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Fizzling Gamechangers in Indian Advertising

The IPL may be over; however, it’s time to examine a TV advert – which did the rounds around the same time – that pitted cricket against football


Few in India would dispute that cricket here arouses as much, if not more, passion than the Kama Sutra.
When viewed such, Indian society has no room for atheism or differences, for it has a common God aka Sachin Tendulkar (name provided for the sake of the uninitiated), who only recently got elected to the Upper House of the Parliament. The Holy Grail of Indian sport, the sponsors’ and media’s darling, cricket’s popularity also means that its hordes of followers are also its experts. So, pitting this game against any other, howsoever popular, could be viewed as an attempt to either be a trendsetter or a sitting duck to widespread ridicule and criticism.

Ergo, intrigue is the watchword when Atlanta’s second cola major, Pepsi, pits Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba against Indian cricketers M S Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli for a bottle of the beverage – in an ad that can be ascribed as a melting pot of sorts. (click on link below to watch the ad)

 

The ad, which follows the basic principle of showing the product at its beginning and end dutifully, begins with Kohli, Singh and Raina challenging the footballers to play their game if they need a bottle of Pepsi. Kohli takes strike against Drogba, who’s puzzled when handed a tennis ball in lieu of a football by the umpire (Dhoni, whose face is revealed only towards the end of the TVC). The footballers, show their mettle with the ball, which culminates in a bicycle kick from Drogba, only to clean-bowl Kohli. The cool drink, however, slips out of their hands when the umpire looks up (as if in a guest appearance) and tells them that it’s a no-ball, which means no Pepsi!

An analysis of the advertisement should put things in perspective
  • As any advertising guru would put it, a campaign must be able to generate a buzz (Think Why This Kolaveri Di) if it is to even aspire for success. Pepsi’s ‘Change the Game’ ads could be the right topic for water cooler conversations in offices, with “Did you watch the ad featuring cricketers and footballers?” being apt ice-breakers
  •   Footballers? That too in an ad beamed during IPL? The only time other sports have received respectable amount of attention in India was either during controversies or international events such as the Olympics, Wimbledon or Asian Games. So, Pepsi can easily stake claim to the first player advantage in sparking off of an advertising trend in the nation; that is, if it should become a rage
  • It may be tempting to hark back to the last FIFA World Cup for pointers. The media had gone gaga over Messi, Ronaldo and Kaka. Die-hard cricket fans were suddenly praying for an Argentina victory. Van Nilsterooy, and not Shantakumaran Sreesanth, was the toast of the town. Stories on Maradona’s wager to streak across the football ground naked should Messi’s Argentina win (thank God that Argentina, and by extension, Maradona, did not) gained precedence over the controversies courted by tinsel town’s glam girls in our tabloids. So, one can perhaps assume that the ground was softened for Pepsi’s ‘gamechanger’ TVC
  • That these three footballers were part of the ad also signifies that Indian advertising is looking beyond its bread and butter – film stars and cricketers. Personalities such as Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Mary Kom and Vishwanathan Anand may be more examples, but they are too few and far in between. Further, the last four becoming brand mascots coincided with their sporting achievements; contrast this with a few newbie cricketers bagging plum endorsement contracts
  • Pepsi’s move may be a masterstroke, what with the rising popularity of European football leagues in the nation. The outpouring on social networking sites when Manchester City lifted the English Premier League recently – when this author realised that most of his contacts were either Manchester City or United aficionados – should serve as a pointer. Shah Rukh Khan’s off-field antics and Chris Gayle’s IPL sixers – both effortless achievements – are certainly hot topics for gossip, but then so are the latest player transfers in Chelsea and Pep Guardiola quitting Barcelona
  • The ad, though, isn’t the first TVC under the ‘Change the Game’ campaign by the cola major. Pepsi may have tested the waters with an ad that was released a few months ago featuring actor Ranbir Kapoor in which he berates a kid for following football. The cricket crazy actor suffers a change of mind when the kid, in true soccer style, helps him get a can of Pepsi from a vending machine. And how can one forget the campaign’s run in the 2011 World Cup, which will be remembered for popularising the totemic cricketing shots of some batsmen (Tilakaratne Dilshan’s Dilscoop; Virender Sehwag’s Upar Cut; Shakib al-Hasan’s Super Scoop to name a few)?
  • By letting the cricketers have the last laugh in the advertisement was Pepsi averse to alienating itself from its clientele? Without wanting to sound judgmental, going by India’s craze for star appeal and fan clubs, the answer may be in the affirmative.
 
Can we now have Bernie Ecclestone peddling us MRF tyres? Or Maria Sharapova being the face for Liberty shoes? Endless indeed are the possibilities, and its fulfillment, of such outlandish suggestions in a nation like ours with an ever-burgeoning consumerist population.

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