“Sports marketing in India needs to evolve to the next level” Samar Singh Sheikhawat, UBL

Samar Singh Sheikhawat

IPL is just around the corner, making this a very busy time for brands as they chalk out the best marketing plans and mixes to make the most out of their association.

Speaking on IPL and sports marketing overall, Samar Singh Sheikhawat, CMO, UBL shares insights on how the concept has evolved in the era of millennial.

Excerpts below.

#1 – With FY 18-19 starting soon, what are some of the key priority areas for your brand?

To keep growing the business and keep up the profitability, the challenge and the task is to grow that is higher than the industry implying growth of the market share. In my opinion growing ahead of the industry would be the top priority. Next on the list would be growing profitably and third would be to have cutting edge brand solutions for all our consumers. The market is evolving very quickly and we wish to spearhead this growth.

Wherever there is a consumer for our beer or any adjacent category of beer, we would like to dominate that consumer choice.

#2 – Sporting properties offer more & more interesting opportunities to brands with leagues like IPL, ISL, PKL all becoming popular, what role will sports play in your marketing mix in the coming year?

As long as it is a youth brand or have an urban skew or tier I & II skew, sports as a marketing platform is extremely viable. But it cannot work for every category. For instance, beer and sports go way back; similarly F & B brands can leverage sports. But it probably would not make sense for let’s say a cement brand to latch on to sports for marketing.  Today everyone wants to associate with sports or cricket specifically for the eyeballs, which may not necessarily make sense. For us, sports marketing is a natural mix, there is very clearly a beer consumption moment in the sporting experience; we have always associated ourselves with sports and will continue to do so.

IPL 2018 brings into play multi-platform, multi-language feeds. IPL will stream live on mobile, reach Indian homes through 10 plus channels and over 6 languages  

Also Read: [Interview] Abhijit Avasthi, shares how brands can disrupt and innovate this IPL

#3 How can the marketers leverage the IPL in its new avatar differently over the previous season sand gain maximum value? 

We had a detailed conversation with Star TV, where they actually came and presented to us and I was very happy with the approach they have taken towards IPL because that is exactly the approach that Kingfisher takes – leveraging it as much as possible on ground, on air, through digital, in stadiums, outdoor, radio, PR, events, packaging – it is a full 360 degree. We are very happy to see Star TV take the same approach, across 11 channels and six languages, including Hotstar syndication. So, philosophically, it fits for us very well.

I genuinely believe that what Star TV is doing with IPL is going to make the league bigger and better than ever before. They have already started airing footages of old IPL matches; plus they have production rights which gives them complete control. One of the interesting things they have done is adding the regional element – if you are a Bangalore fan you can view the match in Kannada and the camera too will focus more on the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s players, enhancing the experience. Similarly, for CSK fans, the match is available in Tamil with focus on CSK players. This is a highly customized approach which we as well take.

We are leveraging this opportunity on both – television and Hotstar. We are also partnering with them for certain on ground initiatives, which we did last year as well. There is a great synergy and we are expecting it to be the biggest and the best IPL yet.

IPL has inspired other sports leagues such as PKL, ISL and PBL. Offering brands creative & multiple opportunities to leverage sports. Nissin*used trump cards based on kabaddi players to drive sales.AMFI*has featured several players from the Kabaddi teams to increase awareness about mutual funds and to reach out to investors.

#4- How do you think brand custodians can become more creative in leveraging and making their brands stand out among the clutter?

There is no easy answer to this. See, brands like Oppo, Vivo, Jio, or Amazon have more funds than others and can easily outshine you with sheer volume of the noise they create. Brands have to be smart and clever; look at micro moments or stuff they have left uncovered or stick to your strengths and do what you do best and works for you.

For instance, we have completely changed the format – initially all the players used to sing and dance to the Kingfisher tune, last year we had them standing still and taking up the mannequin challenge. This year too we have decided to do something totally different and they will standout. We might not have the largest funding, but we will work more creatively and hard. Millennial do not trust ads – everything has to be tailored to their preference and must be genuine or it will not make a connect. You can’t abandon traditional ads either – brands need to combine both.

There is a growing focus on non-live content around IPL and other sports leagues, as fans are getting to see facets beyond just the live match. Auction, Pre Post shows, building team rivalries pre match, behind the scenes etc.

#5- What is your view on how can the brands ride upon the unique opportunity that sports genre offers can?

Sports marketing in India needs to evolve to the next level. The opening match in Mumbai between CSK and Mumbai Indians – look at the importance of this match. Two most important teams are starting off this season of IPL. Second, CSK is making a comeback after two years, thirdly MS Dhoni is back with CSK as captain and this is his last 15 months of cricket – the build up to key matches by Star is going to be immense. It is the anticipation of the journey which is bigger than the journey is itself and Star is focussing on it.

Also Read: #Interview Karthi Marshan, Kotak Mahindra Bank on leveraging IPL for innovative marketing

Vodafone’s ZooZoo campaign stands out in most minds as one of the most unique & engaging campaign around IPL

#6- Which other campaigns as per you are some of the most impactful ones on IPL?

I think Kingfisher campaigns have stood out and that is not just my opinion, ever research suggests that our brand had maximum recall during IPL. We have tremendous recall and consistency. There have been a few memorable IPL campaigns – the latest Snickers campaign with MS Dhoni is hilarious.

#7 Since your brand has invested in IPL over the years, please share the objectives of investing in IPL and how successful has this association been? What metrics did you use to measure the success of your association?

To me IPL is not an sporting event, it is the single biggest reality show of India – celebrities, clothing, the electric atmosphere, all this fits in absolutely brilliancy with our brand proposition.

In terms of metrics it boils down to what is IPL doing for the brand? Why do I continue to associate with IPL? What values on my brand’s health indicator is it driving? We know which value is driving consideration for our brand and try and repeat that. We also measure the isolated impact of IPL on brand health score across different markets. Ideally I should be able to answer that because of my association with RCB, I was able to sell 100 more cans in Bangalore; this is the kind of isolation in terms of measurement that we’re trying to achieve.

#8 What kind of sports marketing trends do you foresee in the Indian industry?

  • Don’t blindly follow everyone, just because every brand is taking up sports marketing you don’t have to.
  • Even today cricket dominates; football is growing rapidly and is the way to go
  • Consider the fit of the sports marketing initiative with your brand and TG
  • The days of appointment viewing are over. Today’s youth watches what they want, when they want and how they want. Brands need to consider the explosion of content across platforms through various devices.

The interview is a part of the series, #BrandsLuvIPL, featuring Top Brand Custodians and Marketers to ascertain the reach, impact and the untapped potential of sports marketing in India with reference to IPL.