Interview: Saroj Panigrahi, My11Circle on the How, What & Why of their first IPL campaign

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Saroj Panigrahi, My11Circle explains how IPL helped the brand create awareness and recall, while sharing his views on the current state of sports marketing in India.

In conversation with Saroj Panigrahi, Vice President - My11Circle, we understand what went behind creating the brand’s first-ever television campaign of this scale and how it performed. 

While the reach and effectiveness of sports marketing has only been rising, the situation in 2020 took the impact of the concept to an all-new level. Be it the alignment of IPL with the festive season or the revival of Live sports content after the delay caused by the pandemic - IPL 2020 was witness to some creative campaigns that highlighted the role of mass reach for achieving core marketing objectives. 

Edited Excerpts:

How would you define sports marketing and how has this definition changed over the years, especially as the industry now includes fantasy sports & eSports?

In my view, sports marketing is about how smoothly you can blend your product with the sport or sportsperson. If you look through the last few years or decades, it starts with non-sporting brands trying to create that blend, which is very hard. Now we are in an era where sports products like Nike and Boost are trying to create that blend well. It's a transition from non-sports brands trying very hard to an era where sporting brands are coming in naturally and doing it better than them. 

COVID-19 was one of the most disruptive events seen by the modern man. Has it changed everything right from how we function to communicate; what was My11Circle's playbook towards handling the situation?

It was an unprecedented time for everyone. Every part of society changed. The way businesses operate changed through the pandemic. It was not very different for My11Circle, which is tightly linked to sports in general. If there’s a live sport being played on the field, we get a chance to offer that for fantasy gaming fans, but for 3-4 months, there was no sport. 

The other challenge we faced was that it was very difficult to predict how long this would persist for. So, independent of how long it would take, we made two road maps. One, we made sure that we had enough content. Be it a cricket quiz, a puzzle made of a cricketer’s image or a real-time Q&A, we created avenues on our product to engage with fantasy gaming fans when live sports events weren't available. Second, we tried to boost our product with new games like football, kabaddi and also fixed some of the things for which we didn’t have time before. We strengthened the product in this time period and the efforts paid off because football was the first sport to begin, and in a big way. This was followed by cricket, which started in August with the Caribbean Premier League, eventually leading to the IPL. 

From an Indian standpoint, resumption of Live sports with IPL triggered the #RoadToRecovery bringing hope for marketers. What was My11Circle's journey like with IPL 2020, especially since a competitor was a title sponsor with the league? 

Indians saw competitive or high-quality cricket after a hiatus of around 4-5 months. Plus, viewers now spent a lot of time at home making a Live event a mainstay of their day. This was coupled with the lack of entertainment as production was halted. Cherry on the top was IPL coinciding with the festive season. If you look at all these factors at an aggregate level, it has all the ingredients for massive viewership. Since we were new to the fantasy world, we took this opportunity with both hands to make sure that we are able to reach as many consumers as possible. The best way was to do this through TV and Hotstar. It was a unique proposition to reach as many homes as possible because, in India, every home has a cricket enthusiast. 

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What were the factors that contributed to your association with IPL? What were some of the factors you were looking at?

When we entered the space last year, our research pointed out that there is a lack of innovation in the space. Fantasy sports users were looking for something new. We bridged that gap with ‘Play with Champions’ where the users get a chance to test their skills against the champions of the game. This year we were anticipating massive viewership for IPL and wanted to take this existing proposition to the next level. All are sports marketing efforts - campaigns, posts, ads, banners were designed based on this theme. And it paid off, our user base doubled during our IPL campaign reaching out to potential TG through television broadcast and Hostar stream of the league. 

Speaking of the Play with Champions philosophy, what was the core idea behind roping in Sourav Ganguly as the face of the campaign?

The campaign was designed around the Play with Champions theme and once the campaign construct was clear we were looking for multiple faces. The face that stood out for us was of Sourav Ganguly. He was chosen as the brand face based on the product construct and offerings. Similarly we roped in Shane Watson and Rashid Khan for the campaign. Fantasy sports is all about picking the right theme and these players have done this in the previous seasons of IPL. So, Sourav wasn’t just the face of the campaign but he was integrated in our product. 

When we saw the consumer chatter around the campaign, we realized that they didn’t care if they won or lost but were excited to test their skills against their favourite players. 

When you entered there were so many fantasy sports leagues, what were the factors that contributed in helping you break the clutter & create a top of the mind brand recall in a short span of time? 

Firstly, India is a huge market, every home has multiple opinions and choices, we are talking about a huge marketplace. That is why I feel that there is space for co-existence here. Secondly, in my opinion Play with Champion was the first innovation in the fantasy sports market and it helped us break the clutter. Additionally, we made the ads smaller and catchy with a level of subtle humour to make sure it reaches the masses. These elements created an impact helping us create a top of mind brand recall. 

My11Circle being a digital brand, how did first time advertising on television work for you? How did IPL advertising help you create buzz around the brand? 

This was the first time we advertised on television on this scale. In 2019, we did a small television campaign during the India v/s West Indies series. However, in my opinion every medium in the mix serves a different purpose. Television or a streaming service like Hotstar helps us create awareness very quickly. This campaign helped us create the first level of awareness and brand recognition on a large scale. We followed that up with an aggressive digital campaign consisting of social media platforms, Google Ads, and other affiliate partnerships and that helped us with the last level of conversions. 

Television and streaming platforms form the first part of the funnel, followed by digital tactics that help complete the purchase cycle. It is all about creating the right mix. We saw nearly 400-500% of brand lift through the campaign owing to the scale of the medium and the effectiveness of the campaign. 

What kind of measurement metrics do you think brands should have in place to measure RoI in a property like IPL?

It completely depends on the objective of the brand from the sports marketing campaign. For us, as a one year brand our main goal is to reach as many users as possible and that our Play with Champions campaign reaches the masses. Once we have the user the goal is to give them the best experience possible. Someone who is 5-7 years in the industry might have a different objective and the measurement metrics depend on that. 

What are the factors that brands need to keep in mind before investing in a property like IPL?

  1. Your campaign has to be clutter breaking. The spot will come only for a few seconds between the innings, so they have to be attention grabbing. 
  2. It has to be short, sweet, and effective. Start your campaign with the presumption that you have to make a 10-secnoder that is crisp as opposed to creating a 40-seconder and then cutting it down. 
  3. You have to make a campaign that is easy to remember. Be it the campaign face or the storyline, but it needs to have a hook that viewers remember. 

What are some of the sports marketing trends you foresee for 2021? 

  1. There will be a surge in digital viewers of sports due to the increasing penetration of the internet in deeper parts of the country. Many brands will move from television to digital to target these consumers. The digital medium has more touch and feel, you can take the campaign to a new level and this will be a huge attraction. 
  2. Until now it has been more about Indian cricket, going forward viewers’ palette will go beyond cricket. This includes leagues like ISL or PKL, boxing, and international cricket leagues outside India.  
  3. Broadcasters will bring more and more innovations to help brands market inside the game, creating non-intrusive experiences. A lot of innovation and technology will go in creating as many advertising slots as possible and brands will grab these opportunities. 
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