AI is missing in IPL ads and there’s a reason why; ad agencies tell

The AI wave in advertising seems to have hit a wall in 2024. While it’s been used on an operational level, AI has been missing from ads. Considering the Indian advertising industry is currently spending the biggest chunk of its budget on IPL, an annual carnival of campaigns, what’s the reason for AI’s low visibility in campaigns? We find out. 

Pranali Tawte
New Update
AI missing in IPL ads

Artificial intelligence (AI) was the biggest disruptor of 2023. It dominated each prominent industry, and advertising wasn’t too far behind. After its emergence, from copywriters to CxOs, AI became a key part of day-to-day tasks, and brands soon started using it for all big occasions. From Tata Tea Premium launching its Lohri campaign that allowed users to get their personalised version of tapas to Not a Cadbury Ad seeing an AI touch for small business entrepreneurs, AI integrated itself into the A&M industry on a more granular level in 2023. AI was simply everywhere in 2023! 

However, there seems to be a snag in its trajectory. While AI is still prominent on an operational level in A&M, 2024 has barely seen any large-scale AI campaigns as last year, at least on the consumer front. The advertising industry is currently in its busiest season. After all, it is during the season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that advertisers open their pursestrings and unleash a wave of creativity. 

So far, it is the only food delivery platform Zomato that has dabbled its feet in AI during the biggest advertising carnival. It has launched a series of AI-generated advertisements featuring its ambassador Ranveer Singh. 

Is there a reason behind this rather long pause on AI campaigns, especially during IPL?

The cost factor and regulatory concerns

Sharing one of the reasons why, Geetanjali Bhattacharji, CEO of Glassbox Ventures cited the price factor. 

“We saw advertisers pay a huge premium over previous years with pricing at 15 lakh to 20 lakh/10 sec on Television to 5-6 lakh/10 sec on CTV. Given that AI is an additional spend beyond the traditional creative production and media commissions, most marketers preferred to ‘play safe’,” said Bhattacharji.

Beyond the direct costs, regulatory concerns are also shaping advertising strategies. Bhattacharji highlighted that during the virtual G20 summit on November 22, PM Modi spoke about the emergence of deepfakes on social media, calling for ‘global regulations for AI’.

She added, “This has probably kept the risk-averse brands out of the game; which basically covers all the large advertisers on IPL.”

The soaring expenses of IPL ad slots, coupled with the extra investment required for AI integration, and the threat of AI regulations, have prompted advertisers to stay away from AI in the time being, making it rather a risky investment, especially during IPL season.

Sticking to the comfort zone

Since the very inception of IPL, stars have been at the centre of storytelling, often talking about friendly rivalry. According to the media reports, IPL ads have a bigger dose of celebrities, with more than 60% of the ads being celeb-led. 

So far in IPL 2024, celebrities seem to be a popular choice yet again. 

Abhimanyu Balasubramanyam, Creative Director - Schbang believes the approach to using celebrities in advertising, especially in high-profile events like IPL, is not just about avoiding risks but rather about creating impact and visibility.

He said, “Agencies and clients alike have key performance indicators (KPIs) to meet, and they are constantly looking for impactful campaigns that resonate with audiences. While celebrities do tend to have a significant influence on Indian audiences, it's not just about their presence; it's about how they are integrated into the campaign's narrative.”

He also highlighted that the use of AI in advertising has not diminished due to the use of celebrities. Sharing an example of Vishal Dadlani's Cricket World Cup song campaign, Balasubramanyam said that AI can enhance the visual elements of a campaign while still leveraging the appeal of a celebrity. 

Furthermore, Aarushi Periwal, Creative at Talented said that AI can't be treated as the next celebrity in ad campaigns and it should serve a purpose, not a check box. She pointed out that there is stellar work coming out of IPL without AI being the crutch.

She shared a list of campaigns featuring celebrities where they were not used for their face value like Dream11’s series of hilarious ads, or using Leander for CRED, and Talented’s Make My Trip campaign.

“These are all creative, risky, great ideas. Out of comfort zones. With or without AI,” Periwal added.

IPL’s unpredictability – a tough ballgame for AI

The most fundamental method of communicating with fans during IPL season is through memes and moment marketing. Brands try to become a part of the cricket fan culture and it is all about finding the right emotion to connect with them. 

Abhik Santara, Director & CEO, ^ a t o m said that IPL is about the fans and the energy, and that raw human connection is tough for AI to fully replicate. He believes that AI has its quirks when it comes to IPL advertising. 

IPL is all about raw energy, the roar of the crowd, those last-minute nail-biters. It's tough for AI to fully replicate that emotional punch. Sure, it can make an ad look cool, but can it capture the heart-racing excitement of a Super Over? 

Abhik Santara

He said that AI is great at patterns and refining what's already there, but capturing that ‘anything can happen’ spirit is a whole different ball game. Also, a lot of the best IPL ads play on the fans, the memes, the shared cultural moments. He believes that AI hasn't yet mastered that level of real-time cultural awareness and responsiveness.

“It can churn out visuals, but can it quickly craft a viral ad riding on a hilarious catchphrase from last night's game? Now that's a challenge!” Santara added.

Rose-tinted glasses come off

After experimenting with personalisation and deep fake in 2023, the advertising industry is currently working on finding the next big idea.  

Balasubramanyam believes that simply integrating AI into a campaign is no longer enough and the focus is shifting. 

He said, “The focus now is on finding ideas that resonate with audiences on a human level while leveraging technology to enhance the storytelling. This approach ensures that campaigns not only stand out but also connect with people in a meaningful way.”

AI is becoming a companion for agencies that helps in smoothening the process. However, the end result, the big proverbial golden trophy, creativity still brings that home. 

Periwal said, “AI in 2023 was dictatorial. A must-have in all campaigns. In 2024, AI is democratic. It’s not an imposition, it’s an option. Which means the rose-tinted glasses are off and we also see the limitations of it. More creatives and brands are seeing AI as part of the process, not output. That’s the key difference. We’re using AI for what it has to offer to us right now. It’s a great tool to automate processes, it can’t automate creativity.”

Stating how human touch is a differentiator during IPL, she added, “Now that the mediocre is over; actual craft, experience, and conviction becomes the differentiator. Which happens to be human for now. The novelty is wearing off. AI is part of ideation, and it should be, but it’s not the idea itself.”

If not in the end output, where is AI used now? 

Suneil Chawla, Co-founder, Social Beat, said, “Teams are using it to create and test more copies, creative options and we are just at the start of the impact AI will have on marketing… Beyond the initial creative experiments using AI, today the main use case brands have asked us for is to drive more quality content at scale and do it up to 10X more efficiently and faster.”

Even though AI has been missing from campaigns in 2024, this year has been about involving this technology in the process of creation and scratching beyond the surface. 

While there are many reasons why AI seems to be on a pause on the creative front, creativity is not missing from IPL ads. And the 17th season of the advertising carnival is still underway and more brands might follow Zomato’s lead in adapting AI. 

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