IPL growth playbook for startup leaders 🏏
Based on experiences from ₹300 crores of marketing spends.
Welcome to the 157th edition of the GrowthX Newsletter. Every Tuesday & Thursday I write a piece on startups & business growth. Today’s piece is going to 95,300+ operators & leaders from startups like Google, Stripe, Swiggy, Razorpay, CRED & more
Over ₹4,000 crores are spent on advertising during IPL (Indian Premier League) every year. BCCI alone makes ₹700 crores from official sponsorships.
So, if these brands are spending so much money on advertising during IPL, it must be working for them, right? Not necessarily. Very few brands have really nailed the science of cracking IPL to the finest detail.
After spending ~300 Crores over the years on multiple IPL campaigns during my stint at CRED & Dunzo, I am open sourcing the underlying framework to solve for business growth with IPL like platforms.
This playbook is for you if you are thinking about using IPL as part of your distribution strategy. I won’t sugar coat stuff in this playbook, so a lot of existential crisis could come if you haven’t ever done an IPL led campaign. Also, this is unlike any other newsletter issue that I have ever done - it’s longer than most pieces and you will have lot of actionable per word you will read.
Having spent over 20+ hours writing this full article, it’s been the most rewarding thinking → writing → re-writing experience for me, personally. But, I won’t be able to stick to such long formats if I don’t know if this works with our readers. If you liked this article, do tweet about it / post it on LinkedIn - I’ll know I am doing right.
I’ve split the playbook into 3 pieces.
1. Why IPL matters? (5%)
2. Should your brand do IPL? (20%)
3. Go to market strategy for IPL (75%)
Why IPL matters? 😇
Do I need to really explain this? I standby the statement I made in one of the conversation recently - “ There is no other high traffic video advertising platform in India that has 500 million user strong audience attention compressed over ~ 60 consecutive days. ”
IPL is the biggest bazooka for any Indian consumer brand. No wonder giants are spending a ton to associate with the IPL brand name.
But, the reason is much granular 🔬
IPL has the right kind of advertising formats. It has digital rights (OTT), TV networks (Live TV), static advertising (inside and outside the stadiums) & 100s of guerrilla advertising options from Umpire’s hat to freaking boundary rope advertising.
And it’s growing like anything. It has gone from mere 100 million from season 1 back in 2008 to over 500 million in the latest season.
Should your brand do IPL led growth? 🙇🏻
For this, we are going to bring in few requisites on stage of your product, marketing, team size and so on. Here are few questions your team should answer before you start thinking of putting in effort into doing IPL.
First, do we have a strong product market fit? 💪🏻
The answer has to be “Hell Yes” and nothing less. So many times brand launch on IPL and they waster millions of $$$. Most brand managers, founders, marketers, product people get one shot at IPL. No PMF = No IPL.
Second, can you afford it? 💰
Think of what’s your total annual marketing budget is across media spends, discounting & so on. Even count the team salaries while taking this call. You can’t just hire in-house team members for 60 odd days.
Think of IPL as “go big” or “go home” game - similar to how you would think of advertising on front page of Times Of India (TOI). Can you take a 1 inch X 1 inch block on TOI’s front page and decide should you do a full page ad later? No, right? The same logic applies to IPL.
Third, do you have the right goals? 🎯
Having seen 100s of marketers pitch IPL to their leadership/ investors, there is one common mistake they do. They promise stuff that they don’t know how to achieve. If you work in a series A stage company, your budget will look very different from Amazon like company. We will talk about how to take goals based on stage of your product in few minutes.
Fourth, why now? ⏱️
IPL isn’t for every product stage. It’s high ROI only after you understand your core value prop, ideal customer and when you know for sure the fact - your product delivers what it promises. If it doesn’t, don’t even think about IPL.
Image above is the snippet from the acquisition deep dive of the week 1 of GrowthX immersion experience on how to think about acquisition at different stages of the product.
If your product has exhausted it’s one of the highest volume channel, it’s time to go wider in your media mix, that too after you realise referral or product integrations don’t scale as much as you want them to scale.
We’ll talk about how to use IPL even when you are a small brand in a few minutes.
Go to market framework for IPL 🏏
Before we get started on this, please keep a quarter of your team’s bandwidth to plan everything around IPL. Also, these are some important dates. The schedule typically remains the same. We will call the IPL month as the “T month”.
T-6 months ⏳
IPL player auction for the season. The advertising/ sponsorship conversations typically are starting slowly during this period. But, if you are chasing for title sponsor, start building the bridges with BCCI early on. It helps a ton having a ton of time to negotiate the deal.
Plus, if you are going to build any gamification on your mobile app/ consumer facing website for IPL, now is the time to start building ideas and having active product sprint discussions. Anything worthwhile on the product will take atleast a quarter or two to build.
T-3 months ⌛️
Start figuring out your core distribution strategy. This will have which ad spots you buy across TV network, OTT (HotStar/JioCinema), YouTube takeovers, Google search, Meta ads, CricInfo, Inshorts & much more. Expect atleast 3 iterations to this piece.
T-2 months 💰
Closing down your BCCI + OTT + TV rights conversations. This is a critical time, you will speak to 10s of important agencies, decision makers in this time. Your job is to get a good deal across every penny you are spending.
T-1 month 🕹
Closing down the marketing pitch is critical. One you have the core pitch, creative team onboarding and ensuring project planning for pushing specific creatives (video + static) on marketing and product is core focus.
