IPL led growth framework 🏏

Designed for Indian startup leaders thinking of doing IPL for their brand growth, based on ₹300 crores of total marketing spends.

Abhishek Patil · Follow
Founder, GrowthX ®
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.

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 would come if you haven’t ever done an IPL led campaign.

I’m going to split the playbook.
#1 → Why IPL matters ?
#2 → Should your brand do IPL?
#3 → Go to market strategy for IPL

Why IPL matters?

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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 applied 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, Cric-Info, 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."
-Click to Tweet this

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. Oh, and memes - how was I missing that.

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.

The live ad spot will impact 3 key levers for you.

→ New users discovering your brand and searching about you.
→ Existing users coming back on the product more (higher engagement)
→ Churned users coming back to give you one more chance.

Before you do IPL, have the product strategy ready for all these 3 kinds of users. Create the right onboarding for new users (should be consistent with what’s being advertised) while for exiting users the return homescreen/landing page experience should be solved for.
Remember, always focus on solving for pay-offs with these users. For example, when the users are being advertised a cashback on your app through a TV ad - the moment they open the app, they should see the pay-off. They should not feel cheated. So many brands miss this piece and wonder, why their massive traffic isn’t converting or taking purchase action.
But, the immediate impact on traffic is half the story.

TV is tricky to measure as it impacts two important funnels. First, it impacts organic downloads/visits as shown above (with a visible change in sustained organic search volumes even after few hours of the ad being shown). Second, it improves onboarding rates across acquisition channels - even paid marketing.

IPL branding helps build trust about your brand, it impacts trust levels your users will have while giving out their contact, financial, social information on your product (app/website).
Apart from direct traffic, measure cost efficiencies

IPL reduces your blended customer acquisition cost (CAC), period. This will only happen if you have done TV right. Measure impact on your paid ad channels (CAC will go down) - it’s being driven by IPL momentum. This brings us to the next channel.

How should you go about OTT (HotStar/JioCinema)?

You will need to spend atleast 0.5 Cr on OTT if you want to get anything out of the channel. The 50L can be spread only on major matches and evening matches as we discussed for TV.

The major difference here is audience selection and being mobile first. Both OTTs who have had IPL digital live streaming rights have targeting options available. Does your brand serve only specific cities or pin-codes? Do you have only an android or only iOS app at your disposal? You have the option to now segment your ad spends.

Bring the core learnings from TV, but change the nuance of how users remember with your advertising. Most users are not going to click on an ad CTA during the live match. Plus, at a sub 5 Crore spend level, your options of a native integration inside JioCinema are abysmally low.
At a 5 crore buget, you should really nail down your ideal customer profile (ICP) and then solve for a journey throughout the IPL tournament. That means you will pick and  choose, cities, devices (say smartphones above 15K), WiFi vs Cellular network filters to find the most premium set of audiences within your ICP bucket. I will talk about the creative nuances of OTT in a few minutes.

How should you define your performance marketing strategy?

I want to tell you this upfront - what worked for other brands will not necessarily work for you. Before we decide how to of this piece, you need to ask yourself - what is our current performance marketing strategy and how does IPL fit into the larger equation.

If you already are investing into paid ads, you should use IPL as the orbit changing moment to scale it by atleast 5X. That’s a minimum you should do, and trust me it’s not ambitious.

Assuming you have a 10 Cr buget for IPL, I’m going to assume that you invest a considerable portion of your marketing spend into paid ads. Let’s break this down in a structure. The first problem we solve with paid ads is reaching the right user & then pitching them your product. The second is to get these potential users try out your product - when I say try, I mean your users should experience the core value prop of the product.

The first problem of reaching the user is “easy". You have the trust of TV streaming during IPL, it definitely helps reduce your cost of reaching a wider set of users. Your Google/ Facebook POC is going to still push you to spend few Crores on this “easy” type of ads. My simple answer to that ask is “H*ell NO!” - it’s massive waste of money as you don’t get lot of incremental reach with this.

What to spend on instead is two important things.

First, jot down total ad creatives you have for the IPL - VIDEO + Static. You should use this “easy” campaign only for specific Jobs To Be Done (JTBDs). These JTBDs could be, say, you have an interesting ad that needs to go out in next 24 hours and we want to create a network effect in your ideal customer’s pop culture.

Second, your main job with paid ads it to get potential users to try out your product. Spend majority of your paid ads budget on this piece. You will only be able to scale this as you go along the tournament peaking at the end of IPL.

