India Inc. is busy gambling off-field on the outcome of the World Cup more than ever, looking to turn cricket fans into festive shoppers.

Billions of viewers are expected to tune in to the World Cup on television or streaming platforms. And as they concentrate on what is happening on the pitch, the names of some of the biggest brands will be flashing behind the players on a rolling, bright-coloured loop: Coca-Cola, Bira 91, Mahindra & Mahindra, Hindustan Unilever, Maruti Suzuki, MRF Tyres, among others.

These brands are expected to cumulatively spend about Rs 2,000–2,500 crore, according to industry executives, in a bid to cash in on the ever-expanding cricket viewership in the world's biggest market for the sport.

After the results of two preceding tournaments—the Indian Premier League and Asia Cup—this year, it is clear that cricket is a big reach builder in India, said Shashank Srivastava, senior executive officer, marketing and sales, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. The homegrown automaker has been associated with the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup on both television and over-the-top platforms.

"The reach of these properties is phenomenal, touching almost 500 million users on TV and around 450 million users on OTT," Srivastava told BQ Prime. "And hence, with the World Cup happening in India and India being one of the favorites to win, the sporting event offers a great opportunity for brands to talk to their audiences and solidify their brand propositions."

Srivastava, however, said that the ad rates for television have increased in the range of 10-15% per spot for both India and non-India matches, while for digital, they have increased by around 50–60% in terms of per thousand impressions or cost per mille. Even as digital rates seem to be very high, Hotstar is promising an increase in reach from 300 million in the 2019 edition. "Hence, the reach has also increased by close to 50%," according to him.

Companies in sectors like automobiles, FMCG, and consumer discretionary are generally the big spenders during the festive season, which accounts for about 40–45% of a company's annual ad spends. This year's advertising expenditure may jump 15-20% over the previous year during the Dusshera-Diwali period—the busiest shopping period of the year—led by the cricket tournament, according to marketers. A potential spend of around Rs 30,000–40,000 crore is expected during this festive season.

"Festive spends this year are likely to go 15-20% higher than last year," said Amit Dhawan, partner and chief executive officer, Art-E Mediatech. He expects the cricket-related ads to comprise about 10% of the total spend.

Thums Up, the beverage brand from The Coca-Cola Co., is the official beverage partner of the ICC World Cup. As part of its marketing campaign, the brand is inviting fans to predict the winning team. "By purchasing Thums Up, finding a unique code, and collecting digital victory coins, consumers can stand a chance to watch the game live," the company said.

The move is aimed at connecting with fans at a deeper level and pushing sales ahead of festive season when consumers are on to binge eating.

To be sure, this is not the first time that Coca-Cola is trying to attract Indian consumers' attention by offering a free ticket. It has been doing this for several years now. However, Britannia is a pioneer. It had first launched the ‘Britannia Khao, World Cup Jao’ before the 1999 cricket World Cup, and later several brands such as Uber and Bira 91 followed up with their own versions.

"Our brand activations will engage consumers through offline and online promotions and create memorable experiences for sports fans," said Arnab Roy, vice-president, marketing, Coca‑Cola India and Southwest Asia.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Consumer Products Ltd. has also rolled out a cricket-themed drink, Campa Cricket. With an attractive pricing point of Rs 20 for a 250-ml pack, the company will widely distribute the brands across key states as it looks to aid sales after a washout summer.

Brands are also turning to athlete endorsements. Rival PepsiCo India has roped in cricketer Hardik Pandya for its Gatrode sports drink, while Reliance's Campa Cricket is endorsed by young cricketer Ishan Krishan.

Tyre maker CEAT Ltd. has signed women cricketer Shafali Verma as its latest brand ambassador. Shafali joins the CEAT's list of cricket brand ambassadors, which includes Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Harmanpreet Kaur, and Mathew Hayde.

Small Advertisers Find A Place

Typically, small or mid-sized brands don't advertise during the World Cup owing to the high rates.

"But this year we are seeing such brands spending a considerable amount of money in the form of sponsorships, ad spends on OTT, sports media, etc.," said Dhawan.

Disney Star's advertisement plans that start as low as Rs 1–5 crore across television and digital have attracted all kinds of advertisers.

Startups are also capitalizing on the World Cup, if not through sponsorships but via OTTs and tactical moment marketing, Dhawan said.

A seven-year-old women's clothing brand, The Kaftan Company, unveiled dresses and kaftans that match Team India's jersey.

"We wanted to provide something unique, exquisite, yet very comfortable to wear for the female fans of Team India," said Navin Rao, the company's co-founder, hoping the promotional event would push sales and recognition. In just two weeks since the launch of the cricket collection, the company has sold over 20 pieces, said Rao.

Overall Ad Spend Muted

Despite all the frenzy, the overall ad spend growth may remain under pressure as the gaming and new-age categories are missing this time because of several factors including a funding winter and higher tax rates.

Other companies in sectors EdTech, fintech and Fundtech are also curtailing ad spends.

Elara Capital has revised the overall advertising expenditure growth downwards to 10-12%, including the positive impact of the Cricket World Cup, in 2023, from an estimate of 16% growth projected by ad agencies.

October 05, 2023 — Marketing Team

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