IPL advertising: Not quite pitch-perfect this year, says industry

Experts from the adland feel brand activity around the cricketing extravaganza has not been too impressive this year so far

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Sep 21, 2020 9:56 AM

Mumbai Indians’ Rohit Sharma smashing a boundary on the first delivery of IPL 2020 opener between CSK and MI at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi may have been that perfect start to the most anticipated sporting league of the year. But while excitement over the game reached fever pitch in a short time, brand activity around IPL led to the temperatures dropping just as much, say the experts from the ad industry.

Having watched the game over the weekend, Sambit Mohanty, head of creative, South - McCann Worldgroup, says, “It goes without saying that 2020 IPL is sure to achieve a new viewership record because of a huge captive audience confined at home. The festive season is also round the corner, so brands are hoping that IPL, with its massive reach, will help boost demand. In terms of the advertising on-air, I didn’t catch anything noticeable, even from prime sponsors such as Dream-11, Byju’s, etc. But these are early days yet, and one hopes there will be some fun stuff worth writing about.”

With people eagerly waiting for the IPL to start after a rather dull year for marketing, it was considered a great opportunity for brands to cash in and bounce back by investing in good ads. But Deepak Singh, Founder & CEO, Vitamin D says, “Looking at the work that has been done, unfortunately, I don't see that kind of action. The quality of production also clearly indicates that the clients have squeezed their budgets. Perhaps the restricted options for shoot too might have played a role.”

Clearly Covid-19 has dampened creativity or restricted its expression. Talking about some of the campaigns that appealed to him at some level, Singh says, “One campaign that seems better than the rest is that of Dream11 that aims at reviving the magical moments from our gully cricket days. It will surely connect with everyone, but I still feel that the idea is not as fresh. The 'ek saath wali baat' campaign has nice, human stories to tell. But I expect a lot more from Star Sports, keeping in mind all the really cool and catchy stuff they've done in the past. Jio has done its typical jingle concept, but with the kind of celebrity factor they have, they could have attempted something different. Overall, decent work to create all the noise, but I feel a lot more interesting stuff could have been done. Let's see if brands have something more to offer in the next few weeks of the tournament.”

There was no dearth of ads, both on TV and Hotstar. In fact, there were many memes going around on social media about seven ads being shown in one over on Star Sports. Apart from the usual suspects – prominent players in the automobile, e-commerce, FMCG, BFSI, and manufacturing sectors, the rise of sectors like fintech, edutech, OTT and online mobile gaming in India since lockdown was clearly visible with multiple brands unleashing their first ever campaign during IPL this year. Brands like Dream11, Byju’s, Vi, Kent, Pepsi, Shaadi.com, Policybazaar.com, WhiteHatJr, DailyHunt, Asian Paints, Gamezy, Urban Company, PhonePe, Amul Comfy, Amazon Prime Videos etc were some of the advertisers on TV while we saw brands like Dream11, Khatabook, Aakash Hybrid, Great Learning etc on Hotstar. Contextual IPL ads like Amazon’s ‘Chonkpur Cheetahs’, Swiggy’s ‘gulab jamun’ from the previous years however were very limited this year.

Bodh Deb, Vice President and branch head, Autumn Grey, says, “What stood out for me was to see so many online fantasy gaming brands opting for either one of our favourite cricketers or film stars to promote their respective brands this IPL. However, my favourite campaign this IPL is clearly the rib-tickling series from Dailyhunt. It’s a series of six 15- seconders that highlight the app’s USP. What I liked the most about this campaign was the hilarious analogies inspired from real-life situations that the team came up with to communicate the app’s key features. IPL is a long tournament and we have all experienced boredom during the second half of the tournament watching the same ads over and over again during the intervals. Well I am sticking my neck out and saying that this IPL, Daily Hunt's TV spots are something I will happily watch and enjoy till the end of the tournament.”
Talking about the ads he loved, Mayur Hola, Head, Global Brand, Oyo says, “The IAPL (Indian Advertising Premier League) is finally here with its panel of marketing+communication commentators and their learned quips; ‘That ad is such a let down! BS media plan! Investor money being burnt etc’. Aap critics toh agarbatti jalate thhe na prabhu. So I’ll just focus on the best I saw so far in my honest opinion. Hotstar, DDB, Early Man (Mathew & Pratiman) killing it again. Dream 11’s relatable gully cricket spots, well played Tilt. Can’t think of a third one, except Dhoni’s all over like a rash. But super pleased to see him back on the field and on-screen.”

IPL 2020 has been a very different experience for the viewers, from watching the top cricketers play in empty stadiums, the fake crowd sound added by organizers to give an illusion of real cheering, or for the first time, watching these matches largely in isolation on TV screens juggling work and cooking, courtesy Covid-related restrictions.
Elaborating on the point, Azazul Haque, CCO, Mullen Lintas, says, “If cricket is India’s religion, IPL is its biggest festival. There can’t be a festival without a crowd in the stadiums, or the legendary weekend house parties. That’s why IPL didn’t feel like IPL and lacked lustre. Even the sponsors and campaigns that got aired were primarily by a very few brands. It didn’t look like Indian Super Bowl. Dream 11 seemed like the biggest investor and they had reasons. People sitting at home have very high chances of doing online betting. Hardly any big brands, apart from Apple, were seen, and there were a lot of unknown brands, mostly online ones.”

Explaining why he feels the brand activity has not been too impressive, Haque says, “It’s also partly because Diwali, India’s biggest festival, is round the corner and a lot of brands would not want to burn their advertising budgets on IPL, especially in a tough financial year like this. Most campaigns had lukewarm creatives. Nothing clutter breaking or fresh, except a TVC by upGrad showing a donkey. Overall, the opening of IPL looked pale as compared to other years, and it was expected. Hoping that as the tournament progresses, it brings back the excitement in the audience. If not, IPL this year will be a disappointment for many brands that have invested in cricket’s biggest ever property.”

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