IPL, pitfalls of celebrity advertising and creative ads of the week

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The Indian Premier League (IPL), rife with celebrity ads, is not just a big event in the cricketing calendar but also an advertising event. It has been compared to the Super Bowl but the characteristics of the two events are different. Both are expensive for advertisers but the similarity ends there.

Super Bowl vs IPL

Cricket by nature is an advertiser’s delight as there is an opportunity to insert a spot (or two) every 5 minutes of the game i.e. after each over. Add the breaks after a wicket falls, during a time out, drinks break and such and you have a surfeit of ads be it a 4-hour game, one-day or over 5 days. In contrast, Super Bowl has specific ad breaks in which the ads are shown one after the other. While Super Bowl final is on a specific day, the ads meant for release on that day are usually announced a month prior to the event. It then becomes an event on social media and trade portals, in effect for a month or so. Advertising on Super Bowl is expensive and can only be afforded by those with deep marketing budgets. Companies with limited marketing budgets (typically startups) also see it an ‘all or nothing’ opportunity staking all monies on that one big event in the hope of gaining traction. Traditionally, Super Bowl ads have relied on bizarre, over the top humour or plot lines, jaw-dropping production values (read, expensive film), celebrities – just about anything to ensure that the ad gets noticed. The window of opportunity is short – even more so before the social media era when that just one airing was all that the brand had to create buzz. All this meant that the cost of that one campaign was staggeringly expensive when cost of airing, production of the film and its promotion on social media are added up.

In contrast, the opportunity to see an ad multiple times is high on IPL as the event lasts for almost two months and there are many airings on a single day (far too frequently perhaps). The time between breaks for ads also means that short duration ads (30-seconds or less) are preferred on IPL. In contrast, it is common to see long format ads on the Super Bowl. IPL is seen as a platform to create brand awareness and affinity both by established brands and new-age startups in India. Big advertisers like ITC and tech startups like Dream11 and CRED see merit in the association. Unfortunately, the quality of ads on display during the recent IPL editions has been dodgy.

Celebrity endorsements as a catch-all solution

Even outside of IPL, many advertisers and agencies believe that celebrity endorsements are a sure-fire route to create awareness. It is true that presence of a celebrity garners attention but beyond that relevance to the brand and how the celebrity is used in a story line are more important. Decades ago, only a handful of brands (Unilever for example) could afford to sign up a celebrity. Now the playing field is level and hence we see the same actor endorsing low involvement products such as steel pipes and high involvement products such as an upscale automobile. In the bargain, credibility is lost by both the brands as users know that it is just a paid endorsement not to be taken seriously. In such a scenario, at least entertaining the viewers is important to break the clutter. But a sea of sameness is what we see with celebrity ads.

Ad agencies are also constrained by the fact that they are simply informed of the decision to sign up a celebrity and are mandated to create an ad with him or her (or them) as protagonists. Celebrities allocate just a few hours for the shoot in between their busy schedules and often present constraints of having to shoot inside a studio (and not in some locale) or at best in the same city. So all of these come into play during a big event like IPL which is now seeing celebrity-based ads galore. Here’s a list of ads I spotted in a short span of time during the IPL telecast on TV (not on Hotstar):

Those which I found engaging, clutter-breaking and brought a smile are in bold. Both are brands which are not relying on celebrities and use silence, understated acting & situations to drive home the point. I could not find the PhonePe ads but here are the Livspace ones (whose earlier campaign can be seen here):

Agency: Tilt Brand Solutions

Among the ads I came across last week, the clear winner is the one for Mint Mobile which seems very meta in its strategy. A few months ago, Match.com released an ad featuring satan as a protagonist who gets paired with the horrible year 2020 (get it?). Now satan finds a job in ‘big telecom’ who ‘torture people on a whole other level’. It is literally ‘hell on earth’ as he plugs Mint Mobile in a round about way. The common factor between Match and Mint Mobile is of course the agency, Maximum Effort owned by actor Reynolds. They’ve been doing a fantastic job on all of the brands Ryan has been involved in – from Aviation Gin to R.M.Williams.

Agency: Maximum Effort

Do share your views on celebrity endorsements and the ads on IPL.

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