Moment marketing shouldn’t come across as opportunistic endeavour: Rajiv Gopinath

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In a conversation with exchange4media, Rajiv Gopinath, CCO, Starcom tells us why Tokyo Olympics is a big opportunity for brands this year

This year, a wide array of brands came out in support of its country’s 119 athletes representing India in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. They launched Olympics-special campaigns to cheer team India. In fact, nine days ahead of the game, the official broadcaster signed over 11 sponsors for the multi-sports event which begun on July 23.

While it has been a challenging year, Tokyo 2020 could be the right opportunity for brands for myriad reasons, believes Rajiv Gopinath, CCO of Starcom. “The Olympics is a great opportunity for brands as it provides not just a platform to increase visibility and build awareness but also a loyal and highly engaged audience,” he noted.

He also mentioned that Rio 2016 attracted 202 million viewers on TV with 10 million additional on digital in India. The women’s badminton final Sindhu Vs. Marin attracted over 5 million.

“Viewers in India, an unprecedented number for any event outside of international cricket. This year too, our athletes have showcased some commendable performances. Mirabai Chanu won a Silver in weight-lifting, and PV Sindhu bagged a Bronze in Badminton. Indian Women’s hockey team made history by entering the semi-finals for the first time, India men’s hockey team has also entered the semi-finals at the Olympics. The key matches of various sports have a huge audience interest and engagement and brands can turn to reach their audiences in these moments to make a connection with the audiences," he pointed out.

Despite COVID challenges, the official broadcaster- Sony Pictures Sports Network (SPSN) signed Coca-Cola, Amul, Hero Motocorp, JSW, and MPL as co-presenting sponsors, while the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), RBI, Visa, Lenevo, Byju’s, and Herbalife Nutrition are the associate sponsors for the mega event.

Gopinath observed that the negotiated rates are fine, while the pricing on digital is on par for special events. “Brands can pick spots in sports where India would be keen to see the results.”

Time bands are a differentiating factor between Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, which made the latter a big draw for Indian brands, he pointed out. “The airing timings of the matches for the Tokyo Olympics is far more friendly for the Indian audiences than that of the Rio Olympics where the time gap was far greater.”

With Star India and Doordarshan as the broadcast partners for the Rio Olympics (2016), top financial services conglomerate, Edelweiss Group, and Reliance Industries’ digital arm Reliance Jio were the principal sponsors of the Indian Olympic Contingent to Rio de Janeiro.

“This was the first time the Indian Olympic team has two principal sponsors. Li-Ning was the apparel sponsor, Herbalife and Tata Salt were the nutrition sponsors. Study by Janak sponsored the players’ formal wear at the opening and closing ceremony, Amul was the dairy sponsor and Amity University was also on the list,” he added.

According to Gopinath, a few advertisers stood out this Olympics especially the four that came on board for the first time.

Some of the most prominent ones include MPL that launched a campaign urging Indians to become fans of the Indian Olympic Contingent. Another one is Mia by Tanishq- a style partner for Indian athletes, which collaborated with table tennis player Manika Batra, archer Deepika Kumari, and boxer Pooja Rani along with hockey players Navjot Kaur and Rani Rampal. Thums Up also launched a campaign to celebrate athletes who overcame tremendous odds to reach where they are today. Adani was another advertiser that joined the sponsor’s list.

Additionally, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) too launched series of campaigns under the title ‘Jeet Ka Padak’ (Medal of victory) which includes a music video wishing Team India the best.

Visa- who has been partnering with Olympics for a long- launched ‘A Million Cheers’ campaign featuring brand ambassador PV Sindhu and personalities such as footballer Sunil Chhetri, cricketers Jemimah Rodrigues and Mohammed Siraj, shooter Gagan Narang, and Bollywood actress Huma Qureshi – who have participated in “Tap the Shuttle” challenge and encouraged fans to cheer for PV Sindhu.

Gopinath also shared some interesting findings of the game. As per Google Search Trends Data- Hockey and Badminton are coming out as the top sports that India is participating in at the Tokyo Olympics. There’s a clear spike on the day Indian players are on-ground, and on the days of the Final rounds of the respective sports. Furthermore, most interest coming from States in the North East and the interest in Women’s hockey has increased significantly as it entered the semi-finals for the first time ever.

As soon as Mirabai Chanu won India’s first medal- a Silver medal in WeightLifting at the Olympics on July 24 and netizens and brands took to the internet to congratulate her. Domino’s even offered her ‘Free Dominos Pizza for Life’- a move that garnered mixed reactions from netizens.

Speaking on the freebies offered by brands, Gopinath said, “Olympics is a great opportunity for brands to show support and backing for players and the Indian contingent. It is imperative that the brands spread a positive message, in a way that is in sync with their brand personality so it doesn’t come across as shallow. The brands need to be careful while treading the line so moment marketing doesn’t come across as an opportunist endeavour.”

