Much has already been said about the MakeMyTrip ad released on the day of the India-Pakistan cricket match on Oct 14, 2023. While I saw some social media posts praising it, many were trashing it – calling it inappropriate, in poor taste and unsporting. Some have sought to bring in a political angle claiming this reflects the India of today (unsaid part meaning ‘all this is happening post 2014). Some others on LinkedIn have ‘cancelled’ the ad agency and its founder. My two bits:
Moment marketing: I am not a big fan of the moment marketing brand wagon. A majority of such posts/ads have little or no relevance to the brand or product category. They don’t answer the simple ‘how does it benefit my brand?’ question. Yes, not every ad is meant to increase sales immediately. But it may help build brand affinity (make it more likeable), strengthen a position a brand owns or wants to appropriate. Or even reiterate a brand property (‘Have a break’). But, the creative ‘connect’ is often forced and too far stretched. Only few have had the happy coincidence of relevance to brand/business and smartly done creative – that brings a smile.
Business connect: I thought the MMT ad had a slender connect to the business. Yes, it was about offering a comfortable stay, but we all know that inviting guests and ‘taking care of them’ (even though it talked about ‘atithi devo bhava’) was not the intent. There were hardly any fans from the away team visiting us due to visa restrictions, anyway. So it was done purely to create buzz, IMO. I would be surprised if it results in increased bookings or app downloads (which by itself doesn’t mean much – the app has to be used frequently for monetary transactions).
So by the above two yardsticks, was the MMT ad absolutely necessary? Not in my book. Would I have done ahead with investing behind such an idea? Again, no. I found the second full page ad – with just the logo, to be wasteful. I am not sure what the compulsion was but I did not see any benefit out of that.
Strategy comes first (what is the right thing to say? Does it make business sense?) and then the creative execution. Could the ad have been written better or the message conveyed in a different way? That is subjective – as with every ad. What exactly are people finding ‘offensive’ or in ‘poor taste’ about that MakeMyTrip ad? That it made fun of a losing scenario for the opponent’s team? That even ‘Mauka Mauka’ did, back from 2015.
I personally did not find anything offensive or insulting to a group or country in the MakeyMyTrip ad. Mis-spelling the phrase ‘Boys played well’ could be seen as poking fun at someone else’s poor English – I noticed that and that could have been avoided. Many seem to have found the aspect of portraying the opponent as a loser (the ‘discount codes’ were based on that) in poor taste. The ‘mauka mauka’ ad too did pretty much that – and could have backfired if Pakistan had won those matches. But they took the risk.
I am not a frequent traveller and have used the MMT app occasionally. Will the ad help me get into the consideration set of brands I would consider for travel booking? I don’t think. But such business related aspects are more complex than just the result of an ad. I am a Swiggy loyalist (primary because I prefer the app experience and have paid for the premium membership) but do like some the of social media posts and ‘moment marketing’ efforts of Zomato. Maybe if I have a bad experience with Swiggy I might try out Zomato.
Sports and promotional campaigns: it is common for TV channels to pitch their promotional campaigns of a series (especially in cricket) around rivalry. We see that with England & Australia and The Ashes. In 2015, Star Sports ran its first ad of the ‘Mauka Mauka series’ anchored on the fact that the average Pakistani cricket fan will continue to ‘wait in vain’ to celebrate a victory over India in the World Cup. It had universal appeal, did not get a polarised reaction in India and was hailed as a masterpiece. In my view, the sentiment in the MMT ad is pretty similar to that. The ‘imaginary fans’ of a rival team have been ‘trolled’ in both the cases.
Consumer behaviour and mindset with sports: as with many irrational habits, fandom with sports seems to fall in that category. I am not a football fan but have heard of rivalries taken to the extreme when it comes loyalty towards teams. It’s worse than the Mac-PC or iPhone-Android wars. In the case of India-Pakistan cricket matches such rivalry has long taken an extreme turn. And human behaviour is not always consistent – context matters. The same city which gave Pakistan team a standing ovation in a match in 1999, did not ‘allow’ Sri Lankan players to play in Chennai during the IPL. In a crowd of thousands, there are always a handful of spectators who misbehave: shoes were at their own CSK players in Chennai, while some spectators supporting Pakistan taunted Indian players after the loss during Champions Trophy in 2017. Brands can fall into the trap of fuelling such flame wars.
It is also true that ‘do not bring politics & religion into sports‘ has not been taken seriously by all stake holders: countries, athletes or players and fans. Even in cricket, several players have taken stances on political issues and brought in a religious angle to the goings on in the field. Add to it the heady mix of trolls on social media and we have the possibility of anything related to sports rivalry rubbing people the wrong way and inviting criticism.
As far as the online outrage is concerned, I think that is to be expected in this age when everything and everyone is under the microscope and up for criticism. Such a situation may not suit all brands. Some thrive on outrageous claims, imagery that can cause offence – remember Benetton, MTV or even Diesel in the recent years? Not all brands are made of that DNA. Overall, did the brand benefit in any way from this initiative? The jury maybe out on that. But to me it appears to have been a risk which is unlikely to do much good for the brand.