How the IPL broadcast breathed new life into India’s pandemic-struck economy

With brands cashing in on the record-breaking TV viewership during last year’s IPL, the tournament’s broadcast proved to be a turning point for the Indian M&E sector post the COVID setback

e4m by Christina Moniz
Published: Feb 11, 2021 9:12 AM  | 9 min read

The past year has presented challenges across categories and industries, compelling brands and marketers to stop in their tracks and re-evaluate their plans for the year. With industry experts putting out chilling projections in terms of de-growth and losses back in April 2020, the months ahead looked grim. Six months down the line, fast forward to September – the industry pundits had begun to project a brighter last quarter for the year. While some of that positive outlook was driven by India’s festive season, a big reason for brands, consumers and industry leaders to cheer was the return of the country’s most popular cricket carnival and India’s largest marketing platform – the Indian Premier League (IPL). Consumer sentiment started to see a revival of sorts, and consumers were out spending. More importantly, advertisers were back to leverage the power of the IPL platform, particularly its TV broadcast.

Why the IPL broadcast was the perfect platform for brands in 2020

The fact that advertisers chose to partner with the IPL in its 13th season after a hiatus of almost six months is a clear testimony to the faith brands place in its relevance and power to drive recall and growth. In the week leading to the IPL, Star Sports had already sold 95% of its inventory and had its highest number of sponsors ever – 18! With the IPL being the high decibel tournament that consumers look up to, with viewers largely confined to their homes on account of the pandemic and with the tournament coinciding with the festive season, this was the perfect property for brands to make their mark. While advertisers across categories had lined up to be part of the IPL last year, there was a significant interest from digital-first brands whose relevance had skyrocketed during the pandemic. Many of these brands however were also quick to recognise the phenomenal power of the IPL television broadcast because of its massive reach across markets and through its language feeds. For example, Dailyhunt was quick to get on the brand-wagon during the tournament last season for its short-video app, Josh that had just been launched at the time. Speaking about the strategic insight behind that decision, Umang Bedi, Co-Founder, Dailyhunt had said in September, “The primary reason to choose Dream11 IPL 2020 is the synergy between our recently launched short-video app, ‘Josh’, which is a great platform for young talent across Bharat, very similar to Dream11 IPL which is also a platform for Indian youngsters to perform and showcase their talent on the global stage.” The rest, as they say, is history. The IPL last year surpassed all projections in terms of its television viewership reaching a record 405 million viewers. Dailyhunt’s TV campaign during the IPL broadcast saw impressive returns with a campaign reach of 315 million and with as much as 20 million new downloads during the tournament’s live games. Josh’s TV campaign also drove a whopping 86% growth in average downloads during the IPL spot days as compared to the lowest point before IPL. By November last year, the IPL campaign had pushed Josh’s share of downloads up by 42%.

The IPL fillip for BFSI brands like Cred

The tournament’s broadcast also came at a perfect time in 2020, providing a much-needed impetus to the economy at large and to diverse sectors – e-commerce, auto, mobile handsets, FMCG, apparel and more. The advertising sector got some much needed relief too on the back of higher spending by brands across the board. What followed in the festive quarter was higher consumer spending and a much improved consumer sentiment. Cashing in on this euphoria during the IPL was yet another digital-first brand, Cred that came on as an official broadcast sponsor, leveraging on-ground branding and activation while also capitalising on the commercial breaks with a well-planned TV campaign. This was a well-thought out strategy in a year when the pandemic disrupted consumer behaviour especially within the BFSI segment, where digital transactions have become the norm. Speaking about the brand’s campaign that was rolled out in time for the IPL season, Trupthi Shetty, Lead - Growth and Engagement at Cred, had said “We are extremely excited to be associated with IPL 2020. At Cred, we believe in rewarding good financial behaviour and with this campaign, we are positive that our message of encouraging financial literacy and educating viewers on the rewarding benefits of responsible financial behaviour would come through in an entertaining manner.”

The brand released five ad-films during the course of the event, featuring stars like Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit and Govinda as well as Bappi Lehri, Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan in witty, quirky audition sequences that got everyone talking. Like Shailendra J Singh, MD –Sequoia Capital noted in this tweet, the brand saw a 6-7x jump in sign-ups less than week into the IPL!

The campaign stood out throughout the tournament, and was further amplified on platforms like Twitter, where the stars threw in a few quips to keep the momentum going and the conversations on.

