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ITW Consulting Pvt. Ltd. > Blogs > How IPL became India’s SuperBowl?

There have been at least a dozen new high decibel ad campaigns that have landed on your screen, whether you are watching on TV or streaming the IPL. ITW Core’s Vidushi Bhandari traces how the T20 League became a coveted marketing spot rivaling the biggest properties in the history of sport.

Watching the IPL is also setting yourself up to be bombarded by ads of every hue and intensity, and while there has never been any doubt how powerful a marketing property the league is, it’s supercharged transformation into a virtually recession-proof behemoth over the last half a decade or so has been something to behold. There has been an exponential rise in the quantum of advertising in the IPL over the past few years. Advertising volumes grew by a sky-scraping 400%, from 40,000 to 200,000 in the last 3 years of the IPL. From IPL 2018 to 2019, this number more than doubled, soaring by over 100%. 1

Marketing Big Gun

This astounding growth has been witnessed all across categories and brands. The number of categories saw a growth of about 39% from 2016 to 2018, whereas the number of brands saw an increase of 55% in the same period. The Indian Premier League has been the biggest cricketing property of Star India, which also broadcasts Indian cricket’s international matches, for a couple of years now. It fetched over 2,000 crore in revenues in 2019 for the broadcasting giant and is expected to do so again. There are other leagues, of course, but in terms of being the laser focus of marketing buzz for brands both big and small, the IPL is comparable to American Football’s showpiece – the SuperBowl. An ad spot during the SuperBowl is coveted because of the potential of buzz and eyeballs it can generate (approximately 1/3rd of all Americans tune into that one game each year). The IPL increasingly has become a slow burn SuperBowl – a sureshot eyeball grabber, and marketing buzz that could sustain for weeks, not just days. 

This highlights how popular the IPL brand really is. It is the biggest live televised event in terms of viewership and it shows no signs of slowing down. Viewing numbers for the IPL increased by an astonishing 64% in the past 4 years. Brands look to capture and cash on this golden chance in order to create high brand reach and recall for themselves. 

Mixing up the delivery

The fact that it is a perfect mix of entertainment and sports is a game changer not only for the viewers, but also for the advertising industry. The tournament has carved a niche field for itself, as a form of ‘sportainment’, where the nexus of the game extends beyond the traditional cricket-loving audiences, to their families and family members. It is a time where all members of the family sit together and cheer for their favourite teams. This influx of people watching the game, provides an increase in the target audience for advertisers. 

Over the past 12 years, IPL has seen some pretty iconic advertisements which have managed to connect with the consumer. Some of these ads such as the Vodafone ZooZoo ad, created a nationwide phenomenon and actually managed to become the brand’s identity, so much so that the ZooZoo has its own wikipedia page. In these ads, ZooZoos were small white animated characters, doing fun things on screen. The company, who is known to spend about 20-30% of their marketing budget on IPL, used it as an effective platform to advertise themselves. The ads were an instant hit among the Indian audiences. So much so, that even today, there are more than 200 social media pages on these ZooZoos with over 250,000 fans, growing daily. And then there are the eyeballs the ads get on YouTube, further benefiting the brand. 

Vodafone was one of the early adopters among brands using IPL as one of their main advertising tools. Seeing Vodafone’s success, other brands too, started leveraging the reach of the IPL. Giants such as Cadbury, Amazon and Pepsi have taken the IPL route, spending big budgets during the IPL season. Over time, smartphone brands such as Gionee, have effectively used the IPL, through various user engagement activities such as the ‘Gionee selfie contest’ in addition to slot ads. Brands are increasingly trying to engage its users through songs, contests, quizzes, etc. Real time engagement activities are gaining traction in the 18-40 year viewer segment. 

No Idle Screen Time

Over the years, the advertising during the IPL has not just increased in volume and intensity, but also in terms of driving user engagement. From the Attention and Interest days of Idea and Vodafone, we are seeing a shift to the Desire and Action parts through campaigns such as Swiggy’s last year.

There has been a high interest in advertising on digital platforms, due to the rising popularity of these OTT platforms. They offer brands high engagement and targeted advertising – which is an effective way to reach a brand’s target group. This allows for more innovative advertising by brands. Take for instance Swiggy’s campaign with Hotstar during IPL 2019,  which was a neoteric way for consumers to engage with the brand while watching their favourite sport. Consumers could get discounts for six minutes after every six was hit during IPL. Additionally, they could order their favorite meals on Swiggy POP right on the Hotstar app without missing a single ball. According to official data, the campaign increased brand awareness by 8% and brand favourability by 7%.

This year around too, there is high excitement among advertisers for the IPL. Over 300 brands have invested in the tournament in one way or another and are expected to benefit from it like no other season before. The high anticipation can be traced to higher than normal expected viewership of the IPL. The first match between giants Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, saw a viewership of 200 million, which is the highest opening day viewership for any sporting event. 

The BCCI and the IPL announced that the opening day of the 2020 edition of the IPL shattered records, drawing a viewership number that in absolute terms was 2X of even the highest rated SuperBowl game in history in the United States.

Some of the reasons for this increased viewership can be attributed to the pent up demand in consumers, live cricket returning after 6 months, first time viewers due to a dearth of content and timely alignment with the festive season in the country, among other things. In fact, we had anticipated just that. 

The Festive Power Play

There is an added factor this year – the perfect storm of the IPL and the festive season in India overlapping. Diwali is generally a high sales time for brands, where they offer various promotional activities in order to tempt the customers during big festivities. The biggest cricketing fiesta at the time of the biggest festive season in the country, has advertisers sanguine. They will see this as a two-fold opportunity to drive demand after a horrendous couple of quarters. To make things worse, brands have not been able to reach their consumers at a large scale for most part of the year due to the restrictions imposed by a nationwide lockdown. 

Given this, they would now want to capture all pent-up consumer demand and latch on to every opportunity that they can. Brands would want to place themselves organically within the content that people are already watching. Advertisers too, would want to give one last push to drive sales and IPL provides the perfect platform for this, given its ever soaring numbers. So it makes sense for marketers to go that extra mile and advertise in such a high-achieving tournament. 

Brands have already started to reap the fruits of their investment, in just the first couple of days. Aakash Educational Services Limited that launched their new ad campaign on Hotstar this weekend, for example, is seeing a 40% bump in inbound calls according to Anurag Jagati, Head of Marketing at Aakash Educational Services Limited. Other brands have also seen their campaigns gain momentum after the opening weekend. 

Till now, however, we have mostly seen advertising by official sponsors of the league. But, the games have only begun. As we go further along the tournament, more and more brands are expected to come out with new and engrossing campaigns, engaging users and, just like the explosive batsmen will be doing on the field, swinging for the fences.


1 BARC: ‘Cricket In India’ report, 2019
2 Hotstar: ‘What India Watched” report, 2019

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