Monday, January 31, 2011

The IPL was well marketed?

This is a report that I wrote for the course 'Consumer Behavior', one that I am quite proud of, so, thought of recording here. The report had to incorporate consumer behavior concepts to answer the question - The IPL was well marketed?

Cricket, pre IPL era was a little staid and long, appealing mostly to young men primarily in the sub continent. It had lost its appeal to the Englishmen and the West Indians except for some iconic series like the Ashes. But post IPL, we have an entirely new breed of supporters who have embraced the game, its many differences with the more athletic counterparts still notwithstanding. 

How has IPL managed to do it? It managed to bring together cricketers from different nationalities, lured them with fat pay cheques, roped in big advertisers who do not think twice before splurging on their brands for prime time eye space, got cheer leaders to shake their hips and bulldozed its way into ICC’s calendar. Thus, by a judicious mixture of managing the environment nearly perfectly and staging fantastic experiences every time a match was played, value creation was no more, the prerogative of a single entity. Instead, multiple stakeholders came together on a mutually rewarding platform and lavished the cricket loving crowds with some truly memorable fare. 

Cashing in on the need for change:

Any product, service or even an experience cannot have a sustaining appeal in the market place unless it addresses some specific needs of the consumer. IPL was able to gauge that the large number of cricket fans no longer wanted to spend a day in front of the television for an ODI encounter not to forget five days for a test match. When the target customers are busy, it is better to cater to their lifestyle change by shortening the game innovatively. The twenty over format already existed. IPL brought the model of clubs as in the EPL and by deft packaging created a customer experience that was too tempting for the customer to resist. The business was not one of selling twenty over cricket matches to cricket fans; rather it was selling an experience of 3.5 to 4 hours to a much larger entertainment deprived public. 

This was one of the reasons why IPL attracted viewers of every age and in young women and house wives brought to cricket, a whole new swathe of followers. The adrenalin rush inherent in the shortened version of the game was exploited by roping in celebrities, cheer leaders, glamorous hosts and a hint of CSR while all along, sending out the right impressions – encouraging small town cricket players to dream big and providing them a chance to interact with acclaimed super stars.  The result was that whole families came together every evening to cheer for their favourite teams, emotions ran high and the advertisers almost got a captive audience (of course, at a very high price) since the excitement in a twenty twenty format was too high for anyone to switch channels during over breaks. 

The IPL Experience:

In ‘Welcome to the experience economy’ by B Joseph Pine and James H Gilmore, the authors emphatically declare that we have arrived into the experience economy after crossing agrarian, goods-based industrial and services economy eras. In the authors’ opinion, “to realize the full benefit of staging experiences, however, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences that command a fee”.

As opposed to commodities, goods and services, experiences are deeply personal and reside in the minds of the individual who has been engaged as a memorable remnant. IPL has been able to leverage this to its benefit by throwing in something into the experience that everyone who sees the match can relate to and find joy in. Be it the celebrity stars, foreign players, post match fashion shows, social initiatives, favourable commentaries from experts of the game, Bollywood superstars, attractively packaged memorabilia – everyone had something to look forward to and precisely because of this, everyone’s individual experience and joy was starkly different from another person’s. Thus IPL challenged its competitors at a completely different plane by successfully staging memorable experiences. 

By adopting the model of movie theatres that have begun to charge for consumer experiences instead of simply for the ticket, IPL also managed to include in its ticket price and in its advertising slot rates, value for experience thus creating a very high anchor successfully right from the very first edition. Once the initial anchor is set, it is not very difficult to incrementally hike fares and still remain credible in the eyes of the consumer from the pricing point of view. 

Along two dimensions of experiences – customer participation and connection – IPL would fit into the quadrant where both active participation and immersion are high. As viewers, people hold the belief that their loud cheering and appreciation for their teams can sway results. They are also completely immersed in the proceedings right from the first over of the first innings. 

Customers also have an idea of what to expect from an IPL encounter – high adrenalin action. Basing the whole experience on the theme of enjoying cricket has given IPL a focal point around which to organise its other activities. By providing ample positive cues to reinforce indelibly, the first impressions in the form of blaring music between overs and media focus and sound bites from foreign players, IPL has managed to ensure that even the smallest cues are paid attention to. 

The popularity of the IPL can be gauged from the number of people who routinely wear t-Shirts and jerseys that espouse their support to favourite teams even during non season times. This is in large measure due to the array of attractive memorabilia that are sold in shops through the year. Once a city based loyalty is induced in a customer, it is very hard to be shaken by subsequent editions for in sport, there is a joy in rooting for the underdog. It gives the consumer of the experience, the joy of feeling belonged in a group. Peer approval and social norms as dictated by a person’s neighbour, for example, influence him/her to spend on these memorabilia and sport them proudly as a badge of his/her support to a particular team. 