More and more consumers are moving beyond Linear TV and digital is creating more and more opportunities for brands to engage with the audiences, said Gopinath. Brands are activating digital in a variety of ways. He shared that mobile-first programming, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tokyo 2020 Media Center is helping consolidate highlights and news from the games in one place so fans can periodically check on their devices.

“Clearly, when a brand offers, value it works," he concluded.

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Electric for the few

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The Audi e-tron is a fabulous vehicle and points at the future. It will, unfortunately, cost a lot

Recently, I got a chance to drive Audi’s latest entrant into the Indian market, the battery-electric Audi e-tron. Based on the long-wheelbase variant of the successful Q5 SUV, this is a wonderful car — quiet, comfortable and with very good vehicle dynamics. But ahead of the price announcement soon, it is also evident that the e-tron will cost over a crore. Almost Rs 30 to 40 lakh more than an equivalent diesel or petrol-powered vehicle. Even with the extremely low running costs, the Audi e-tron driven at normal city speeds in Delhi gives between four to five kilometres per unit of electricity and considering the peak rate for residential power in Delhi at Rs 8.5/unit, this averages between Rs 1.7-2 rupees a kilometre. This compares with an average cost of Rs 8-10 for an equivalent internal combustion-engined vehicle.

But therein lies the problem right? Even with Audi going all-out with a slew of schemes to sweeten the deal for early adopters of electric vehicles, such as installing a free medium-rate charger at home, a 1,60,000 km or eight-year warranty for the battery, and assured buyback schemes, the fact is that at current prices, the savings on fuel do not justify the cost. Just like I predicted in an earlier column a couple of years ago that the era of Rs 100/litre petrol will be upon us soon, and it actually happened sooner than I thought, even if global fuel prices stabilise and indeed fall a bit, fuel prices at the pump will likely touch Rs 120-125 a litre sooner rather than later, and not just in high-taxation states. So even if the savings on running costs touch Rs 10 per kilometre soon, the saving over 1,60,000 kilometers will not even be half the price difference between e-tron and traditional ICE vehicles.

By virtue of being a luxury vehicle, that too an import, it is uncertain that the e-tron will qualify for some of the attractive schemes announced for electric vehicles in Gujarat and Maharashtra recently. Even if it does, it will just be a drop in the ocean on a vehicle as expensive as this. Sure, one expects Audi’s brand ambassador, Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli to be driving one soon, the statement of driving a zero-emissions vehicle is much stronger than the cost savings. The fact of the matter is that for most consumers — even those who can drop a crore on a vehicle without flinching — right now, it makes no sense.

I am not doubting the success and the potential of electrics. I strongly believe now that India can become a leader in electric two-wheelers. Ather Energy, a company in which Hero Motocorp’s Pawan Munjal is one of the largest investors, has already developed some great products. And fellow Bengaluru-based, Ola Electric, has already showcased its first electric two-wheeler. The founder, Bhavish Aggarwal, was seen driving it through Bengaluru one morning in a promotional video. With batteries comprising the bulk of an electric vehicle’s cost, the smaller, possible swappable batteries on two-wheelers, mean a price differential of around Rs 50,000.

Even with the fuel-sipping nature of 100-150 cc engines of such motorcycles and scooters, and current incentives, an owner could possibly make back his additional investment in under four years, possibly even less, if fuel prices continue to rise. If tomorrow, Zomato, flush with funds from its Initial Public Offering, buys 10,000 electric scooters, one will not be surprised and that would be an extremely powerful statement. Similarly, there is an opportunity for battery-electric buses and light commercial vehicles, particularly those that operate inside large metropolitan areas such as Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad to switch over, especially given that vehicular air pollution is a major problem in such cities. And this can be done through the carrot (incentives) and the stick (regulations).

But make no mistakes, the holy grail for electric vehicles are, and will remain to be, passenger cars. The fact is that India is a price-sensitive market. While mass-market manufacturers like Maruti and Hyundai are considering electric hatchbacks and small SUVs, given the current prices of batteries, making one of those with a decent range would imply a minimal cost differential of around Rs 5 lakh even with the current incentives. A fully-loaded WagonR costs around Rs 7 lakh, but would one pay Rs 12 lakh for an electric version of such a car? Particularly, if it has a range of just 200-250 kilometres on a full charge?

Then you get to the other problem areas of electrics — long charging times and range. That said, one should remember that most private cars are used for commuting, so even a range of 200 kilometres would usually be enough for the entire week. While charging will be a major problem in areas with street parking, for those fortunate to live in apartment blocks and houses with stilt underground parking, this should not be a major issue; although some building bye-laws and electricity board rules concerning resale of power will have to be amended. Audi India fitted a 10kW e-tron charger at my residence, which given the e-tron 55’s 95kWh battery will take it overnight to fully charge, and while you could charge it from a standard 15A plug point, that would take 20-24 hours.

