’ will continue to be a regular feature in advertising.

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