Mumbai: If there is one thing that could rival the nail-biting outcome of the Indian Premier League (IPL) finals this year, it would be the real identity of a blogger who goes by the screen name “fake IPL player”. So far, 41,502 people have voted on the fake IPL player blog (Fakeiplplayer.blogspot.com), to determine whether the anonymous blogger, purportedly a member of Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) team, should disclose his identity. Needless to say, 64% of the voters feel he should stand by his word and disclose his identity at the end of the popular Twenty20 cricket tournament.
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The blog, which has been offering visitors dressing room gossip, occasionally peppered with interesting accounts of life in the KKR team, has taken the online world by storm since it was launched on 18 April. The blogger’s inclusiveness and pointed irreverence certainly are selling points among cricket buffs who rarely have the insider’s view on what is considered a gentleman’s game.
“Let’s face it, we as a society love our reality shows and love gossip…we’ve never had access to gossip on cricket and the blog is catering to that need,” says Aakash Chopra, a KKR player and author of Beyond the Blues—A season of domestic cricket in India who was initially rumoured to be the fake IPL player. He explains that while much of the content on the blog could be classified as fiction, it was something that readers could relate to, much like the book The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan, which tells the story of an advertising executive who is regarded as a good luck charm by the Indian cricket team. “It’s just one more media product that’s up for consumption in this space,” he said.
To be sure, the blog has also received attention from the most unlikely quarters—tech forums and media houses. Following a post about the crackdown on use of laptops by KKR management, tech forums were abuzz with discussions on what technology was being used by the fake IPL player. “The funny thing was that these (tech) guys were trying to crack the code and figure out what technology was being used to post blogs without being traced,” said Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, OgilvyOne Worldwide.
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Media houses have also been following the blog carefully. The Times of India even launched a campaign that piggybacked on the popularity of the fake IPL blog with its ad to promote celebrity columnists: “Here you get to hear from the ‘Real IPL players’,” it read.
The blog, experts say, has grown exponentially in popularity since its launch last month. According to Mumbai-based digital marketing firm, Pinstorm, the fake IPL player blog had at its peak, on 26 April, 150,000 visitors, who each spent 15 minutes on the site—which adds up to about 37,000 hours spent on the blog in one day. Putting it up there with popular individual led blogs such as Aamir Khan’s blog at its peak with about 170,000 visitors. Much of the interest in the fake IPL blog has stemmed from cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, even though the blogger apparently belongs to the Kolkata team.
Unlike the situation a few years ago, where consumers had to be fairly motivated to invest in setting up a website and then brave the prospect of getting sued by the company in question, bloggers today can blog away, unfettered. From basic sites such as the official site to hate Microsoft— www.ihatemicrosoft.com—to www.getafirstlife.com, a parody on the popular online virtual world Second Life, anti-blogs or negative blogs have come a long way. As the trend catches on, brands and companies are faced with the challenge of managing their reputation online. “Whether you like it or not, people will talk about your product…and these communities are a virtual goldmine of information,” says Parminder Singh, business head–technology and media, Google, India, adding that more and more advertisers were looking to identify and engage with such communities.
Some companies had starting paying more attention to blogs, using them as a kind of informal network of consumer opinion. “Increasingly, it is being seen that prospects and customers are tending to trust fellow consumers more than a brand or corporate and now through social media, they are talking to each other to ratify their thoughts and perspectives on brands,” says Sundar Raman, chief executive, IPL, who maintains that they too have been using the digital media to connect with fans and gather important feedback to “improve the Indian Premier League and take things to the next level”.
Even in the case of negative blogs or anti-blogs that trash the brand, advertisers that would steer clear of such blogs or avoid being seen next to any negative mention are looking to reach out and reason with users, says Mahesh Murthy, founder and chief executive officer, Pinstorm. A case in point is that of a listed, mid-sized Indian company offering education solutions. Early this year, the company’s share price was battered to 50% of its value following rumours of fudged accounts. The company then launched an aggressive campaign online, tracking approximately 75-100 blogs daily. Wherever they found a negative comment, the company put up their side of the story, with a link to the company’s official site. The campaign put out customized messages on each blog, defending itself in an effective manner. “The idea is to say: you have a right to your own opinion. But this is what we have to say,” says Murthy, adding that this approach worked better than going all out and squashing any dissent online, as was in the case of New Delhi Television Limited, or NDTV. The media company took a blogger to court for criticizing Barkha Dutt on her coverage of the terror attacks in Mumbai, and won. “It leaves a very bad taste and you’re likely to suffer a backlash.”
Internationally, Domino’s Pizza Inc. faced a lot of flak after a video on YouTube showed an employee preparing a food order with cheese he had put up his nose. The company failed to act in time, losing a crucial opportunity to contain the crisis. In some cases it can work well for the brand as well, as in the case of the US Army. Instead of shutting down a computer game that used its logos and symbols, the US Army decided to use the hugely popular game on www.americasarmy.com; with real simulation to promote its recruitment drive.
While both the management of IPL as well as KKR have tried to maintain a stoic silence on the fake IPL player blog, its growing popularity is likely to have some rub off on each of the brands and their sponsors. “Generally speaking, all publicity is good publicity; specially these days, when notoriety is also aspired for,” says Keertan Adyanthaya, executive vice-president and general manager, Star Plus, one of the sponsors backing the KKR team. “However, at times, when negative publicity is relentlessly targeted at a certain individual or a brand; that too by a nameless, faceless Internet entity, then it can have very serious implications. In this case, it generates mistrust among teammates thereby causing a rift in the team,” he says, adding that they continue to be happy with the association despite the fact that the team hasn’t fared too well. “As far as teams go, they are one of the most watched IPL teams.”
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint