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Can underdogs steal the show in the 7th edition of IPL?

In most parts of India, summers are unbearable. The few things that keep people going is the air-conditioning, the quintessential nimbu pani, an extra dash of prickly heat talc and for the past seven years now, the IPL. It could be said that enthusiasm for cricket has never been greater than now with its shorter, more competitive, tense, (and more unpredictable?) league avatar. In the massive fight between the teams for the trophy, and brands for eyeballs, here is the untold tale of the smaller sponsors.

Ranjani Raghupathy is a marketing executive at Unmetric

Ranjani Raghupathy is a marketing executive at Unmetric

On the advertising front, the IPL has enabled big brands to create marketing history. Unforgettable campaigns like the Vodafone Zoozoos, Pepsi's Oh Yes Abhi and Tata Sky's Cold War were all conceived for the IPL and will remain benchmarks for success for years to come.

And yet, a sluggish economy, matches taking place outside the country and allegations around the honesty of many key members of theleague, season seven has failed to attract the big sponsors of the past. The majority of the team sponsors this season are from smaller national brands. Live Mint reports that such sponsorship was made possible this year because these smaller brands paid as little as one-tenth of what big brands paid in previous seasons. This has led to the usual two or three major team sponsors being replaced by 10- 15 smaller ones. When brands like Coca-Cola and Muthoot stepped down, companies like traditional Indian clothing chain Manyavar and British retail chain WH Smith took up the opportunity.

The good news for these smaller brands is that according to Times Internet, there has been a 270% growth in online viewership in the last three years. With sites like YouTube, Star Sports and IPLT20 offering free online streaming of matches and rising smartphone usage, the audience is not only bigger than before but more global as the Google Trends chart shows below.


Courtesy: Unmetric

Courtesy: Google Trends

With such wide viewership and diversity in audience, this could be the smaller brands' gateway to national and even global recognition.

Last year we spoke about how the teams themselves got social and saw massive success in engaging cricket fans. However, can social media play an equally important role for these smaller brands to expand their reach in to the new mass media?

When brands get on to a personal medium like social media, they get direct insights from their audience. You witness brands kick starting conversations, receiving feedback, and forming personal brand-consumer relationship. Take TK Sports for example, the sports apparel brand is sponsoring three teams this year. In the last twelve months, they updated their Facebook page just 20 times but as soon as the league began, daily updates followed. Since April 16, the page experienced a fan growth of 8.6% (which is much higher compared to the sector average of 2.4%).

Courtesy: Unmetric

Courtesy: Unmetric

The brand talks mostly about the IPL and frequently leverages celebrities of the cricketing world in their content or posts.

Courtesy: Unmetric

Courtesy: Unmetric

This update has engaged well above average for TK Sports, which usually sees an Unmetric engagement score of 81, but saw a score of 257 on this post.

(Engagement is the measure of audience responses to a brand's content and activity on a social network. To calculate the engagement score, we weigh audience interactions on brand content such as Likes, Comments, Shares or Favorites, Replies and Retweets based on their importance. We then divide their weighted sum by our estimate of the number of brand fans and followers who actively receive and view such content.)

Some of the other smaller or newer brands that are looking to take the center stage this year are USTGlobal,, and Arise Mobiles. Like TK Sports, these brands are also making some effort to leverage the IPL to varying degrees on their social media profiles. At Unmetric, we believe that measuring social media involves evolved metrics and tools such as content strategy, campaign intelligence and customer service. Though, at this stage, these simple metrics give an overview of brands and their relationship with social media.



Data was gathered for the period of April 16- 30, 2014.

These brands have just begun to leverage the event and are using it as a point of conversation, but it's too early to evaluate their performance on social media.

TK Sports is the outlier when it comes to the IPL sponsors in that they are actually making an effort to use the event as a point of conversation. Other major sponsors like Dheeraj Realty, Cognetix Headphones, Amity University, Orient Electric, EMTA Group, Cash ur Drive, ICE Electronics, Deakin University, Triumph Sports and RBL Bank have either very low activity surrounding the event on their pages or have no social media presence at all.

So are these brands leaving plenty of money on the table in terms of brand awareness by not taking advantage of social media?

Probably not. Daniel McLaren, Founder of Digital Sport said, "For some local brands, social media may not be the best way in which they can engage with potential new customers.A lot of course will depend on their objectives as a business. It may well be that having awareness through TV and access on match days is enough for them at this stage." Yet, brands would do well to keep in mind the mobile opportunity that is present in India and McLaren added "Where there is a good internet and/or mobile user base, brands can access some of the hundreds of millions of fans that are IPL (and general cricket) fans."

That's not to say that social media is irrelevant for all the sponsors though. Vineet Gupta, managing director of 22feet Tribal Worldwide has a different take on the impact social media can have on these smaller brands, "It definitely seems like a missed opportunity for those brands who fail to leverage their offline associations with IPL on what clearly seems to be the preferred medium for conversations."

One problem these smaller brands might have is that once the IPL has finished and the buzz has died down, they might feel that they have very little to talk about. This doesn't have to be the case as Rick Liebling, head of global marketing at Unmetric, and a former PR agency executive who handled international sports sponsorships for multiple Fortune 500 brands, explained, "One easy to execute idea would be to have one of the players from the team they sponsored act as a "guest tweeter" on their brand account who will live tweet future cricketing events, drawing a whole new group of people to your Twitter account." This continues the brands' association with the sport and continues to give them easy access to the conversation around cricket in the country.

The IPL is an opportunity for sponsors to ramp up their social media, engage more people and build brand awareness and it doesn't take a huge multi-crore budget to do so. For the 2014 Super Bowl, Newcastle Brown Ale decided that they would skip spending millions on a 30 second ad slot and instead showed how brands can capitalise on such an event with a shoe string budget. This goes to show that even if brands are unable to afford (or unwilling to pay for) ad spots during the game, some out-of-the-box thinking combined with social media can still build plenty of awareness for the brand.

In the end, just how old players move on and young blood is welcomed, this season of the IPL has given smaller brands a red carpet welcome to reach hundreds of millions of fans, across a range of screens. In addition, the opportunity is there to have a highly relevant segue in to the cricket buzz that is building on social media, but it has to be a thought out strategy that is relevant and aligns with business objectives. Expectations are high, from the fans, from the players and of course the driving force behind the IPL, the sponsors. As for me, I'll continue rooting for my Super Kings, keeping the whistle going and hoping that the trophy comes back to Chennai, yet again.

Ranjani Raghupathi is a marketing executive atUnmetric. She is awriter, dreamer and a foodie all rolled in to one, and enjoys her not-so-secret affair with marketing and social media metrics. She plays cupid with words and marries them so they can live happily ever after as beautiful sentences. You can find her at any restaurant serving great food or at a book store sneaking a peak at the latest arrivals.

Published Date: May 26, 2014 11:18 AM | Updated Date: May 26, 2014 11:18 AM

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