Campaign structures the simpler, the better. Don’t make random 50 campaigns doing the same thing. Build structure that helps you control essentially few things - the audience (scale down spends by audience segment), the creative (should be able to change it at a moment’s notice across the account) & budget by each line item. For example, when we did launch a 30 crore monthly budget campaign, we had ~10 campaigns in the whole ad account of Meta. Complexity is overrated.

Look for how many users are you reaching and at what frequency. Try understanding what number of touch-points lead to a user taking action on the product. Plus, what’s the time period between a user discovering your ad vs them taking an action on your product - optimise all your marketing campaign sequencing for this time period.

Is there a way to think through budget splits on these channel? Yep - take a total audience size of your ICP on each Google, Meta, Programmatic. See which users are available on mobile vs desktop (R&F campaign dashboard + agency teams can help here). Prioritise channels based on CAC, scale, pull (search) over push (social).

While doing all of this, ask yourself  - how important is volume scaling as a goal to your campaign objective? At what cost ceiling for blended CAC will it stop making sense. Remember, the same paid ad will be 10X effective during IPL vs non-IPL period just because of top of the mind / newly discovered familiarity of the brand.

How to define a IPL creative strategy?

Considering the amount of ad buys you will do, your ads will get fatigued way sooner than you imagined. This means you need to be mindful of the assets you need before you get into the IPL season.

The first step is in T-1 month, sit down with your creative/brand strategy team. Ask them an important question - What is the JTBD of the IPL campaign from a business stand point?

I’ll take an example here, during my time at CRED - our first IPL goal was very different than the second and the third IPL season. This meant we will treat every season of it’s own.

The first season → CRED was new to the ideal customer.

The whole creative strategy was to establish “CRED = credit card bill payment app”, the idea was to change orbits & own a niche category of credit card bill payments. Making “Download CRED, baby” talk of the town was the brainchild of this goal.

The second season → CRED was known to most of it’s critical mass.
The whole strategy was to get users to transact on the app. That’s where “CRED bounty khelo” came into making users take an action on the product. Days of Download CRED were over.

The third season → It was time to push platform features.
This meant pushing not just credit card bills & bounties but getting users to do more things on the product - pay electricity bills, internet bills, rent payments using credit cards. This solved for a smooth progression.

Again coming back to the point of “using IPL as a orbit changing platform”. Don’t just push what you always push infront of your audience through BAU paid ads. Do things audience will not expect your brand could do - Like Dravid getting angry ;)

Does that mean you only do brand ads during IPL?

H*ll no! Brand ads are great for solving differentiation/ discoverability in the whole mess of 100s of brands advertising during IPL. But, they seldomly make people action on your product. They will convey the message.

So what will make users convert on the product?

Your hard-hitting paid ad campaigns that are optimised for in-app action/ website funnel events. The creative strategy here is to slice & dice your audience segments and create different product hooks.

Next up, your incentives strategy

This starts with understanding your user insight really well.

Ask your team - what are some of the key levers that will make you potential customer take action on your product? Okay, now how much time from discovering that pitch to taking action on product will that take? What would make this time insanely shorter? That’s core to finding your incentive strategy. Incentives that drive urgency could be the following.

Slash pricing with a timer creates urgency for “steal deal” type of users. For example, a timely offer on a holiday package that is at X% discount is perfect for credit card users that are spending a bomb on travel already.

Cashback works for products that have a really high repeat buying frequency. The cashback which helps users get a “steal deal”, let me correct myself, the cashback that makes users “feel” that they are getting a steal deal works.

Bonus access works only when the purchase is made to gain access over a limited time. Like a Cult.fit fitness membership that has 12 months of access & users get a bonus of say 3 months when they buy right away.

Free add-ons work for products which have multiple product/price offerings. Think of having add-ons that add improve value of the core product when used with the base plan. Random add-ons are recipe for zero impact on driving urgency.

Last in the framework - product strategy for action.

Product gamification is over-rated. Don’t just copy what fantasy gaming apps like Dream11 / MPL are doing during IPL. Build your own strategy based on user insight. Some of the questions to ask  yourself before you write the first line of code is - “ what do our ideal customers value the most?“

Is it that random fourtune wheel with rigged discounts? - H*ell no. Think through this based on what’s the difference between someone who comes to your app and takes the action vs someone who don’t.

Once you understand the difference between their user persona (who they are) and behaviour on the product, you will get specific insights. Here’s an example with credit card users in India. If you read CRIF / Experian reports (available publicly), most credit card payments happen when salaries are deposited (week 1 of the month) or the 2nd credit card payment cycle comes for some other card in middle of the month.

What does this mean for product strategy?

The job to be done is not do random experiments on the product. It is to solve for user action when there is no immediate use case for the user on the app/website. This is core to solving consistent purchase actions for any product during IPL.