Enough, let’s talk channel strategy 📱📺
I’m going to keep two business goals in mind while defining nuances inside channel strategy. First, acquisition new customers at desired CAC. Second, re-acquiring churned users from channels where I can’t optimise for targeting new vs existing users.
Let me simplify the second point. A channel like TV network is not built for audience targeting. Sure, you can pick and choose HD Vs SD, English Vs Hindi commentary and so on. But, the targeting options are limited.
Budgets define channel strategy, mostly.
I’m going to assume different use cases and try to really go in-depth of how you can design a channel strategy for your own product. If this whole playbook isn’t actionable, what’s the point of writing one, right?
Imagine you have < ₹5 Cr budget 🪙
Don’t do IPL, seriously. You might as well spend this money on performance marketing/ referral campaigns/ build out content led loops and get a better ROI. Going back to the TOI front page ad example - IPL is too crowded to do small litmus tests that gives you no jump.
Here’s the logic.
IPL by design requires a discovery channel and a conversion channel balance. Let me simply this, if you spend 10 crores buying TV spots and JioCinema rights, a huge amount of your audience will discover you but won’t take action until you give them a button.
This button is your multi channel digital funnel. Name it - Google search/app ads, Meta & so many other platforms will act as your conversation assistant. With a <₹5 Cr budget, you will either spend too much on TV/OTT and will have very little to capture that demand or the vice versa would happen. So, why not do a good job at pushing conversion focused performance ads/ referral campaigns that doing IPL?
Use IPL as a orbit changing mechanism, not as orbit travelling mechanism.
Imagine you have ₹10 Cr budget 🏦
Now, we will go step by step into nailing channel strategy. Keep in mind we are chasing two business outcomes as discuss - new customer discovery (80% focus) and getting back churned customers (20% focus).
Keep in mind, everything that you do on top of the funnel has to help you solve for the funnel effect. More new customers → More customers trying the product → More customers experiencing an aha moment → More customers referring your product and the loop continues.
The 4 large advertising options 🚨
BCCI led on-ground integration, broadcasting rights with TV + OTT, Performance marketing through Google, Meta and other major platforms.
BCCI led distribution is out of picture 💔
Based on the ₹10Cr budget, a title or co-title sponsorship is out of question (it costs in 3 digit crores). Associate/co-sponsorship is also out of question (it can cost from ₹30 Cr to ₹80 Cr).
But, broadcasting ads is within reach 👌
A TV ad spot costs anywhere from ₹6L to ₹14L for a 30 sec ad & the minimum buy is typically ₹2 to ₹3CR - again depends if you have friends at Star group or your ad agency can broker a deal with the TV broadcasting partner.
How should you go about TV ads? 📺
If you have never done TV media buying - worry not. It’s not rocket science. We will have to take care of few things.
First is seasonality 🌧️
The IPL start matches are important, then the audience reach dips until the playoffs and peaking audience reach till finals. One exception to note - certain hot teams for every season (for example, Mumbai Indians Vs Chennai Super Kings / Royal Challengers Bangalore Vs Mumbai Indians) have above average viewership.
Plus, afternoon matches (4:30PM) have overall lower viewership than evening matches (7:30 PM ones). Same goes for weekday vs week-end matches. National holidays have higher viewership too.
Second is the device insight 📱🖥️
Most brands miss out on the device insight. For afternoon matches, go slower on big screens (TV ad spots), while push mobile ad spots during afternoon + weekday matches.
Third, audience selection 💳
90% of TVs sold in India last year were Smart TVs. It’s one of the ways you reach premium audiences. But there is nuance of HD channels especially the ones which stream the match with english commentary. The reach is limited but it’s the right audience if you are going after high income groups. Same logic applies with Hindi commentary (SD + HD) channels.
Fourth, format selection 🎞️
Taking up more spots than longer spots works for IPL (this is my opinion after my teams have bought over 50 Crores of TV spots in IPL). Pick 20/30 second spots over owning a full minute. The inventory of 30 sec slots right after wickets it the hottest one. Plus, try to get spot during strategic timeout & if you can get your ad spot first in the sequence is even better.
When you buy TV ads, signup for a measurement tool - out of the box. Your ad agency should help you with this (typically BARC data). This data will help you slice and dice immediate impact of live streams on your marketing and product metrics. Use this data to tweak TV media buying throughout the tournament.
How to measure TV ad impact? ⚖️
Few things here that will give you an edge. First, speak to your agency that is doing TV buying for you. This helps you do few things. First, it helps you push the agency partner to give you BARC data for every 24 hours. The graph below helps understand minute by minute action and related download/website session metrics for you.
We have a problem 💔 🥺
Newsletter emails have a word limit. I still haven’t covered over 50% of the full playbook. If I write the rest of the article here, most subscribers won’t get this email (as Gmail will consider it spam). But, worry not - I have written the whole article on GrowthX website, it covers the following pieces in depth.
How should you go about OTT (HotStar/JioCinema)?
How should you define your performance marketing strategy?
How to define a IPL creative strategy? (CRED case study)
Does that mean you only do brand ads during IPL?
Next up, your incentives strategy.
Last in the framework - product strategy for action.
What changes incrementally at ₹30/ ₹50 Cr budget?
Handling the BCCI partnership.
Designing decision making structure for IPL.
Also, if this piece so far added value to your thought process, do give us a shoutout on twitter by clicking here (takes 5 seconds), would mean the world to me. Thanks ❤️