For many valuable reasons, the IPL has been historically compared to the Super Bowl as an advertising platform despite vastly differing tenures. In the early years, Indian brands took advantage of this uniquely-engaging event to create some spectacular work, notably Vodafone and Nestle, but the commitment to that cause has been dipping sharply. 2018 has truthfully been remarkably disappointing in terms of quality, viewer irritation potentially adding to the increasing disregard for the event itself.
There are essentially two categories of advertising campaigns that play on the IPL; ongoing thematic campaigns and cricket-based campaigns that may be customised or an annual extension. The first category is relatively harmless as it is aligned to the mainstream execution standards; not striving for an event connect and instead sticking to the chosen messaging. Although quite certainly an opportunity lost because an intelligent bridge built with the event is more memorable and given the tenure of exposure, certainly viable as an expenditure. Of those who are building a story around the game, intelligent work still comes from Kingfisher, trying sincerely to give new expression to an enduring Cricket Value Proposition. The problem gets serious with Reliance Jio and its peers in the mobile telephony space as well as certain Government agencies like the RBI, trying desperately to forge emotional bonding without rigour and imagination in execution.
Every viewer subject to the relentless ordeal of Reliance Jio will be offended by the poor production values, the cricketers looking like stunted CG images in the main TVC with hastily-directed facial body movements. This story is repeated for the mobile handset majors spending big money, the players appearing like talking mannequins on cinematic conscription with cohesive scripting almost an afterthought. Domino’s Pizza has a customised RCB communication where the dressing-room-type banter is painfully forced, failing to connect suitably with the brand. Most disappointing is the revered institution of our democracy, RBI, indulging in a cricket campaign that most certainly belittles its formidable stature, to say the very least. In every such case, the brand gets seriously damaged with this painful abdication of aesthetics and common sense, creativity seemingly an ask way beyond the brief.
So, why has the IPL turned into the graveyard of Indian Advertising when it was designed to be the Super Bowl? When the brand owners spending such humungous sums must certainly be wishing the very best for their brands and the agencies too would never put up such amateurish work by sheer choice. The first problem is clearly the unavoidable time-crunch, in terms of the last-minute closure of sponsorship deals as well as the limited availability of cricketers. An unhappy combination of the two leads to sloppy production values as opposed to deliberate mainstream appeal, Bollywood happily managing the latter with consistent sophistication. The second and more disturbing cause must be an increasing disregard for aesthetics as an important tool for consumer engagement, in a larger socio-cultural environment where styling is becoming a dominant force. The third factor is plainly poor creativity where the best minds have not been deployed or applied, possibly a factor of costs or appointment process, valid for both public and private sectors.
In sum, the output is nothing short of a severe crisis, brands suffering due to sub-optimal TV spots, arguably even the event suffering in its wake as viewers are genuinely distressed. The solution as ever lies in the hands of the creators, brand owners and agencies, as well as the administrators, event and media, who must ensure that deals are tied up well in time for a valuable aesthetic reason. Campaign planning must begin with adequate preparation for agencies and clients to rise to the occasion, recognising the strategic and emotional value of this event. The finest creators in the agency and production worlds must unite emotionally for the uplift of such pieces, at a lever higher that mere professional commitment. Budget allocation for production must not operate from historical-cost-basis but instead operate as a logical percentage of airing costs, multiple renditions of better quality as a desirable result. The BCCI must allot fixed slots for cricketers to shoot TVCs by contract, realising that the apex body is a critical stakeholder for advertising as well, given its role in viewership. Finally, Anushka Sharma or a peer must be given the mandate for a ‘Cricketer Acting Academy’, a set of offline and online courses to enhance drama skills, eventually carrying weightage in team selections.
The IPL is in the business of entertainment where cricket is the cause, thus even advertising campaigns contribute in a small but significant way to viewer excitement. A very good reason why we must collectively rescue brands from this crippling trap of mediocrity driven by largely-human factors. If the IPL does get closer to the Super Bowl as a platform for creativity, its purpose at large will be enormously strengthened.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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