Has digital marketing outpaced PR this ICC Cricket World Cup?

The 'ICC Cricket World Cup England and Wales 2019' is well underway and is breaking viewership records in India. But, it's also the first ICC Cricket World Cup that is happening with India's TV viewership also moving to OTT streaming platforms. What does this mean for marketing communication campaigns during the World Cup? Are brands missing an opportunity for innovative PR for engaging fans? Or has digital totally changed the nature of integrated marketing communication and PR for such massive sports events.

ICC setting the tone of communication 

IPL matches have seen some of the most innovative marketing and communications campaigns, especially on digital. In 2014, Pepsi extended its Tweet20 property for the third year using gamification to get fans to play T20 via Twitter. 

But when it comes to an ICC tournament, the tone, as per Joy Bhattacharjya, an on-air analyst for 'cricbuzz,' is very different for a World Cup tournament with national teams. 

Bhattacharjya, who was team director for the Shahrukh Khan backed Kolkata Knight Riders explains that "The tone for communication and advertising for ICC is more formal, there are stricter norms for such an event as compared to IPL. So you won't see the kind of innovation that one sees in IPL."

Piyush Sharma, account manager, On Purpose, agrees saying "Most official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Uber and other brands such as Brittania, Royal Stag whiskey, have started lucky draws to consumers or accruing points by using their services for Uber, which can let them win tickets to the 2019 World Cup. However, this strategy has been in use or a while now, and we have seen similar campaigns in the past few world cups which only picks a lucky few to win tickets and watch games." 

Bhattacharjya says that brands such as the food delivery app Zomato did push this formula to do some amount of fan engagement as it allowed consumers some stake in the game.  Zomato set up a property called the 'Zomato Cricket Cup' when the consumer can predict wins and bag credit points.

 Sharma analyses that the  Zomato Cricket Cup, "Tied cricket cleverly to their business of ordering food through the app, consumers can play a small game within the app itself while ordering, involving making predictions about the ongoing matches. This is a wonderful token reward strategy that will engage many cricket fans to order through the app and enhance their business."

However, Bhattacharjya feels brands have missed a PR opportunity for genuine fan engagement, given that brands are fairly restricted by ICC norms.

As a result, much of the brand communication has been safe rather than innovative with a strong focus on digital marketing. 

Bhattacharjya says its basically the official sponsors such as MRF Tyres, Oppo,  Booking.com and Coca-Cola that would undertake World Cup based marketing and PR.

This means a PR opportunity available on two points. It creates space for non-sponsor brands for clever PR. The World Cup also follows IPL with big marketing budgets already used up for IPL.

Akanksha Jain, AVP communications, Pine Labs, however, feels PR during the World Cup hasn't been all about digital campaigns and limited PR. She says, " I would not agree to this one. PR around such mega events could include a set of brand-related activities. Take the example of Ford. They have rolled out a very interesting ‘Discover the More in You’ campaign during the World Cup. While not around the World Cup, the campaign includes 3 different stories aimed at celebrating the spirit of changing India and showcases how Ford UV owners are making a difference to the world around them. The PR campaign here has helped drive home a very impressive CSR campaign for Ford."

Where are the cricket brand ambassadors this World Cup?

This World Cup has also seen limited brand PR with cricket brand ambassadors. Bhattacharjya says the reason for this is that brands prefer team endorsements to individual cricketers. 

He says, "When it comes to brand ambassadors, cricketers such as Dhoni and Kohli enjoy a disproportionate share of brand endorsements much like Sachin Tendulkar did earlier. Brands also prefer IPL team endorsements as they get more cricketers to support their brand based on their preference. So, if you pick Kolkata Knight Riders that is seen as a cool team, Mumbai Indians are the big boys of cricket and so on. Also by the time, the World Cup has come around, marketing budgets have been significantly allocated to the April IPL matches."

Where is the cricket audience for World Cup 2019?

