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Cricket Marketing

Why IPL 2021 will be a big deal for Indian marketers


By Amit Bapna, Editor-at-large

April 9, 2021 | 7 min read

The 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is all set to kick off today (9 April). The Drum looks at why this year's event will be a focus for Indian marketers.

The IPL 2021 /

The IPL 2021 auction

Pitched as one of the biggest sports extravaganzas of the region, IPL has managed to enthral viewers and fans across the globe like no other. It has also emerged as the great marketing carnival that is keeping companies across categories and their marketing partners burn the proverbial midnight oil to make the most of the event. This is especially significant on the back of the tough year that 2020 has been, because of the pandemic.

Amid frequent lockdowns and increasing Covid cases across the country, IPL might just come as a welcome bout of oxygen for many brands and marketers grappling with fluctuating demand and a fatigued consumer.

In such a scenario, marketers and their agencies have been busy crafting the soon-to-be rolled out IPL communication for their brands. One young copywriter from an indie agency shared on condition of anonymity, a feat of having worked on over 25 pieces of IPL ads in all in the last few weeks, for various brands. Despite the workload, he seemed happy, something that is indicative of how IPL is likely a welcome safety-net for the business.

BBDO India’s CEO Josy Paul confesses that there’s so much work in progress that they’ve been fully stretched as an agency. “It’s like we are playing the IPL even before the IPL has begun! We haven’t seen this much excitement in marketing departments before. All signs indicate that it’s going to be a bigger IPL this year.”

The Drum spoke to a mix of senior creative and media agency representatives to make sense of the IPL fever this season, why the IPL season continues to be so important for the marketing ecosystem and what to expect from this edition of the great sporting extravaganza.

Why IPL is even more important, in the current times

IPL has become a social-cultural convergent point for India, drawing over 400 million viewers. BBDO’s Paul, explains, “This kind of captive media opportunity is rare to find in today’s fragmented media environment and it, therefore, becomes a great place to also measure the sentiment around your brand.”

Even as people learn to live with Covid-19 and accept it as a part of their life, in these tough times, one thing that they need for sure is positive stories, content and occasions that provide hope and live the idea that things are getting normal. And that is where IPL plays the role of being India's biggest entertainer. Says Gaurav Nabh, founder-CEO of Korra, a digital content and marketing agency, “it is an event that celebrates the underdogs, our favourites, sports and above all the glamour associated with it. With movies premiering on OTT platforms, international vacations on hold and no significant economic good news, IPL offers a ray of hope and happiness.”

What to expect this IPL

The last IPL edition was a welcome change for everyone, and it brought the fun back in their lives, at a time when it was much needed. This year also there is a lot of excitement around cricket, especially the way some young team members of Team India and other teams have been playing in the last few months. As per Sukesh Nayak, chief creative officer, Ogilvy India, “People are eager to see how the new guard takes charge and adds the buzz to the games this IPL. I think this season will also help people bond and connect with everyone, even though they will be watching the games away from the stadiums.”

Even as there is more optimism than last year, there is also the rise of the second wave of Covid-19 in India. Chaotic as that may be for economies overall, it also means that more people will be staying at home and glued to their screens. Says Paul, “In a way, the impact of Covid-19 has become a surrogate media manager, deciding how to keep audiences captive.”

IPL is also being played back on Indian soil, in the familiar time frame (April-May). While the stadiums would still not be able to allow spectators to enjoy the sport by being physically present, the excitement of the IPL taking place on the home-ground will be palpable, feels Priti Murthy, CEO of OMD India.

IPL’s role in pushing marketing industry’s growth

According to Ogilvy’s Nayak, “we have lived through these challenging times and have found the courage to bounce back keeping all safety precautions in mind.” The sense of optimism among people will also have an impact on the games this year, he feels.

For brands and advertisers in general, IPL is a welcome positive and even more so as people are beginning to feel the fatigue of the pandemic and the consequent lockdown. Avers Murthy, “A big-ticket property like this can do wonders financially and in terms of morale, something that got quite apparent at the rate at which the ad inventories were filled up this year.”

Marketing and advertising has always been about finding audiences and then providing the most relevant message to get their attention. Given what cricket means as a sport, IPL is the single most important cricketing event on the annual calendar. Adds Nabh, “With consumers further trained to view and experience content virtually (OTT, Mobile, Smart TV) marketers can look to leveraging these platforms and experiencing the unlock.”

The new-age IPL media plan

“Let’s see who hits harder this season, the players or the marketing and media managers,” wonders Paul. This would be the second year of IPL matches being played in a bubble and to empty stadiums which meant a re-orientation among the various parts of the ecosystem: broadcaster, sponsors, and audience. While the fun and excitement of the in-stadium event remains a distant dream, it has been replaced by a more loyal in-home viewer.

Some big shifts being seen include, the organisers are targeting relevant audiences through digital platforms and ensuring zero spillage and full-funnel impact on media investments. It also means interesting use of tech to ensure that IPL is reaching fans since they can't go to the stadiums.

Digital now also allows IPL and the cricketing moments to be further amplified through aspects like moment marketing, a key aspect in driving relevant placement.

There is more space for spot-buyers this season, resulting in a diverse mix of categories that have come on board. A big shift this year, which started a few years back is IPL seeing heightened viewership from women. This could hold promising potential for women-centric brands to advertise.

IPL is bringing much-needed morale and cash boost to the Indian marketing industry, but what is yet to play out is whether consumers will be bowled over by the experience of watching from home.

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