After weeks of pondering how best to launch its sports drink Gatorade, beverage and snack-food giant PepsiCo India is scrapping an advertisement focusing on star cricketers and hoping two fast-bowling schoolboys will better quench its target market’s thirst.
The turnaround is significant because it reflects a shift in cricket advertising and, in some ways, the game itself-from brand ambassadors to talent hunts that seek to include and involve fans in the hype.
As reported in a front-page Mint story on 12 March, PepsiCo India had earlier woven a yet-to-be aired television campaign for Gatorade around cricket and iconic player Sachin Tendulkar. Amid Team India’s early exit from the World Cup, it has shelved the small-screen promotion for at least three months.
In place of the proposed multi-channel TV campaign, PepsiCo has linked Gatorade with a school-level talent search for upcoming fast bowlers to advertise the product for the first time. The talent hunt, dubbed the Gatorade Pacers 2007 Initiative, will be unveiled in the Capital on Friday and is proposed to be an annual programme. “The idea is to invest in the sport, and not in campaigns,” said media buying firm Mindshare’s M.K. Machaiah, who has been involved in the Gatorade television campaign since inception.
PepsiCo’s new strategy, while welcome for unearthing talent, also reflects a loss of faith in the Indian cricket team among sponsors, observers said. “Brand cricket has taken a hit,” said Shailendra Singh, joint managing director of sports and event management company Percept Holdings. Powerful brands are moving away from the sport, he added.
Recently, the national cricket board had difficulties finding sponsors for a three-match away series against South Africa in Ireland and one match against Pakistan in Scotland in June and July. It found only one sponsor, Future Group, the parent company of India’s largest listed retailer Pantaloon Retail India Ltd. And according to Singh, who wrapped the deal for the board, the bid had to be sold much below the usual rates. He would not give details.
Headquartered in Purchase, New York, PepsiCo Inc. has big plans globally for Gatorade, the highest selling sports drink worldwide. Late last month, chief executive Indra K. Nooyi identified India, along with China and Russia, as a “promising expansion market” where the company was moving the drink with “success”.
In reality, very few in India are aware of the existence of Gatorade, a rehydration drink that spans the colours of the rainbow, that had been quietly introduced here in 2004.
Indian subsidiary PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd had hoped to spread awareness through an elaborate television campaign during the World Cup. The campaign will now be aired this fall—either September or October—with PepsiCo’s more popular products such as Pepsi and Slice accounting for the company’s television slots in the scorching summer months.
PepsiCo denies the World Cup debacle is the reason for the change of plans. Executive director for exports and external affairs Abhiram Seth says the campaign “has nothing to do with the Indian team”.
In that case why still use Tendulkar, India’s most expensive cricketer, in the TV campaign? “Sachin’s face is needed to drive people to the product,” Seth said.
But multiple people associated with Gatorade said one reason for not going ahead with the television campaign, slated for launch during the World Cup and subsequently postponed, was India’s dismal show. “Sentiments are not great now,” Machaiah said.
In the talent search, the best two players from among 1,350 contestants will be sent on a two-week training to Chennai’s MRF Pace Foundation by the legendary Australian speedster Dennis Lillee. The initiative will etch the Gatorade name in consumers’ mind, the company hopes.