Sports marketing

Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar on the BCCI deal, cricket and sports marketing


Raja Rajamannar, Director of Marketing and Communications and President of Healthcare Business, Mastercard

Mastercard on Monday signed an agreement with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), replacing Paytm to become the title sponsor of all international cricket matches (women’s and men’s) hosted at home. The rights are believed to have been reallocated at the same price of Rs 3.8 crore per game. Along with international matches, Mastercard will also sponsor domestic cricket tournaments including the Irani Trophy, Duleep Trophy and Ranji Trophy, hosted by the BCCI, as well as all Junior (Under 19 and Under 23) cricket matches ) organized in India.

BCCI’s sponsorship is the latest of the marquee global properties with which Mastercard is associated, including the UEFA Champions League, the Grammys and the Cannes Film Festival. The company is also associated with Australian and French tennis tournaments. In India, Mastercard signed former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni four years ago as an endorser.

In an exclusive chat with Storyboard18, Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer and President of Healthcare Business, Mastercard, talks about the BCCI deal, penetrating deep into India through sports and breaking the advertising clutter .

Edited excerpts.

Q. What type of added value does the BCCI agreement bring to Mastercard?

Indians, more than any other country, are incredibly passionate about cricket.

Mastercard’s brand strategy is about connecting people with what they are passionate about.

We have 10 passion points in the world that we focus on. These include sports, music, cuisine, fashion, arts and culture, tourism, philanthropy, environmental sustainability, health and wellness, among others. In terms of sports, we started looking at football, which happens to be the biggest and most watched sport in the world. It’s easy to play, doesn’t require a massive investment, and everyone watches it.

We are therefore associated with COPA America and UEFA. Now the second most watched sport in the world is cricket and therefore deeply meaningful to us. While the epicenter of cricket is in India, it is heavily watched even in the United States, United Arab Emirates and all British Commonwealth countries.

For us, it is so important to enter this space and to be associated with the BCCI. This is a great advantage for the brand because it gives a unique opportunity to connect in an area that people are really passionate about.

Q. Is Mastercard looking to increase its penetration deeper into the country through cricket?

Today, nearly 2 billion consumers worldwide have a Mastercard and there are more than 3 billion Mastercards in circulation. We are truly a mass brand and we want to be able to connect with people. Our brand positioning is to “connect everyone through invaluable possibilities”. It’s not for the rich and famous or the affluent, it’s for everyone, even those who don’t have access to the financial system today, we connect with them. Therefore, cricket offers us deep penetration in all segments.

Q. How do you plan to take advantage of this association while standing out amidst the clutter of cricket advertisements in the country?

On average, it has been estimated that a consumer is exposed to around 3,000 to 5,000 advertisements every day. It’s the extent of the clutter that can’t be dealt with and people just switch off. It is therefore important for us to stand out among the advertising crowd.

We have several strategies and one of them is called experiential marketing. By virtue of this, we curate experiences that money can’t buy, but being a Mastercard user helps you experience them. When people have these experiences, they are so thrilled that they call it storytelling as opposed to storytelling advertising. These people will then tell the experiences to their social circles, whether through Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp.

That’s the kind of brand promotion we get. If we organize these experiences on a large scale and in an economically affordable way, we get a breakthrough in advertising clutter and people start talking about it. It is a strategic bet that we took nine years ago on the 10 passion points I mentioned and which is bearing fruit. We intend to do the same in cricket.

Second, it is also about creation. If there’s a creative angle that we present that stands out and becomes the talk of the town, then that makes a huge difference. Mastercard’s “Priceless Platform” was built primarily to stand out. This is the recipe that we will also follow in India.

Third, we do 360 degree marketing instead of doing a few ads. We go through all aspects of consumers in a meaningful and strategic way. It is the combination of these three approaches, of which we are convinced, that will help us to stand out.

Q. Apart from cricket, what other sports would you like to be associated with in India?

Especially after India’s performance at the Asian Games, badminton has garnered a lot of attention. We have also decided to support this sport and we are getting positive feedback from players and fans. We also helped sponsor the Delhi Golf Tournament. We are trying to bring several sports to India. The team looks across the spectrum – it can be a single sport or sporting event spanning multiple sports or it can be individual teams or ambassadors. This is what we assess. You will see us very active in space in an interesting way.

Sport is an area that people connect with very well and we have achieved a good reputation over the past decades. We also try to bring our international sports experience to India.

We are also extremely culturally sensitive and understand India’s unique nuances, appeal and sensibilities. Our team in India is extremely strong, just like in Asia, so we all come together to produce something that has deep meaning for the fans and has a profound impact on the brand. This is just the beginning and you will see a lot of action from us in India.

Q. Do you think sport makes a brand more human for consumers?

Absolutely yes. The sport has a massive scale overall. People’s passion and emotions are at the forefront and they are really open to engage. We first humanize our brand through sport and connect with fans. Mastercard rose from nowhere to become the fourth most-loved brand in the United States four years ago because of the connectivity we established and humanized our brand. This can be through sports, music or philanthropy. This is not about political correctness or pretension; it is a matter of authenticity. It’s about genuinely caring about consumers and fans and understanding their love for the sport, and then doing something meaningful in that space. It shouldn’t just be about throwing ads to consumers.

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