“The more senses an experience engages, the more effective and memorable it can be.” Blaring crowds undulating to the sounds of drum music by a Sivamani, the sight of huge swathes of people decked in attractive jerseys and the almost palpable smell of thrill/victory/defeat combine together to produce the right balance of sensations. 

Innovation as the mantra:

Business standard in an article titled “IPL: The $2 bn brand”, refers to IPL occupying the 22nd position in the list of most innovative companies compiled by Fast company, a magazine that reports on innovation and digital media, ahead of giants like Samsung and Microsoft. 

Some elements of IPL’s marketing strategy can be said to revolutionize the field of marketing experiences and entertainment -

  •  Screening of IPL matches in movie halls
  • Complete use of all social media channels – this helped strike the right chord with the youth who normally take the first steps to know more about any format and who tend to book tickets online. 
  • A mind boggling number of tie ups – To name a few, with Delhi Daredevils, EBay with Kings XI Punjab...
  • The leveraging of immense unpaid publicity by word-of-mouth and other means
  • Adopting a well tried model of international clubs and auctions to the Indian environment and making it a grand success
  • Innovative deals with a number of companies where the structure of the deal includes a onetime licensing fee as well as royalties on the merchandise sold. Other examples: Deals with Google for people to watch matches online and with television channels for IPL related shows.
  • The sheer number of brands that were associated with IPL (In edition 3, the number is expected to touch 80)! Brands that had multiple associations and were involved with cricket through the year gained more out of IPL lending credence to the standard marketing thought that “more the presence, more the impact”
  • Launch of several new and innovative campaigns by advertisers through IPL. Examples: Idea (Oongli cricket) and Vodafone (Zoozoos) 

Learning perspective:

In ‘Managing what consumers learn from experience’ by Stephen J Hoch and John Deighton, the authors propose a framework of four stages – hypothesizing->Exposure->encoding->Integration – with three moderating factors – familiarity to learn, motivation to learn and the ambiguity of the information environment – to capture what consumers learn from experiences.  

IPL by virtue of its gripping nature and a high value based price offered a high-involvement experience for the consumer. Since “consumers tend to grant special status to conclusions drawn from experience” and experience also “promotes better memory because information is more vivid and concrete”, any consumer who watches a IPL match either on television or on the playing field by paying for the tickets experiences entertainment that reinforces the outcome he intended in the first place. IPL managed to do this with a deft and balanced packaging of the different elements on offer as part of the experience. 

Consumers in post purchase situations tend to avoid dissonance inducing information. After spending a good deal of money on the cricket field or worse still, a large amount of time in front of the television set, the human behaviour is to rationalise the money or time spent by justifying it as worthwhile. Hence consumers consciously avoid situations in which they might potentially receive negative feedback about IPL and instead surround themselves with people who “confirm a good buy” by lavishing praise on the concept. 

A contrarian viewpoint:

IPL, for sure, managed to bring in more audiences to a game that was increasingly bemoaned as a sport out of tune with the changing and evolving times. In the process however, it alienated a section of cricket loving population that was rooted in the traditional/classical school to whom, the sport best evokes memories of a “gentleman’s game”. The aggressive marketing strategies followed by the different clubs, the muscle power that BCCI brought to the centre with its rich and wealthy line-up and the induction of glamour as an associated activity in the form of fashion shows and cheer leaders were not received well by this traditional and puritan section of the population.  

The strategies employed were at times seen even by supporters of the format as harming the interests of the players resulting in more injuries. The outcome of many of these games were driven by chance many a time leading some to cast aspersions on the extent of skill required to come out on top. To this section, the marketing efforts expended by popular brands was symbolic of aligning with interests contravening the larger right direction, the game should be taken in. 


Examining both sides of the coin, one comes to the conclusion that the IPL was extremely well marketed. Right from the choice of the name – Indian premier league – having a streak of nationalism to countless secondary associations that were successfully leveraged, IPL as an annual calendar event is extremely well marketed. The increasing crowds in the stadium, the cross border popularity of the T20 format, the numerous foreign players who are willing to sign up, the increasing auction amounts, the rise in the number of franchises catering to more cities and the craze for IPL memorabilia are all pointers to the ever increasing popularity standing testimonies to shrewd marketing strategies. 

Business Standard in an article way back in 2008 termed IPL as “The new marketing cocktail”. To quote from the article, “on a jingoistic note, it (IPL) could be an Indian "brand" export to the world”.