The brand’s campaign was singled out for high acclaim across the advertising industry, especially for ensuring that its ad film captures eyeballs during the IPL TV broadcast. Ankur Garg, Sr. Creative Director & AVP, Dentsu Impact, had observed that if the entire objective of the campaign was to get the consumer’s attention in an adrenaline-fuelled cricketing carnival, then Cred’s campaign had hit the bull’s eye! “To me, the message of encouraging financial literacy, the ease of managing credit card payments and educating viewers on the rewarding benefits of good financial behaviour is being delivered in an entertainment and fresh manner,” said Garg in an interview with exchange4media during the IPL 2020.

The brand, which has signed on as the official partner for the IPL, will continue its association with the property until 2022. Its strategic move to leverage the IPL cricket broadcast has paid off and how! It saw an 83% growth in daily active users and its average daily downloads grew 8x. During the IPL, the brand witness over 100 million user visits and it saw a growth of 4x as per Google search trends (in comparison with the pre-IPL period).

IPL: a turning point in the post-pandemic economy

Back in March 2020, the IPL was initially postponed on account of the pandemic, it left many in the industry worried. After all, let us not forget that this is the largest sporting event that brings in eyeballs and advertiser interest. Post the months of lockdown and the lack of live sporting action, the IPL was just the antidote the beleaguered ad industry needed. This is especially evident from the fact that between October 24 and 30, ad volumes on TV increased to 38.7 million seconds, the highest in five years (as per BARC data for that period). The IPL in 2020 also saw new advertisers make their debut on the tournament’s TV broadcast – the brands were from across categories like ed-tech, e-commerce and fantasy gaming. As per industry reports, with Star India having generated an estimated Rs 2250 crore from its IPL broadcast and with viewership growing by a substantial 25%, the tournament was exactly what the industry needed after the COVID-19 setback.

Even as the industry continues to work its way towards recovery, all eyes are on the 14th season of the IPL, which is expected to be yet another shot in the arm for India’s M&E sector. Despite the digital juggernaut and despite talk about TV losing out to Digital in terms of viewership, a a tHINKtv Benchmark series study in 2018 notes that TV commands twice as much active watching compared with platforms like YouTube and Facebook, enabling the maximum impact on sales. Anil Viswanathan, Senior Director – Marketing (Chocolates), Insights and Analytics, Mondelez India, explained the significance of IPL as media property. The brand invested significantly in the tournament’s broadcast simply because the viewership was at an all-time high. “We have used IPL to launch many new products and campaigns. It has been part of our investments for a long time now. The expected return from it has evolved since then from being about reach and awareness to engagement and now, (meaningful) impact,” he said. “The IPL must be seen as an investment in the light of a broader media strategy with clear metrics that can be measured. Brands should not treat it as a ‘hobby horse’ or a standalone piece,” he explained, adding that marketers must create the right kind of opportunities to capitalise on this “45-day bonanza.”

It is definitely clear that advertisers will continue to bet big on the power of TV broadcast during this year’s IPL. Illustrating the significance of the IPL broadcast, Sapna Arora, CMO, OLX India, states that IPL is a ‘sangam’ of sport and entertainment, unlike any property or platform. In her view, this event brings together audience of varied ages, demographics and regions, and most importantly, appointment viewing in the age of volatile consumption. “It is natural that many businesses will plan around the IPL. After all, it allows brands to meet objectives that could be as varied as a new launch, a challenger brand getting an opportunity to garner top-of-mind awareness, an unknown brand getting national legitimacy or an established brand influencing a change in category behaviour,” Arora notes. Experts and media agency heads concur with Arora. Echoing her views is Ajay Gupte, CEO – South Asia, Wavemaker, who notes that the industry saw a good October to December quarter in 2020 largely on the back of IPL, which also coincided with the festive season. “Our estimates are that it (last quarter of 2020) was actually very close to the 2019 numbers, on account of the IPL coming in during the festive months. That’s as close to recovery as you can get. This year, the first quarter again may be a little slow but with IPL hopefully coming back in the second quarter again, we will see more improvement. The summer categories, which were forced to stay away last year during the pandemic, should also be back in action – the colas, FMCG, durables, etc.,” remarks Gupte.

With the IPL broadcast achieving record TV viewership numbers in 2020, all eyes are on the 2021 season to see what new benchmarks are hit. We look forward to another thrilling IPL this year, which will bring more cheer and recovery for the industry.

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