The Cup's clutter cutters

| Updated on: Apr 06, 2011
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Last week, India won the World Cup 2011, undoubtedly one of our greatest sporting victories. Even as we recall the six delicious weeks of cricket which have gone by, we must also acknowledge another exciting contest which took shape around the main tournament. This is the contest of marketers, where popular and not-so-popular brands vied with each other to leverage cricket and the World Cup. In our cricket-crazy land, many brands used this season most energetically, to connect with consumers through our most popular sport.

Winning the marketing battle during the World Cup requires big resources, but it also requires brilliant new ideas. The astronomical rates charged by television channels for advertising around games meant that only brands with deep pockets could hope to make a real impact. But the huge clutter of brand campaigns during this peak season also implied that cutting the clutter with sharp and compelling marketing stories was equally important. Only then did brands stand a chance of winning consumers' minds.

So which brands won the World Cup 2011? Here is a brief analysis, based on an informal survey I carried out amongst some colleagues and friends from the worlds of marketing and advertising, and my own views. There were more than 30 significant marketing campaigns which tried to leverage the World Cup this year. Of these, five big brand campaigns stood out - Nike, Idea, Vodafone, Hero Honda and Pepsi. Also highly visible were advertisements from brands such as Coke, Reliance Telecom and a clutch of mobile phone marketers – Micromax, Lava and Samsung – though, in my limited judgement, these did not make it to the top table. Here is a reading of how the top five fared:

Nike – Bleed Blue

Nike's Bleed Blue campaign was launched just ahead of the World Cup. It featured a clutch of Indian cricketers – Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir. Built on team India's blue colours, it celebrated the gritty spirit of “Blood, sweat and blue”. An outdoor and press campaign, which showed each cricketer bleeding blue, was followed by a television commercial espousing the head-on approach to cricket. Break boundaries to achieve dreams, the advertisement urged us, banish fear, pain and excuses as you play to win. The Nike swoosh turned blue, and a Bleed Blue pledge was also launched by the brand.

This was, in my view, the most impactful campaign of the World Cup. “Bleed Blue” reinforced Nike's core brand proposition, yet cut the clutter through a striking new idea. The visuals featuring shirtless cricketers were clean and bold, and stood out by a mile. “Bleed Blue” is also a powerful thought relevant to all our lives, hence connected spontaneously. No wonder fans responded so enthusiastically, by posting over eleven million blue handprints onto the Nike cricket Facebook page. My 15-year-old daughter pointed out to me that many of her friends (all potential Nike consumers) had changed their Facebook profile picture and status message to “Bleed Blue”. What better dipstick validation does one need that this has been a spectacularly successful campaign?

Idea – Keep Cricket Clean

Idea's campaign of the season featured World Cup-winning captains – Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Allan Border, Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh. They came together to support a very topical cause – the need to keep cricket clean. The multiple advertisements, each featuring one or more of these legendary personalities, were very visible. While espousing clean cricket, the legends also urged us to change to Idea, which delivers better mobile signals in the toughest of locations.

The idea of using six cricketing legends together was a powerful and unique one. This certainly helped Idea cut the clutter very well and enhance brand salience. But that was perhaps the only big objective the campaign achieved. The story lacked depth and credibility, because I kept asking myself – what will Idea really do to keep cricket clean? Indeed, the brand appears to have overstretched the “What an idea, Sirji!” proposition into a territory that does not naturally belong to it. And by trying to pack two very disparate ideas (clean cricket and weak mobile signals) into a single campaign, it failed to deliver a single-minded message.

Vodafone – Super Zoozoos

Vodafone's Super Zoozoos were clearly the most visible advertising campaign during the World Cup. Featuring Super Zoozoos (a cross-breed with genes inspired by Superman, Rajnikanth and the Zoozoos) to illustrate the benefits of Vodafone's 3G service, it launched a brand new feel for the familiar lovable characters.

This was a very enjoyable campaign to watch, and it brought fresh life to the Zoozoos. The message that 3G services offered by Vodafone have powerful and interesting features was delivered in a refreshing manner. But I think the breakthroughs and benefits offered by 3G services deserve an entirely new feel, not just a rehashed version of Zoozoos, however endearing these creatures may be. Also, at some level, the campaign ended up telling us a generic story of how powerful 3G services are, rather than why or how Vodafone's specific 3G services are different or more appealing. Neither did the advertising address the foremost question in many consumers' minds today – how expensive will all these fanciful 3G services be? It is my hunch, therefore, that the campaign has done a lot for the Zoozoos and not enough for Vodafone.

Hero Honda – Dhak Dhak Go, India Go

Hero Honda delivered a predictable World Cup campaign. A powerful song, which integrated the brand's “ Dhak Dhak go ” lyrics into a rousing anthem for Team India, was the centrepiece of this campaign. The music and its beat reached out well to the masses. The advertisement spot was everywhere, and just could not be missed. On the back of this campaign, Hero Honda will surely continue to remain the top-of-mind motorcycle brand – particularly given the relative absence of its major competitors.

However, there was nothing unique about this campaign. It comes in the long and hackneyed tradition of many such advertisements, which showcase the familiar Indian canvas of unity in diversity, and feed the insatiable national thirst for victory. It did not offer new news, and neither did it create a more aspirational image for the brand. If a brand as large and iconic as Hero Honda has to scale a new level, and create a real flutter amongst consumers, it has to aspire to a very different approach.

Pepsi – Change the Game

This time around, Pepsi was official global partner to the World Cup, a big change from its “nothing official about it” status that many of us fondly remember. “Change the Game” was a unique and interesting take on cricket. Featuring Dhoni's helicopter shot, Sehwag's Upar Cut, Bhajji's Doosra, Malinga's Slinga and many more, it highlighted through appealing stories how these individual innovations had changed the face of the game. The bare-chested, body-painted cricketers used in the advertisements were also an equally interesting visual approach.

Pepsi's campaign appears to have struck a definite chord, with many of my colleagues mentioning that it was their favourite campaign of the World Cup season (though my personal vote is for Nike). Indeed, it cut the clutter by being very different, so full marks for the creative idea. Did the body painting take attention away from the brand? I don't think so. On the other hand, the campaign added to the image Pepsi wants to build in consumers' minds – of being a young, somewhat maverick and fun-loving brand. It showed us that cricket can be leveraged in many unusual ways, and it was single-minded in communicating its key idea. Since the entire campaign was cricket-centric rather than World Cup-focused, it can also move seamlessly into IPL and summer, which is peak sales season for the brand.

Let me end with a final question for you to answer: Which is your favourite World Cup marketing campaign, and why?

(Harish Bhat is Chief Operating Officer – Watches, Titan Industries Ltd. These are his personal views.)

Published on April 06, 2011

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