Will IPL help creative agencies score the much needed runs this year?

We find out about the buzz in the advertising industry around IPL this year

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Sep 1, 2020 9:24 AM

It is the first big live sporting event to be aired after the coronavirus pandemic crippled India for six months. IPL has always been an advertiser’s paradise, but given the circumstances, will it spread as much happiness in the advertising world this time? Star has managed to sell more than 50 per cent inventory for IPL already, but the question is how many of the non-sponsors are as excited about the sporting action this year and how many fresh IPL spots are being created by ad agencies.

Talking about the IPL buzz within his agency, Sagar Kapoor, CCO, Lowe Lintas, says, “We are still in talks with many brands as of now. A lot needs to be figured out in terms of the inventories. In another week we should know which are the clients who are going through with IPL this year. This is clearly the biggest event on TV this year, and it sure is going to be crazy. Most of the brands are trying to get back on their feet and IPL will inspire them to do that in a big way. Also, the production process has fallen into place once again, so we are likely to see more ad momentum in the IPL season.”

But considering that agency remuneration has taken a hit in the past few months owing to the pandemicas, is the fee this year comparable to what an IPL ad would otherwise fetch?
Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous, says, “We are already working with three of our clients on fresh content surrounding IPL, and all of them are not direct sponsors of the IPL. Most of them provide services online, I can't obviously name them because they are in the midst of conversations on buying inventory. All these brands are paying us our usual fee, a fair price, which is similar to what was paid last year during the IPL season.”

According to Rajdeepak Das, MD India and CCO, South Asia, Leo Burnett, whose agency is already working on IPL ads for brands like Spotify, PhonePe and ACKO, all directors have been blocked for the next few weeks. "Q1 & Q2 were rather alarmist for most brands, so now IPL is going to be like a big battleground for advertisers. It is not like World War III took place and all infrastructure is gone and demand is gone. It is just slowdown, and that’s why, with the push, demand will come back. And in India, it is hope that drives demand and cricket too.”

However two other creative heads of network agencies we spoke to, on the condition of anonymity, didn’t have such an optimistic perspective. One of them said, “As of now not much is happening on IPL. I guess the uncertainty plus the cost cutting is taking its toll on brands and indirectly on agencies too.”
Echoing the sentiment the other creative head said, “Cricket is a bit slow now. We finished one campaign for a mobile brand for IPL and some are in the works. But overall, my hunch is the season won’t be as big as previous years.”

Santosh Padhi, Co-founder & CCO, Taproot Dentsu, reasons, history says IPL has been one of the largest events for marketers, brands, and hence for agencies as well. "After all the unwanted phase, I think IPL is being held at a good time. It’s actually a breather, where there is a positive 'let’s face-the-fact' mindset already into action. Things have opened up, and by next month, there is certainly going to a lot better momentum. I think some of the new preferred category players will be seen apart from the usual ones. I feel overall, there will be bit less visibility of brands. But I’m happy to be proven wrong. I’m hoping for IPL to be a great aggressive striking opener for our industry, as we need a massive target to be chased in coming months.”

Owing to the sentiment against Chinese brands, Chinese handset manufacturers, who were otherwise highly visible during the league, may not be that active during this IPL. Some creative heads feel automobile brands, especially two-wheelers, may make up for that void even though the scale may not be comparable to that of last year.

Elaborating on the kind of categories that may be at the forefront during the IPL this year, Gautham Narayanan, Managing Director of W+K, says IPL will hold high importance to a few brands like Dream11 because of the nature of that industry. It's all online, so they're obviously going to double down on the game this year because naturally there's an affinity to an online-only business, he explains.

"Of course the others sponsoring it will be creating IPL-specific ads. But one can’t discount the production restrictions which are still in place, especially when it comes to showing the large crowds which give the IPL flavour. If you have seen the documentary about Mumbai Indians, you’ll know fans play such a central role to the product, to each franchise. With empty stadiums, it would be a difficult experience to recreate. Overall, I would imagine the demand for IPL spots will come down,” adds Narayanan.
Another creative head of a big agency has a similar view. He says, “With IPL we’re trying to execute films, quickly and remotely. The IPL action, as far as the creative agency role is concerned, will be far lesser. And it is tough for us because films are still hard to shoot. We may see reruns of old IPL ads or perhaps ads that were made before the lockdown, during the game. Honestly, we don’t have too many clients asking for IPL spots yet.”

But Khazanchi disagrees and says it is impossible that brands that advertise during IPL will use old ads and give up on the opportunity to create fresh hard-hitting spots during the most watched game of the year. He explains, “IPL is probably the most expensive TV real estate that you can ever buy. And after spending that kind of money on media, I doubt brands will go with solutions which are suboptimal. It doesn't stand to reason because shooting an ad as a percentage of what you're going to be spending on IPL is really nothing. So you might as well get to a solution which reflects the new normal. You don’t have to create an ad with cricket, stadium etc in it. If you watch Super Bowl, not a single ad played during the game is about football. Brands and agencies must focus on showing what is important for the brand while creating these new spots.”

Will IPL be the silver lining the creative industry was hoping for? Will it help agencies score some serious runs in a rather boring test match of a year so far? Only the next few weeks will tell.

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