As presenting sponsor for the tenth Indian Premier League (IPL), Amazon could have chosen to go the way many other official backers of the league have done this season; get a sports star on board or brand the bats and jerseys of one of the teams or create a special ad with cricket-crazy celebrities. It has done neither; instead, by floating an unofficial, make-believe contender for the IPL, Amazon is riding the cricket fever and keeping the ad budgets under control without diluting its ‘apni dukan’ campaign promise, say experts.
There is nothing official or IPL-like about the Amazon team, Chonkpur Cheetahs. It is a rag tag bunch, more concerned about on-field fetishes rather than hitting a winning run or scalping wickets. In some ways, the campaign reminds many of the strategy deployed by Pepsi against rival Coca Cola during the 1996 World Cup for cricket. Coca Cola was the official sponsor, but Pepsi stole its thunder by running a series of ads that ended with the tagline, ‘There’s nothing official about it’.
Amazon however is no Pepsi in this saga; as presenting sponsor of IPL 2017 it is as official as one can get. But by coming up with a fictitious team of underdogs, it has managed to stick out in the crowd of sponsors for the league. The ad has been shared extensively on social media and given its focus on small town players, it has held on to the message of Amazon being everyman’s shop.
“The campaign is based on the deep rooted Indian cultural insight where most of us who’ve lived in a certain place for a while have a store of choice. Given our ability to personalise our storefront, for every single Indian customer, we believe we’ve earned the right to call ourselves apni dukaan,” says Ravi Desai, director of mass and brand marketing at Amazon India.
The IPL has been a consistent attraction for Indian advertisers since it was first started a decade ago. Not surprising, since the league draws a huge number of viewers every year. In 2017, viewership numbers are up by 15 per cent and people are spending more minutes on a match than they have done in the previous season. For advertisers this is good news and for a first-timer in the league of IPL advertisers like Amazon, it is gold dust.
While the Cheetahs might not actually be competing, Amazon says it hopes to get people to love them as much as an actual IPL team. The campaign run isn’t static, with the plot evolving as the series goes on. “We have multiple initiatives designed to kind of create a buzz around Chonkpur Cheetahs almost as though they were another IPL team. In all modesty, I believe we’ve created a song that’s far better than some of the actual IPL teams. That theme song alone has been able to garner more than five million views across platforms,” adds Desai.
The campaign uses no known faces, but deliberately goes for players who look ill equipped to take to the field. The ad plays on people’s aspirations and the IPL in many ways is the best platform in the country to pull off a campaign such as this, because cricket in the country is an aspirational sport.
Amazon’s campaign is a sign of its growing confidence in the Indian market say experts. “With the model they’ve got and the efficiency they’ve built locally, there is increased confidence in their Indian footprint and I think they’re smelling blood. Regardless of whether Flipkart’s response is to step up or step down, it’s going to be about how Amazon sees a way to appropriate a space for itself,” says Ramesh Thomas, president of Bengaluru-based consultancy, Equitor.
Interestingly its latest campaign has the same tongue-in-cheek approach that marked the initial advertising from e-commerce majors in the country. Almost two years ago, Flipkart took on traditional retailers with a campaign that was splashed on hoardings on busy highways across the country that said ‘Accha kiya jo nahi khareeda’ (Not making the purchase was a good decision). Snapdeal jumped in with ‘Achha kiya bata diya, yahan se khareedo’ (Good that you let us know, buy here). Amazon responded with its own campaign that went ‘Kahin nahi mila? #yahandekhlo’ (Didn’t find it anywhere,check us out).
The e-commerce landscape has changed dramatically since then. Over the past couple of years, Amazon has built a comprehensive brand story around apni dukan and not just discounts and sales. In fact, experts say by creating a team that aims to win hearts not medals, the e-commerce giant is perhaps looking to build a layer of security against discounting, a rampant practice in India’s online retail space, now that rival Flipkart has raised a massive $1.4 billion in funding. It’s not that Amazon will have trouble matching Flipkart’s investments in the space, but with a better brand story, it would certainly have an edge.
While the narrative around Flipkart might have turned positive recently, the company is still in a weakened state while rival Snapdeal is ready to fold. Amazon, as it has done in the past year and a half, will continue to leech off the market share its rivals are conceding and its IPL campaign hits the right spot.
“One of the things that they (Amazon) would want to do is establish themselves as close to the Indian fabric as possible and IPL is so much a part of that fabric. Both from a business footprint point of view as well as a mental footprint what they’ve done is quite interesting and relevant,” adds Thomas.