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How Sony has used commercials to build the IPL brand

MUMBAI: Sony Pictures Networks (SPN) India has decided to increase its IPL marketing spend this year by 10% even as it has widened its campaign to a corporate brand philosophy of ‘Ek India Happywala’.

SPN India CEO NP Singh said that the broadcaster has taken the property to another level and has made it an iconic brand due to the marketing campaigns each year. This time the aim is to spread the message of peace, harmony and happiness through the tagline ‘Ek India Happywala’.

“The IPL has grown beyond a cricket property. We want to use it as a platform to spread happiness. We are also using the campaign thought as a way to give back to society. All our CSR activities as a company will be done under ‘Ek India Happywala’. All our projects will link back to this thought. We want to make a difference in people’s lives,” Singh said.

“The IPL stands for unity. Adversaries become friends. People come to the grounds to show their support. The IPL makes people forget their worries. It brings them together to enjoy the game,” he added.

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It was Singh who came up with the idea of having CSR activities done under the ‘Happywala’ theme once the campaign had been conceptualised.

Max senior executive VP and business head Neeraj Vyas noted that each year the company tries to do something different from a marketing perspective. “We could easily just focus on showing moments on the cricket field and let that be the campaign, but we enjoy the creative process. The aim is to make things more entertaining and engaging. The IPL is entertainment more than anything else.”

What is the time taken to finish a campaign? “It takes three to four months to decide on the theme. 40–50 ad scripts are gone through. We have had multiple meetings with our agencies this year. Internally we meet every day. This year we will increase our spends by 10%. We will use television beyond our own network and will be present on regional channels, news, kids, etc. We will also use outdoor, radio and digital.”

The evolution of the commercials

Many years ago Sony realised that nothing reaches people like a Hindi movie channel. That is why Sony has had cricket even before the IPL on Max when it aired ICC cricket. Max was about cricket, movies and events.

In 2008, the first year of the IPL, one challenge was to familiarise people with an unknown property. The other challenge was to come up with a campaign that fitted with Max’s flavour and had entertainment appeal. So the tagline ‘Manoranjan Ka Baap’ was created. This was an exaggerated take on the title of a Bollywood film, and sought to marry cricket with entertainment.

When the IPL shifted home to South Africa in the second year, the campaign had the tagline ‘Ek Desh Ek Junoon’ to highlight the passion that the game ignited.

As the venue returned to India in the third edition, Sony created a campaign that stressed on building the pride of India through the tagline ‘Saare Jahan se accha/Back in India’.

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For the fourth edition, Sony went with the ‘Bharat Bandh’ theme. The aim was to drive home the fact that when the IPL matches are on, the nation comes to a halt.

The ‘Aisa mauka aur kahan milega’ campaign was done in 2012. This was to highlight the fact that the IPL is the one chance that young cricketers get to showcase their talent. Players like Ajinkya Rahane were discovered in the IPL. It is worth noting that Star Sports took a ‘mauka’ thought for its own campaign for the cricket World Cup last year. The focus there was on India having a chance to win the event.

The next campaign revolved around ‘Sirf Dekhne Ka Nahi’. By then, IPL had grown beyond a game and there was “an engaging” element that bonded the fans.

In 2013, Sony had the brainwave of roping in ace choreographer Farah Khan for a campaign. She taught viewers the three dance steps of the tourney. The theme was ‘Jumping Japang’.

In 2014, the focus rested on the IPL being a clarion call that one cannot ignore. No one should miss the IPL. ‘Come On, Bulaava Aaya Hai’ was the theme.

However, for Vyas last year was important as he feels the broadcaster turned a curve. “India loves festivals whether it is Diwali, Holi, or Christmas. People get together. Indians look for excuses to celebrate. Therefore, we came up with theme of ‘India Ka Tyohaar’. If the IPL is a catalyst that brings people, then it is a tyohaar,” he explained.

For this year, the broadcaster chanced upon an insight from research. “An iconic brand cannot be delinked from the mood of a nation. If people are emotional about the IPL, then it is important to deliver a message of peace and harmony. We have tried to be pure and honest. As Indians, we want to be alive and happy. The message is about togetherness and being one happy country,” Singh said.

Singh noted that the IPL’s wraparound show ‘Extraaa Innings’ will have entertainment. This time one will see celebrities showing the other side of themselves. “Extraaa Innings is the most popular wraparound sports show. It has brought in female audiences. There was a 33% jump in the number of female viewers during the 2003 World Cup,” Singh remembered.

IPL has built new ad categories

Sony president Rohit Gupta noted that the IPL is the biggest property not just in the sports genre but on Indian television as well. “Nothing else is as big. The IPL has seen controversies, but viewership has been growing. New advertising categories have come in. The IPL is not a one-time fluke. Its reach is unprecedented. Categories have been born out of the IPL.”

Gupta said that indigenous mobile handset manufacturers Micromax and Karbonn used the IPL as a platform to compete against global giants. He also pointed to e-commerce where Amazon used the IPL as its launch pad for the country.

SPN distribution head Rajesh Kaul noted that the IPL was the first sports event to be aired in high definition. Then other HD channels followed its lead.

Sony has increased its investments in non-cricket as well. SPN India executive VP and business head of sports cluster Prasana Krishnan noted that one-third of sports viewership in the country is non-cricket. “We identified tennis, fight sports, basketball and football as properties to invest in. As a result, we have one-third share in the sports broadcasting landscape,” he said.

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