Thursday, 29 May 2008

Game Changers-How IPL Changed Indian Marketing and PR Forever

Last night the Kings XI Punjab made another killing! Shaun Marsh produced what some would colloquially describe as giving a right walloping and Yuvraj Singh followed through with more arson on the pitch; the two are the cynosure of all eyes in the cricket world in India, the Commonwealth continents and many points further.

This wasn't always the case, suddenly a team that was for long an underdog is making huge waves. The IPL analogy is no different, it came from nowhere and took over the house, and those in the marketing and PR fraternity who were watching the wind speed and its direction are smiling, while the laggards are now wringing their hands in furious frustration at the massive opportunity loss.

A few months have passed since the marketing and PR landscape got hijacked by IPL, the usual heavy-lids marketing and PR veteran, already bored to death with the monotony of the hot summer, mistook it for a flash in the pan, many weeks later it was still there refusing to go away like a bad nightmare, rocketing TRPs and bringing in eyeballs by the truck load for competition; the ones who got on the band wagon are laughing to the brand bank, the ones that did not have conceded defeat. The 'serial shock' gave all channels a huge scare and the war moved from the pitch to the air waves as the IPL tsunami sucked all eyes to a single channel away from the staple 'soap and serial' diet!

Team sponsorships that went a begging are now worth their weight in gold and next season; by all means, do please expect to see the phenomenon of inflation translate to cricket sponsorship. In these incredulous times of USD 130 for a barrel of crude oil, why should inflation be confined to steel, onions and cement?

The fight for eye balls has been won by mobile companies, banks and FMCG companies being the usual suspect that also ran and got some successes. The losers were car and bike companies, ringed in first by the RBI triggered, inflation killer, CRR measures, that squeezed the already flat credit situation. Across packed stadium; the howls of delight and screams of incredulity submerged the Bloomberg story reporting how this had been the lowest growth in the last 10 quarters for India.

As crude oil price insanity triggered troubling visions of more tax and ‘cess-upon-more-cess’ crowded my radar, the oil companies were slowly sinking and losses were being reported first time in the current quarters of these public sector behemoths. As ministries quibbled over customs, excise, luxury tax and oil stabilisation funds, the screams of cricket hooliganism in stadiums kept growing louder, so much more dignified than the marauding Chelsea club fans in England that would shame Genghis Khan but the days are not far! Welcome to the Indian version of the superbowl!

As stories got pitched to the print, television and online spaces and the pickled brain of the now smiling senior PR types picked up the sweet stink of plugs a headline or byte away, agencies were being whipped to leverage the sponsorship investment and brand types were churning websites and campaigns by the dime across outdoor, print and online; search or ad word. Here in this very fertile climate unnoticed a bevy of writers, television anchors and producers were taking birth.

In the text message histrionics of Shah Rukh Khan and Vijay Mallya's tantrums, the hugs of Preity Zinta and the exploits of Ness Wadia with the Punjab Police hijacked dinner and tea time conversations across the homes and offices of the unsuspecting consumer in a heady brew, without alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Healthy I thought!

In this entire din, the lessons have been many and things have changed forever in sports marketing and PR. The heady mix of entertainment, blaring team songs and not to forget the introduction of cheer leaders in a morality stricken nation, helped tone down changes that would have otherwise not gone down well.

I am talking about the erosion of nationality as the basis for cricket teams. Questions about how ex-team mates will reconcile their fury and belligerence once IPL is over and things are back to normal for the Indian, Sri Lankan, Australian and many other teams. Of course and then unlearning all that when the next IPL starts. In the confines of Wankhede, Eden Gardens, Mohali and many other cricket stadiums, the energy was electric and someone watching the same show on TV would never understand the fury of the music, the hysteria whipped up by the cheer leaders and the crowd as it chanted favourites or booed down others.

The good change that has again gone largely unnoticed like the bad is the new faces that have got the opportunity to play with the reigning cricket gods. Good for India and good for cricket and definitely good for brand endorsement, marketing and Public Relations!

As I wait for the semi-finals, I doff my hat to LK Modi and despite the large headline in a prominent Indian newspaper harking back to a real or imagined misdemeanor 20 years ago in a foreign country, life in India after IPL will never be the same! They are obviously trying to get back at his temerity in bringing in IPL Media Guidelines in the usual petty and spiteful style characteristic of the large egos of the rather spoilt Indian press fraternity. Long live IPL!

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