As the tension built up ahead of the biggest sporting rivalry in Asia—India versus Pakistan on the cricket field—an entire different contest was playing out on television screens, computers and smartphones.
STAR Sports, the official broadcaster of the World Cup in the country, put out an edgy advertisement about a Pakistani fan who had, through his entire life, been frustrated by his team’s inability to beat India at the biggest tournament in international cricket.
Then, three things happened: The advertisement went viral, with 12 million views online. India won the match. And STAR Sports decided to build on that one advertisement to create a spectacular campaign that’s stoked viewer and advertiser interest.
Of course, it has helped that India has won every match since.
“The brief was clear: We haven’t lost to Pakistan ever in a World Cup (match), and we should not give this record up,” a STAR Sports spokesperson told Quartz.
“The video had become viral overnight, and so taking the mauka (opportunity) thought forward, we decided to produce the second film for India versus South Africa match, and then India versus UAE.”
And for every match since, the broadcaster has bowled over Indian cricket fans with their sharp advertising.
Within hours of India beating the UAE on Feb. 28, for instance, STAR Sports unveiled a new advertisement for India’s upcoming match against the West Indies on Mar. 6.
“Our routine is to script for both outcomes of the next game,” the spokesperson explained. But each advertisement is tweaked before a match depending on the fan sentiment closer to the game.
The advertising masterstroke, however, would’ve been impossible without India’s strong performance at the tournament, starting with the encounter with Pakistan.
“The hope for India wasn’t that strong. Things changed after the first match (with Pakistan) went well. People got excited. Money started coming in. Second match got better. Even the broadcaster got excited,” brand strategy consultant Harish Bijoor told Quartz. “If the first match was lost (by India), everything would have been lost.”
Now, STAR Sports has increased the rates for advertisers on their channel by 25-30%—charging somewhere between Rs18 lakh ($29,032) and Rs20 lakh ($32,258) for a 10-second spot.
In the latest installment of the campaign, STAR Sports’ creative team has smartly aligned their advertisement with Holi. That’s because Mar. 6, when India and the West Indies face off, is also the day the subcontinent will celebrate the festival of colours.
“It’s a very desi kind of orientation that appeals probably to the Indians, but also a very global Indian diaspora,” Bijoor explained. “So it’s a certainly TRP (target rating point) building game, but a very positive opportunistic thing to do.”
If there is a winner even before the cricket World Cup has ended, it is STAR Sports.