Honestly, I loved the Audi e-tron. With a peak power output of over 300 kilowatts, which is over 400 horsepower, the e-tron can move fast. With big, fat power cables feeding the motors and the instant power and torque of electric vehicles — the e-tron is faster than all but a few SUVs. The battery pack, which is located in the wheelbase of the car, gives it a low centre of gravity that makes even this largish SUV agile like none of its internal combustion engine cousins. You might worry about range and charging times but performance, no sir, that is not a worry at all. I believe Audi India will bring many more electrics into its portfolio soon, maybe even start assembling them in India, making them affordable enough that it won’t be just environmentally concerned actors and celebrities buying them.

Right now, with the e-tron being imported, it really does not make economic sense for buyers. Yes, for the few altruistic buyers who want to make a statement of intent, albeit in luxury, definitely. But for the rest of us, until advancements in battery technology and charging systems come along, which will come just like they did for solar power and flat-panel televisions, buying an electric car is some time away. However, that time is not that far.

Do brands stand to gain from this year’s Olympics?, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

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The best athletes in the world are in Tokyo, as the Olympic Games finally got underway last week. However, the pandemic, which forced the Games to be delayed by 12 months, also ensured that events will take place without fans in the stadiums. This is a challenge not only for athletes who will have to play with nobody cheering them on, but also for brands who invested big money on the event.However, Anand Yalvigi, director sports at Dentsu International India, predicts that the impact on Indian brands will not be much. “The lack of fans will not impact brands here as the event is happening in Tokyo. The impact so far has been positive and very good overall. Brands have been investing a lot in the Olympics,” he says.Yalvigi, a former Ranji Trophy cricketer for Mumbai, also says the impact on athletes will differ for different disciplines. “For instance, in athletics, a full stadium cheering them on may encourage athletes to run faster. However, a gymnast may be able to concentrate and perform better in a quieter venue. So, it will be a mixed bag,” he explains. Lloyd Mathias , business strategist and former Asia-Pacific marketing head of HP, agrees the impact will be felt more by athletes than brands. “Most brands who sponsor the Olympics do so for a TV viewership, so the absence of fans doesn’t impact them much. It will be more of a dampener for participating athletes who excel when they have the support from a lively crowd,” he says.A bigger concern for brands may be that sponsoring the Olympics and a continued association with the Games may be viewed as insensitive, given the larger human tragedy that is the coronavirus pandemic. Toyota , one of Japan’s most influential companies, stopped airing Olympic ads in Japan despite being a key sponsor, an indication of how polarising the event has become in the host country.And if it seems like a self-goal by Toyota, considering its multi-year contract with the Olympics is valued at almost $1 billion, Siddharth Singh, associate professor of marketing at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad and Mohali, says it’s not so cut and dried. “This move should help the brand in Japan, where there is a rising sentiment against the Games. Toyota wants to be on the right side of public opinion. Moreover, TV advertising is only one part of the company’s overall ad spend. At the Olympics, brand Toyota will be visible at various media coverages. Toyota can also change the tone and content of its advertisements,” he explains. Gaurav Gulati , a personal branding and brand engagement consultant, concurs: “The company made this decision due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in Japan. The Japanese people had been demanding cancellation of the Olympics. If Toyota had chosen to run its advertisements, it could have had a negative positioning, something that might soil its name and impact revenues in the long run.”The vocal public opposition to the Games and the feeling that the IOC has been tone deaf to the reality on the ground has meant that “some brands have stayed cautious, while others have focused their campaigns on their brand propositions or are just lending support to the sportspersons,” observes Mathias.In India, however, the sentiment is much more positive, something that is reflected in brands’ communication as well. “The communication from brands supporting athletes or the Olympic Games itself — like MPL , JSW, Amul, Hero Motocorp, etc — is very clear: ‘We are here to support the athletes to go on and win medals.’ What has changed from previous editions is that brands are riding on this thought process,” Yalvigi feels. “Previously, the logo would be kept and then the athletes’ pictures added. Brands are working on the concept of Olympics for four years now. A lot of effort, sweat, tears have gone into building these athletes who are in Tokyo. Though a huge majority of ad revenue is spent on cricket in India, it’s fantastic to see brands supporting the Olympics.”Manil Dodani, business and marketing director, APAC of Landor & Fitch, views the Olympics as a unique opportunity for brands. “No event can match the sheer reach and global affinity towards the Games. The lack of fans will have a negative impact on branding and merchandising activities, but brands can find a way through new-age digital technology to reach out to consumers sitting in the comfort of their homes and watching the events. The current scenario is a challenge, but also an opportunity, for brands to change and adapt to the new normal,” he says.But given the unprecedented human tragedy that is the pandemic, all brands need to be agile, empathetic and mindful in their communications, Dodani adds.“For instance, P&G catered their Olympic campaigns with concepts like ‘Lead with Love’ and ‘Your Goodness is Your Greatness’, which highlight stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have stepped up to take meaningful action and served their communities during the pandemic,” he points out. “Think of the Olympics as the world’s largest storytelling space. Is your brand telling a different story every season, or a story in parts that plays out like a movie franchise? The world is your canvas.”