It's usually pretty easy to predict the advertising around a huge eyeball grabbing event like the Cricket World Cup. Present and accounted for are the cola majors, telecom, confectionery brands, auto, durables and of course the sports apparel firms, running campaigns created by the usual suspects on the agency side.
Except 2015 appears to be playing to a radically different script. The most talked about and buzziest campaign this year is Mauka Mauka from broadcaster Star Sports. The ongoing series tracks the highs and lows of the World Cup via an unusual protagonist: a Pakistani cricket fan. In the first commercial, the fan (known now as the Mauka Man) waits with a box of fireworks set aside to celebrate the moment his team beats India, and then keeps waiting from 1992 all the way up to 2011, growing older, changing TV sets and getting a family in the interim. The first film was backed by a qawwali style song penned by Vikas Dubey, a creative director at Star Sports.
At the time of going to print, it's unclear if India will square off against Pakistan or Australia in the semi-finals. But Mauka has developed a life of its own. In the most recent film, the Mauka Man and team members from the rest of the world have a qawwali face off against Indian fans led by actor Sanjay Mishra, who long term cricket buffs will remember as Apple Singh, the ESPN-Star Sports mascot for the 1999 World Cup.
Not bad for a campaign that started as a oneoff to advertise an India versus Pakistan match, piggybacking on Star Sports main plank for the World Cup: Won't Give It Back. Explaining the rationale, Gayatri Yadav, EVP - marketing and communication, Star India says, "We were creating a narrative about India being a defending champion. While it was quite polarising, it built momentum and interest. Within that overall thought, we wanted a specific story for India versus Pakistan." After some agonising over the appropriateness of the ad given the tumultuous history of both countries, it was clear that the film had to be light and not overtly jingoistic. The course was set the moment one of the many cricket fanatics who stalk the corridors of Star Sports pointed out the 5-0 World Cup win statistic. Says Juju Basu, head - creative communication, sports, Star India, "The built up tension and angst of the Pakistani cricket fan since 1992 was something that nobody in the world has felt. The story of that fan was more dramatic. We brought the pain out in a fair manner. There were no jibes.
The first film clocked a million views overnight, with no seeding. Yadav recalls, "Historically, our best campaigns got a million views over time." Discounting the rabid fanatics who show up at practically every discussion online, however innocuous the subject, there was a vibe of friendly rivalry in the chatter around the campaign. More interestingly, the campaign while being gleefully shared , quoted and adapted by Indians fans also spawned online repartee from across the border with Pakistani fans digging up statistics about how their team's one day track record against India was a lot stronger. And how even if India had beaten Pakistan, it had most frequently lost out on winning the cup.
Even before people began to weave elements of the ads into image macros, Star had decided this was too good an idea to waste on a single film. Yadav says, "Then team India helped us by winning. That's when we realised we have something bigger. The genius in that is we've taken the India Pakistan rivalry and imbued it in every game. Retrospectively it is genius. As it was happening, it was organic.
For the creative team at Star Sports and its production house Bubblewrap Films, it has involved a gruelling production schedule with two ads being made practically every week. Yes, two, since Star also has to prepare a narrative arc flexible enough to accommodate the possibility of an Indian loss. "It's called the loser edit", says Yadav with a laugh. Asked if the parallel narrative films will ever air Basu says he intends burning them and one suspects he's at least half serious.
We were creating a narrative about India being a defending champion. While it was quite polarising, it built momentum and interest. Within that overall thought, we wanted a specific story for India versus Pakistan - Gayatri Yadav, EVP marketing and communication, Star India.
Here's how the Mauka films are made. Working on an extremely compressed timeframe after every match, the creative, marketing, production and social team congregate to discuss ideas. The campaign's course and tenor is significantly influenced by social chatter. Basu is clear that they don't want to overuse Mauka or over write the ads since its fans are doing a great job of adding subtext. He says, "It's not just results; we need to be in touch with the sentiment. The campaign has become like a mini series, a show where we come up with an episode at a time." According to Yadav, "Creative, programming, marketing, social media, everyone is working together. It's a great example of the creative multiplier. The reach of the campaign on Facebook alone is 40 million. The measured views are 20 million but there's views we can't measure like shares Whatsapp and broader organic sharing."
It's also been a triumph for Basu and his inhouse creative team, many of whom had to put up with a lot of sardonic jibes when they opted to join Star. "A lot of people asked me if I left advertising when I came here," he says. It's a decision vindicated by creating a campaign that's a part of pop culture. The Mauka Man was mobbed on his last shoot by camera-phone wielding people. The director heard urchins run by singing renditions of the song. And Basu was finally able to explain what he does to an insurance agent asking him if he'd heard of the Mauka campaign, only to have the man play it back to him on his phone.