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The 'game' of TV commercials: Coca Cola focuses on cricket, while Pepsi takes on football

Coca-Cola is associating itself fully with the gentleman's game via its new campaign which features Sachin Tendulkar.

, ET Bureau|
Jun 13, 2012, 02.30 AM IST
The 'game' of TV commercials: Coca Cola focuses on cricket, while Pepsi takes on football
Early 2011: Coca-Cola announces it has signed on Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar as its 'happiness ambassador,' not to be confused with 'brand ambassador'. The former is what Dukes are to Lords (we're talking titles here). The Happiness Ambassador is an ambassador for the larger corporate brand.

Early 2012: Tendulkar — who recently made a debut on the hallowed turf of the Rajya Sabha — makes his TV debut for brand Coke in a cricket-themed commercial. The TVC is also the first Coca-Cola commercial for the company's newest advertising agency on the roster, Lowe Lintas. After a fairly long hiatus from cricket, brand Coca-Cola is associating itself fully with the gentleman's game via this campaign. All these factors combined make this one a top pick for a BE review.

The story begins in the desert — no sheikhs just plenty of sand — in which children play their favourite sport despite the sun sucking them dry. Bare feet, no hats, and no sunglasses and certainly no sun-block to protect them from harmful UV rays. They may not have a bottle of Coke but they do have its cap, a makeshift solution for a coin-less toss. They carry on with their game on scorched ground which may as well be a bed of hot coals, sometimes even staring straight at the blinding sun to make a catch. Despite the unkind conditions — and by now there looms a very real threat of mass dehydration due to the missing drink cart — the children fight all odds to play their beloved game of cricket. The campaign ends with a separate scene, a few seconds long, which has Tendulkar pulling out a chilled bottle of Coke from an ice-box. He spouts the line “Khelte Raho. Khush Raho" loosely translated, "keep playing, be happy" and takes a good gulp of the cold drink. Boy, he must've been parched.

The 'game' of TV commercials: Coca Cola focuses on cricket, while Pepsi takes on football

Now, the idea of "gully cricket" has been explored in different degrees by various brands over the years, so what makes this one different? Apart from the setting that is. According to Anupama Ahluwalia, VP, Marketing, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, the whole point is to emphasise the sheer joy the game gives to millions of young fans across the country. "The campaign is focused on the simple pleasures that the game of cricket provides. So the creative execution is simple. The campaign taps into the insight that watching or playing cricket makes everyone happy and Coca-Cola is celebrating this happiness." That is in essence the strategic insight driving this piece of communication.

Aside from the content itself, there have been quite a few questions from some industry quarters about the timing of this campaign. Let us explain. Just a few months ago Coke's rival Pepsi made its push forward with a couple of big budget campaigns around football. That's right in a cricket crazy nation, Pepsi is betting a fairly large chunk of its marketing chips on football, a sport that's steadily climbing up the popularity charts in India. They have changed their game, well, sort of. The first one starred actor Ranbir Kapoor who fails to complete his mission to convert a young footballer to cricket. Soon after the Kapoor ad, the campaign with Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina playing a hybrid game popped up on the telly. We are still not certain who won that one.

Coca-Cola has been involved with cricket at the grassroots levels (with the Coca-Cola Under-16 Cricket Cup). But speaking specifically on the timing of the company's first major cricket campaign in years, its creator R Balki, Lowe Lintas' chairman and chief creative officer, says that the wheels were put in motion quite some time ago. And besides, "Coke never reacts to Pepsi, it only responds to happiness." The bottom line, according to Balki, is that it would be foolish not to respect cricket for what it is. Forget the numbers and the money riding on the game, and its many formats; for Indians, young and old, it's more than a game. "Regardless of what the conditions in the country are they never stop playing. People lose themselves in cricket and we wanted to capture those emotions," he says.

Surely, what must have helped capture just that was the lot of children in the commercial. They are not actors and were discovered by the crew on a reconnaissance mission. Well, at the end of the day, be it a cork covered with leather or the Jabulani, cricket or football, or both, one thing's certain: you can't do wrong with sport in advertising. Or can you? We'll leave that one for the second-half. And with the UEFA Euro 2012 underway (Coca Cola is the official sponsor) it's going to be one helluva match. However, for now the question is — can you have your cola and drink it too?

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