Now you must have understood why Dream11 and MPL (fantasy + cricket gaming platforms) focus so much on IPL and get a really high ROI out of the tournament. Cause the user use case is omnipresent throughout the tournament for both the products. But, that’s not the case with most products advertising on IPL.

What’s the job to be done of product?

First, solve for a core action that new users can take, everyday.Second, make first action extremely easy for new casual users.Third, build re-onboarding experience for returning customers.Fourth, scale the referral loop as to build a solid baseline.

I have spoken enough about the first, second & the fourth pointer through the GrowthX newsletter. I am going to talk about the third pointer - something most brands miss out on is “re-onboarding for returning experience”.

Let me take few example to cement the framework - PayTm. Imagine PayTm is advertising for PayTm UPI feature in a particular season. For every returning user landing on PayTm homepage - focus on getting them to do the advertised action first.

As soon as the user completes it, push them inside the framework below.

Causal users - push them with a cashback for consecutive 7 QR payments. Increase the reward as they go through the journey of hitting 3rd, 5th & 7th payment.

Core users - push them to transact more with another use case of PayTm, say lending/ credit card, something that builds exit barrier for them to churn.

Power users - push them to refer their contact book & float a referral flow that allows them right incentives to refer a specific (monetizable) feature of PayTm to their social circle (read WA groups).

Churned users - push them to do a peer to peer transaction (is instant) than a merchant QR code scan transactions (requires a ton of effort).
❤️ We have covered everthing across GTM playbook for IPL when you have a ₹10 Cr budget. Now, I will start covering incremental points if you have a ₹10 Cr to ₹100 Cr budget. Note, a lot of these points need to be tweaked based on your product stage, business goals for the year and the category of users you are targeting.

What changes incrementally at ₹30 Cr budget?

Two things particularly. You will focus on buying above the line a lot (Live TV + OTT), focus more on OTT expansion as it allows better control over audience targeting. At this budget, you will double down on your performance marketing (provided your have enough target market available through media channels)

Things really change after ₹50 Cr budget.

You can start affording a co-sponser/associate sponsorship for the IPL with BCCI’s help. Again, you will get specific agencies to crack the deal here. But, few things before you start imagining stuff out. Post ₹50 Cr budget, your moat is the seamless match integrations, better negotiation power with every advertiser (including JioCinema, Hotstar, Google, Meta). This is because you now become an important part of their sales target.

Let’s talk about the BCCI partnership

The most important thing to note is IPL sponsorship does not result in direct user growth, period. You get a lot of audience to influence through deeper integration with the tournament.

Some of the examples are being, on-ground visibility through led displays, boundary ropes. Plus, during the play integrations - man of the match, best catches, most sixes, power play, third umpire decisions, strategic timeouts & so on. One integration is owned by a single brand. Title sponsors get the first choice (cause they spent ~ ₹400 Cr on IPL) and then all associate sponsors get a choice.

This is why when I started this playbook, I mentioned the importance of an early GTM planning. You lose the negotiation power as soon as BCCI closes majority of associate sponsors. Getting into that room early on helps you negotiate more deliverables for every ₹₹Cr you will spend. Don’t try to get too much stuff, they will want you to have a good experience as an advertiser (cause they want you to comeback next season, friend).

Ask yourself - what sort of integrations your potential customers will be most captive too? Is it the strategic timeout, third umpire or something else?

Captive-ness & freuqency of the during play integration helps. By that logic a watch company might pick the “strategic timeout” integrations but the frequency is very low with only two mentions in every match. Same with man of the match (medium captive-ness but only single mention per match).

I think you have understood what I am hinting at. The last thing to mention - BCCI point of contacts are of the smartest individual when it comes to doing these deals. You would want them to be on your side to negotiate a better deal for you from BCCI’s IPL administration team - build those bridges for a long term win-win.

Planning the IPL specific team out.

IPL is a full time job. You could legit build a 20 people team who does this during the tournament. You need the right buy-in with the leadership (founders + investors), product roadmap aligned, marketing dip stick tests done on what pitch works for our target market and a lot of prep before you jump into IPL including building your own dedicated measurement team that works day-in day out just on IPL.

This means IPL isn’t the first big campaign your org does, you need smaller campaigns done well in advance to understand where your team is going right, what needs fixes and plan the whole budget out with your CFO (keep 20% additional budget than you plan for just in case).

One last thing - I promise.

Your team will make 100s of small/big decisions before, during and after the tournament. Having a decentralised structure helps and one central person that controls the overall budget makes sure you are constantly tweaking to get bang on the buck every freaking day for those 60 days and change growth orbits for your brand.