2012, COLUMNS, COVER STORY, FEATURED, Guest Column, JUNE 2012, latest-stories

Football: The new game for marketers?

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The café was abuzz with loud, frantic sounds of cheer, and a deafening roar when Spanish player, Fernando Torres hit a goal in the recently concluded Euro 2012 finale between Spain vs Italy. This wasn’t a sight in some European country, but a familiar scene across India. The roaring fans weren’t the nationals of the countries playing the match, but football-obsessed Indians. Move over cricket, football is the latest sporting fever gripping the country.

The spurt of football-themed bars and cafes, football merchandise stores and training camps by international football clubs aren’t the only signs of the growing football frenzy in India. Marketers are also cashing in on the latest sport infatuation in the country.

Eyeing a new goal
Telecom company, Bharti Airtel recently announced a new football initiative in association with Manchester United. ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ is a three-months long under-16 soccer talent hunt, which will be conducted across 16 cities in India to choose talented footballers who will get to train with the Manchester United football club.

Earlier, this year also saw Pepsi move beyond cricket and launch its first football campaign in the country. The campaign kick-started with a football themed ad film featuring brand ambassador Ranbir Kapoor, and has gone on to initiate many more activities including giving away football kits to Indigo travellers in a customer engagement marketing initiative and the recently concluded T-20 football tournament, an on-ground campaign that saw youngsters across the country vying for the coaching by football sensation and Pepsi’s brand ambassador, Didier Drogba as well as a game of football with Indian cricketers.

With brands making a departure from cricket to leverage the rising football fervour, they are banking on the game’s appeal with the younger generation to drive sales. At the same time, football-centric marketing campaigns and such tournaments are also helping to further popularise the sport in the country.

For Airtel, ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ is a strategic step in the brand’s youth-centric positioning and according to an Airtel spokesperson, the association blends in well with its fresh, youthful and dynamic brand identity. “From cricket, to Formula 1, to soccer – Airtel continues to associate with all sports categories that appeal to discerning urban youth audience of today. Specifically, soccer as a sport has a cult following worldwide – and the same fervour and excitement towards football can be increasingly seen in this part of the globe,” he explains.

The latest on-ground football tournament is not the first time that Airtel has associated itself with this sport for its partnership with Manchester United since 2009 has seen many such football-centric campaigns in the past.

For Pepsi too, its football-centric campaign is a part of its endeavours towards creating campaigns for its core target audience, the youth. Explaining the insight behind moving to a new sport, Homi Battiwalla, Category Director, Colas, Hydration and Mango Based Beverages, PepsiCo India says that the new campaign is a way to popularise the sport at the grassroot level. “Pepsi has always taken the lead in celebrating newer and emerging youth platforms; from cricket to movies to music, the brand has successfully created memorable campaigns and experiences for Youngistaan. Taking the thought forward to the emerging sport of football, we launched our first football campaign in the country. While the sport has always enjoyed near fanatical following in certain pockets of India, we see huge interest among the urban youth as reflected by the high viewership across popular football platforms on TV,” he adds.

To accentuate its youth appeal, Pepsi also leveraged the social media platform. Having sensed a significant overlap between young digital users and football fans, the digital platform was made the primary communication and recruitment channel for teams taking part in the T20 football matches. According to Battiwalla, there was tremendous buzz created around this campaign on the digital front. Pepsi India’s Facebook page grew from 2.06 million fans to 3.17 million fans and on YouTube, the campaign received 1 million views.

Building youth appeal
The football craze in the country has also been amplified by the summer training camps and football schools being set up in the country by international football clubs. In May, FC Barcelona became the second European football club to start its own football school in the country after Manchester United. Named FCBEscola, it will be run in partnership with Conscient Football to provide foundational training to budding football enthusiasts. While the first school will be set up in Delhi, there are plans of moving to other cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Goa.

There are also reports that suggest that Spanish club, Real Madrid will also be setting up a football school down south. There already exists a Real Madrid Social and Sports Academy in Kolkata.

Leaving aside the fillip that such academies and football marketing gives to a wider acceptance of the sport in the country, from a sales and consumer-connect standpoint, isn’t football a seasonal attraction, a hype that is built-up during international football tournaments and fizzles out the rest of the year?

Battiwalla disagrees on the sport being a seasonal passion. “Internationally, football creates buzz around the year with tournaments like EPL, La Liga, Champions League, EURO amongst other initiatives. Even in India, our football campaign was running during the peak of the IPL with no let up of intensity or excitement,” he says.

According to him, the excitement around Pepsi’s football campaign has generated the best buzz that the company has ever received. The beverage company will continue its association with the sport, and football and cricket will coexist in its marketing endeavours.

Airtel’s spokesperson shares similar view and feels that even though cricket retains the numero uno position as the most beloved sport for Indians, football, with a worth of Rs 200 crore in the country is not a seasonal sport and enjoys significant popularity as a domestic sport round the year.

While the game is certainly garnering attention from the international and domestic arena, with the international players as well as marketers eyeing the tremendous untapped potential in the country, investments and similar enthusiasm from the sporting fraternity within the country will go a long way in creating another sport obsession, besides cricket.

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