A few days back, a top marketing firm got a call from an auto major representative keen to talk about the much-delayed launch of their compact SUV that was showcased at the February Auto Expo and expected to hit the road by April. The lockdown had forced them to shelve those plans. Both would agree on a September- to-November media blitz. It was a no-brainer since for the first time ever the festival season was expected to coincide with the Indian Premier League (IPL), the bandwagon for established brands and new products.
Though media planners are not looking beyond a month in terms of strategy, everyone has pinned their hopes on the festival of lights, and floodlights.
Vinit Karnik, Business head (entertainment, sports and live events) Group M, too talks about light, and tunnel.
“With an assumption that sport starts during the festive season in India, there will be some brands that will do fresh launches and there will be some brands who may want to go on sale. All of them will need some kind of marketing support. If live sports happens, whenever it does, it will make a statement that ‘life is slowly coming back to normalcy’,” he says.
However, a sales executive from another firm advises against putting all eggs in one basket. “But imagine, if IPL doesn’t happen. This dream that we are selling will be gone,” the executive says.
Even if IPL 2020 does take place, advertisers could remain tight-fisted.
Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG Mediabrands, is a firm believer in cricket’s Midas touch yet remains a realist. The cancellation of sports events, including bilateral cricket series India were to play, has already resulted in advertising expenditure dipping.
“The consumer demand-led recession and dwindling advertising dollars will bear a direct impact despite a festive-season IPL window. Even if the IPL happens in October-November, because the entry cost to cricket (IPL or World T20) is so high, in the current environment few advertisers would be able to jump on the bandwagon. Globally, sports is seeing a revenue drop of 35 to 40 per cent and in India it could be higher because of the over-dependence on cricket,” Sinha says.
Broadcasters may have to renegotiate ad rates when live cricket is telecast if there is no ‘economic revival’.
“Early days but a very obvious scenario. A short-term price rationalisation is on the cards depending on how the environment pans out in the next 90 days for businesses and health in India. For instance, an IPL which has seen a 15-20 per cent price increase each year on TV, including the deals inked for 2020, will see a recalibration if the economic revival is slow and muted,” Sinha adds.
Karnik too is guarded and doesn’t overestimate IPL’s capacity to influence advertising rates. “It is difficult to do any prediction, talk to anybody in the industry. Why only sports channels, nobody has a visibility beyond two to three weeks or a month. This is a completely unprecedented situation,” Karnik says.
But he does hang on to the IPL hope.
“The BCCI has suspended the league and not cancelled it as yet. But it depends on the environment at that point in time. Then we will be in a better position to assess the situation and see whether there will be an impact or no impact,” he adds.
The current anti-China sentiment can also put a spoke in the wheel of media planners as automobile and mobile phone brands from that country are associated with sports leagues, including the IPL. “Another potential challenge and risk would be in the event of India closing doors with China,” Sinha says.
The unlockdown, however, has resulted in companies taking interest in athletes. Though the Olympics have been postponed for next year, India’s Tokyo-bound sportspersons are expected to endorse brands during the upcoming festival season.
Since the start of this month, IOS Sports and Entertainment, which handles sponsorship deals for the Indian Olympic Association, has started getting calls once again. “Fortunately, we are seeing enquiries now in the last seven or eight days. Companies are now gearing up for campaigns and are looking at Diwali time to cash in. We are getting enquiries for endorsements as well,” IOS CEO Neerav Tomar says.
Tuhin Mishra of Baseline Ventures, which promotes badminton stars PV Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, among many others, says what has changed are the dates of the campaigns but companies haven’t cut off ties with sports. The brands that were targeting the 2020 Olympics were to start marketing in March, now they will move to December.
“The association still continues. There were some brands which had shorter duration campaigns and those campaigns have got shifted. It’s heartening because everyone understands the situation is unprecedented. Yes, it might have derailed certain plans as of now, but that is temporary. It is not that the confidence has taken a beating,” the managing director of Baseline Ventures adds.
Besides, Mishra says the athletes also understand the compulsion of companies in these times of pandemic-driven economic slump. “There could be delay in payments or shift in campaigns. I can comment on behalf of the athletes we represent that everyone of them understands,” he says.
Those tasked with marketing the athletes look forward to the return of live sports, even in empty venues. “Whether there are 30,000 at the stadium or not, the brands are not really trying to cater to all of them. It is primarily for the television audience. Post-lockdown, people will appreciate the power of sport and a healthy lifestyle even more,” Mishra opines.
The media planners and advertisers point to the green shoots. They talk about Hyundai, a brand associated with the cricket world cup in the past. They launched Creta, an SUV, before the lockdown. May saw a sale of 3,212 units. The numbers are still way down from peak monthly sales but gives the market some hope.
Karnik points out that despite the lockdown, there was a lot of economic activity in sectors like healthcare, FMCG and e-learning category. “E-commerce has started advertising now. Automobiles, mobile phones have started advertising slowly. So newer sectors are coming back. We are seeing some promising conversations for campaigns in July,” Karnik adds.
However, there are lessons to be learnt. “It took me one week to realise what has actually hit us. Then coming to terms with it, overcoming it, re-looking at business plans. It has been a tiring journey, mentally, physically, emotionally. We have had to reinvent, reboot and replan our personal and professional world,” concludes Karnik.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines