Blog: The incongruity of cricket sponsorships
Seeing the T20I match between India and South Africa at Mohali last week threw up some interesting contradictions.
Amul, so proudly, The Taste of India, had its logo emblasoned on the South African jerseys. Now, why would Amul, a quintessentially Indian brand with hardly a visible global footprint (or any very visible global ambitions) want to do that? Press releases put out by Cricket South Africa (CSA) last Monday announced the new partnership with the ‘Asian’ brand, Amul, and said it would be the official ‘Asian partner’ to the SA cricket team. The choice of the word ‘Asian’ is interesting and perhaps insightful too. But neither Amul, nor CSA, quite explained why Amul chose to sponsor the Proteas, that too on a tour to India, versus India.
Similarly, the appearance of Byju’s on the jersey of the Indian team intrigued me no less. Actually baffled me. Because when I think Byju’s I think studies. I think trigonometry, I think maths, I think science, I think studies, studies and more studies. To have a brand entrenched in matters academic to become the sponsor of the Indian cricket team where most players did not even perhaps go past high school seems funny to me. Outrageously funny, in fact.
Back to Amul. I wrote a similar piece in Campaign India a couple of years ago on Amul when they decided to sponsor the New Zealand cricket team.
I had even then pointed out, “Amul is so strongly an Indian brand, more so since it acts as the conscience-keeper for the nation through its innovative and topical hoardings … To me, frankly, it looks like a potential conflict of interest : between national loyalties and commercial interests. Amul cannot afford, to my mind, to alienate India … its home country; its constituency of debate and dialogue; and market of monopoly.” But Amul didn’t quite stop at the Blackcaps sponsorship. For the World Cup this year, the Afghanistan national cricket team wore Amul jerseys. So obviously, there is a strategy that Amul is pursuing in sponsoring these foreign teams … New Zealand, Afghanistan and now South Africa … that is not perhaps apparent to ordinary folks like us.
Byju’s offers learning programs for students in classes 4-12 (K-12) and for competitive exams like JEE, NEET, CAT, IAS, GRE and GMAT. Byju’s learning app while being highly adaptive, engaging and effective, is supposed to be new-age, and geography-agnostic …all to help children fall in love with learning. So far so good. But more than its own app and its smartness in learning, Byju’s has been an extremely smart marketer. The brand signed on Shahrukh Khan in 2017, and from thereon started spending large dollops of money on advertising. No wonder, Byju’s claims it has so far achieved over 35 million downloads for its app, has 2.4 million annual paid subscriptions and sees addition of 30,000 students every month. With an average time of 71 minutes being spent by a student on the app every day, and renewal rates as high as 85 per cent, Byju’s is obviously doing very well.. The best piece of news, however, for the brand was when the Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) in a survey during the recent World Cup found the Byju’s-SRK partnership as the most remembered celebrity association amongst all brands on air on cricket at that time, leaving Virat-Kohli/Uber, MS Dhoni/ Dream 11, Ajay Devgn/Vimal and Aamir/Phone Pe visibly behind.
While one can see the logic of Byju’s using cricket and Bollywood to build brand recognition and recall, the sponsorship of the Indian team jersey does seem an extravagant step. And an expensive one for sure. Oppo won the sponsorship for Rs. 1,079 crore in 2017, for five-years, outbidding Vivo mobiles' Rs. 768 crore bid. But post the World Cup this summer, the Chinese smartphone brand decided to exit the space and relinquish the rights to Think and Learn owned Byju's, at the same price because it found the value at which it acquired the rights in 2017 to be ‘extremely high’ and ‘unsustainable’. Oppo’s target audience is much much larger than that of Byju’s numerically because there are many more potential buyers for smartphones than there are for e-learning apps. Yet, Oppo found the jersey branding deal expensive. How come, Byju’s can afford the outgo, and Oppo can’t? And just to get the perspective right, the team jersey was sponsored by Star India from 2014 to 2017 paying Rs 1.92 crore per bilateral match and Rs 61 lakh for an ICC match. So it is even more baffling to see this edtech brand put out such large investments for the branding of the jersey when its core target audience may well not be watching cricket at all, buried deep in studies.
Any case, brand marketers have their strange ways. Amul’s logic surely is a media ROI calculation. Whether you sponsor the Indian team or a rival, in the same match, brand visibility is about the same. Sponsoring the Indian team jersey costs an arm-and-a-leg as is apparent from figures quoted above. A South African sponsorship is bound to cost a fraction of that number. So, Amul (smartly) is using cricket, and using the maximal visibility of a jersey branding to advantage … surely ROI many times superior to that of Byju’s, the sponsor of the Indian jersey. But that is not really the issue. The issue is about the dissonance created around the brand. Amul, Indian in every aspect of its existence sponsoring the Indian team’s rival just makes for bad optics. ROI be damned.
In the case of Byju’s one fully understands that this is all free-flowing investor money being ploughed in to build the brand. But perhaps this is more an ego trip rather than a brand building investment. It is perhaps more about bragging rights rather than brand recall. The kids Byju’s targets are surely not going to get influenced, unless of course the view is that the ones watching cricket (and not studying hard enough) are the ones Byju is trying to net! Or it is the parents who pay for the app are the ones watching the cricket, and they are the ones the brand is trying to impress and entice.
Whichever way you look at it, both Amul and Byju’s are doing marketing stuff that defies traditional marketing logic. In all fairness, it can also be said that it is ones that think out-of-the-box are the ones that succeed beyond the ones that stay within the confines of the usual. Well, time will tell.Dr. Sandeep Goyal, in his blog, likes to question strategies that seem to defy conventional logic.