Five years ago, if I had told you that Chinese handset manufacturers would be the title sponsors of the Indian Cricket team, the IPL and the Pro Kabaddi League, you would probably have thought that I knew nothing about either brands or sports. But here we are today with Chinese brands dominating and owning true-blue Indian sports like kabaddi and cricket. Besides huge investments in these leagues, other Chinese manufacturers like Gionee are also spending millions in having the likes of Virat Kohli endorsing them. And mind you, these figures are merely the acquisition costs, not including the millions that brands spend on media to leverage these properties.
So the question is — why are Chinese handset manufacturers, who have nothing in common with sports like cricket and kabaddi, spending so much on them? Well, the answer is fairly simple. Firstly, Vivo, Oppo, Gionee and the rest are all playing the volume game. They are concentrating on smaller towns and cities where the cost-conscious Indian middle class wants all features of an iPhone but at one-tenth of the cost. All phones have very little separating them in terms of features and costs, and there are limited media options to break the clutter. This is where sports comes in.
Suddenly seeing Oppo on Indian cricket team jerseys or Vivo plastered everywhere for two months of the IPL, helps in creating brand recall in an instant.
A youngster in Ludhiana will want to own a phone his cricketing heroes are endorsing. It suddenly makes an alien brand seem relatable to them.
Secondly, there is no better way to reach the length and breadth of the country than through sports. Bollywood doesn’t quite cut through South and North East India. But cricket definitely does. Kohli and Dhoni are household names. In the case of kabaddi, the viewership numbers across the country are astounding and second only to IPL. Also, Vivo’s strategy with PKL is to get the property at a good price while it’s still young, and grow with the sport — the same sort of logic brands take when it comes to signing young talent.
You may also like like to watch this video
Whether these Chinese handsets can use sports and build strong brands in India remains to be seen; but what is abundantly clear is that by associating with cricket and kabaddi, they have managed to break through the immense clutter and grab eyeballs instantly. In a country of over a billion people, grabbing instant brand recall so quickly is no small task.
Indranil Das is founding partner & COO, KWAN Entertainment