There is an obvious reason why brands are going digital. This is the first time that audiences have a clear cut option to access the matches on OTT platforms. Star India and Star Middle East which owns the telecast rights for ICC Cricket World Cup till 2023 says it's streaming platform Hotstar saw a stunning 100 million active viewers for India vs. Pakistan match and 66% of its reach was from beyond large metros.

Inspite of IPL rights being with Sony, Star strategically took on the digital rights for IPL, making long term investments in streaming which is paying off now.

According to a story in moneycontrol.com, the Cricket World Cup is expected to draw advertising revenues of Rs 1,200 crores split across TV, digital, print and radio. Digital is expected to be about 20 to 25% of that revenue. 

Mitali Ahuja, PR Manager, ARKA, says due to rise in women viewership of sports events and streaming, "This is a landmark year for sports broadcasting in India. And instead of depending upon traditional PR activities, brands are making their move to digital, with interactive multi-platform campaigns that are driving preference through contests and engagement. Therefore, digital has an edge this season of World Cup 2019."

Jain opines "With the rise of OTT, a lot of content is being consumed online or on smartphones. This will definitely have an impact on brand visibility as increasingly brands are now also focussing on programmatic advertising on OTT platforms. This works on real-time bidding, which is equally available to all brands, irrespective of their size. We have seen a lot of startups and emerging brands leveraging this well, over the last couple of years. Swiggy which is not an official sponsor is leveraging it well this World Cup season on Hotstar by allowing viewers to order food from within the Hotstar app."

Bhattacharjya points out that the ICC has done an excellent job of digital marketing and PR and significantly pushed digital content this World Cup. He says, "ICC has done some excellent digital packaging for the 2019 series. The 'ICC Cricket World Cup Greatest Moments', sponsored by Bira 91 where fans can vote for their favourite World Cup moments is an example of this."

Jain however warns that the World Cup has seen a high degree of integrated marketing communications that comes with its own set of issues, namely that, " We are at a risk of sending mixed, diluted and misleading messages, if PR, marketing (offline/online) as well as advertising do not have consistency in messaging, as millions of viewers and customers can be reached at a single click on social handles."

Shruti Sah, brand strategist at LBB ( Little Black Book) agrees saying, "I think Bira 91's brand campaign for the World Cup a stands out precisely because their communication is clear and straight forward. They wanted the world to recognise Bira 91 as a global beer brand, albeit "hailed from India", and partnering with ICC for the next 5 years has got them those guaranteed eyeballs - digitally, on television with on-ground branding as well as establishing that with the end consumers. By holding official live screenings across some of the cities' hottest bars, they've been able to maintain that excitement in their consumers' minds about the beer as a relatable, millennial, contemporary and trendy brand."

Bad PR during the World Cup

This World Cup has seen absconding businessman Vijay Mallya being booed when he attended a match at the Oval.

But the ad which really offended people was the JAzz TV ad. 

According to Sharma, "The Numero Uno PR disaster or a campaign disaster is surely the release of the callous advertisement released by the Pakistani Channel Jazz TV which shows a lookalike of Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was held captive by Pakistani Military for 60 hours over the 2019 India Pakistan standoff, and then released to India.  The ad makes a shallow mockery of the incident with an actor impersonating Abhinandan with his signature moustache who is being asked questions about the Indian cricket team, and his “I am not supposed to tell you that” in reply."

However, Bhattacharya believes it was a reaction to an ad launched by Star Sports for the India-Pakistan match on Father's Day that was the trigger.


Many viewers also felt it was in bad taste:

Bhattacharjya says Star Sports advertising was bad PR. He says, " An ad can be fun and have an edgy tone of voice, but this was just bad PR. It also disregards the fact that cricketers now are much better behaved than they used to be."

Bhattacharjya also adds that such an aggressive stance to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiments was unnecessary because  India is a much better team than Pakistan and were not really expected to lose, as they didn't in fact."