India vs Pakistan: The ad factor

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on June 14, 2019

The cup that jeers: Star India’s Mauka Mauka campaign

A ‘war’ is brewing between the two countries — but not on the border or the cricketing field

The lower case didn’t quite hit the spot. So tennis icon Sania Mirza took to capital letters to express her wrath. “ENOUGH,” she tweeted on Wednesday, reacting to a war of advertisements between India and Pakistan over the ongoing cricket World Cup series.

As fans square up ahead of the June 16 match between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, social media is buzzing with emotions ranging from anger and disdain to indulgence and glee. At the centre of all the intense jousting are two ads — one released by television channel Star Sports, and the other by a Pakistan TV app.

“Cringeworthy ads on both sides of the border... seriously guys, you don’t need to ‘hype up’ or market the match anymore specially with rubbish! it has ENOUGH attention already! It’s only cricket for God sake, and if you think it’s anymore than that then get a grip or get a life!!,” Mirza tweeted.

It all started with the Father’s Day-themed Mauka Mauka (Chance) ad that Star Sports released recently to time with the upcoming India-Pakistan tie on that day. Star India had launched the Mauka Mauka campaign during the 2015 ICC World Cup and it showed, among other things, a boy waiting to burst crackers to celebrate a Pakistani win, but never getting the chance to do so.

The ad this time around has two men — in Pakistan and Bangladesh colours — talking about a win. “Abbu used to tell us that if we kept trying, victory would be ours,” the former tells the latter. Pops up a man in blue — the Indian colour. “When did I say that,” he smirks. The subtext is that India is the baap or Big Daddy of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Not everybody is amused, though. Saurabh Uboweja, CEO of management consulting firm, Brands of Desire, says, “The Pulwama attack and the subsequent retaliation by our armed forces... is still fresh in our memory. The timing and content of the Mauka ad is in bad taste and trivialises the difficult and complex relationship we share with our neighbour. I feel that Star Sports could have avoided this.”

Handle bars: The Pakistani retort features a model who resembles Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman


The Pakistani retort followed soon in the form of an ad released by its mobile TV app Jazz TV. It features a lookalike of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian airman who was captured by Pakistani forces during an air strike launched in retaliation for the attack on an Indian security forces convoy in Pulwama. The officer, now recognised by his lush moustache, was heard telling his interrogators in a video released after his capture: “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to tell you that”. The ad shows his lookalike, dressed in the Indian cricket team’s colours, using the same line when queried about the Indian side’s match strategy. He enjoys a cup of tea offered by the Pakistanis (as did Varthaman). When allowed to leave, he gets up, cup in hand, only to be told: “Leave the cup behind; it’s ours”.

Veteran brand expert Harish Bijoor stresses that cricket marketers typically want to capitalise on political brinkmanship. “It would have been considered friendly banter in different circumstances. But given the current political environment between the two nations, it is irresponsible for the broadcasters to stoke the passions further. Brands should steer clear of jingoism,” he adds.

Not everyone agrees. Narayan Devanathan, group executive and strategy officer — South Asia, Dentsu Branded Agencies, believes that in the context of historic rivalry (on and off the cricket field), the ads should be seen as banter.

“If, in the first instance, the Star Sports ad was meant for Indians — and if Pakistani fans took offence, they need to remember it was never meant for them in the first place. And if it was intended to stoke Pakistani fans, then I’d say, mission accomplished,” Devanathan states.

Likewise, he argues, the Jazz TV ad was primarily for Pakistani fans. “And if Indian fans take offence at it, they either need to remember it wasn’t meant for them, or acknowledge that Jazz TV succeeded in what it set out to do: Get under the skin of Indian fans,” he adds.

But for a match that is already guaranteed to garner the highest number of eyeballs, is such a campaign even needed in the first place? Uboweja believes it was completely unnecessary and is unlikely to rake in more ad revenues than what is anyway expected.

As the ‘war’ intensifies on the Net, it’s worth recalling that India and Pakistan don’t always spar in ads. In one memorable ad in 2013, two long-lost friends living on either side of the border are brought together by a loving granddaughter with a little help from Google. Unlike the cricket ads — which evoke laughter or derision — this one had everyone’s waterworks flowing.

Grandfather Mehra recalls flying kites with his best friend Yusuf when they were children and stealing a sweet called jhajhariya (prepared with cornmeal, milk and sugar) from Yusuf’s family sweet shop. A quick search on Google and the granddaughter has located the still-functioning shop in Lahore, found its telephone number and contacted Yusuf’s grandson, who now runs the shop. The doorbell rings and Mehra has a visitor. “Happy birthday, oye,” says Yusuf from the doorstep.

But it isn’t this bonhomie that Indian and Pakistani fans will be remembering as they gather at the Old Trafford in Manchester on Sunday. Nor will they have time to laugh at each other, like in the recent ads.

At the end of the day, it becomes all about the match — which is the real deal, Devanathan points out with a laugh.

Published on June 14, 2019

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