All About Ads: Advertising the Indian Grand Prix

All About Ads: Advertising the Indian Grand Prix

In this episode of All About Ads, we look at why there were complaints against the latest ads by Tata Motors and Reliance Communications. Also, we discuss about the marketing strategy opted by sponsors of the Indian Grand Prix and what more could have been done to attract maximum attention.


Here is the full transcript of the show. 


Shruti Verma Singh: Welcome to All About Ads on NDTV Profit. We come to you from the Buddh International Circuit that is playing host to the second F1 Indian Grand Prix this year.

Last year this place was jam packed; over a lakh tickets were sold out. This year, however, things are different. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. But the big question that we’re asking because we’re an advertising program is, whether there’s been enough marketing blitz to attract advertisers.

But first, some advertising news. We’ve received complaints for two ads, specifically. Have a look at those.


Sumita Kareer: This Reliance ad featuring Anushka Sharma has come under criticism by parents of adopted children like Arjun Hardass. Arjun himself an adopted child and a forty-year-old father of an adopted girl calls the ad offensive.

Arjun Hardass (Complainant): I found this advertisement offensive for a very simple reason that it gives an impression that an adopted child is not a member of the family. It’s a good joke, no doubt about it. We’ve all done it. But consider the feeling of a person-- of a child who is adopted, who watches an ad like this.

Shruti Verma Singh: NGO Uday Foundation’s CEO Rahul Verma who works closely with adopted children agrees.

Rahul Verma, CEO and Co-Founder, Uday Foundation: So, what there you’re showing is – “oh, you’re adopted one, oh, we got you from the mandir and all.” So, you’re conveying some sense of guil to the child. You cannot hurt somebody’s sentiment to have some kind of fun activity.

Shruti Verma Singh: The creative agency behind this particular ad Grey India was contacted but refused to comment. On the other hand, Arjun Hardass has filed a complaint with ASCI.

Alan Collaco (Secy General, ASCI): When we receive a complaint, we write to the advertiser and we have to give the advertisers at least eight to ten days’ notice.

Sumita Kareer: So are people overreacting? How is it that no one seems to react in case of television shows and films showing the same content? So, here lies the difference, you and I chose to watch certain films and television shows, while in case of ads, we cannot exercise the discretion. This is precisely the reason why some creatives say that advertising can have more negative impact and tend to get more negative reactions.

K.S. Chakravarthy (NCD, Draft FCB Ulka): In all fairness, the power of advertising is a lot more, in some ways, because of the sheer reputation; because of the fact that it’s again, and again and again intruding right into your home when you’re doing other things. When you go to movie, its fine there; you know, you’re going there to see some tamasha. So suspicion or disbelief is absolutely a part of the movie-going experience. Ads can have more of a negative impact.

Rahul Verma: Advertisement has more impact as compared to the movies on our society because when we have the advertisement rolling the entire day; it becomes something in our mind and we start following this line of thinking.


Sumita Kareer: This ad for Tata Indica has drawn flak on social media. Among the critics is ace photographer Dinesh Khanna, who feels that the ad is irresponsible. Dinesh, who lost his father to an accident involving an over-laden truck, has also filed a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India or ASCI.

Dinesh Khanna (Complainant): I thought that is a really bad example of how you ought to be driving responsibly on the road. It’s something which you know people, who are going to see the commercial, will think - hey why not, you know, this is not dangerous. Whereas I think it’s an extremely dangerous thing to do. And advertising, because it’s meant to influence you and inform you, works both ways, positively and negatively. It might not have been intended by the creative or by the client to suggest this; but I think inadvertently they’re showing a very bad example.

There are already many young people trying to look cool in their cars and their bikes and this kind of an ad actually, I believe, subconsciously encourages them.

IT is irresponsible because he has his family and then he is maneuvering the car in a way which is rather not accepted.

This ad is less provoking to those who really wanted, who really love stunts.

Rahul Verma: When you had this two-wheeler ad where you used to come up with somebody driving on a one wheel or something like, I have seen people doing the same thing and falling from the motorbike and all. At some point in time, there was an age limit on adults buying the car. Now they’re targeting somebody early in their twenties purchasing the car as they have this purchasing power. So when they purchase, they are little kiddish and childish.

Sumita Kareer: The agency behind the campaign, Draft FCB Ulka, however, feels people are overreacting and stands by its ad. It even calls it responsible communication.

K.S. Chakravarthy: To me it is responsible. It is in fact active, good citizenship. And all we’re saying is look, Indica is strong, when the unexpected happens, it protects you. Only people I see irresponsible are a bunch of advertising professionals, who are frothing at the mouth about a perfectly normal ad. And we can endlessly do this. As an industry, we can go on and on and on attacking arsons.

Sumita Kareer: On the other hand, ASCI, while still awaiting the final decision of the CCC or the Consumer Complaints Council, also feels that the ad doesn’t break the ASCI code of conduct unlike many other ads, which show speeding vehicles on busy roads.

Alan Collaco: There is a definite code of conduct with regard to car speeding; but there’s also an element -- it cannot be in normal traffic conditions. And if you have a look at this ad, there is no normal traffic condition, because this is on an open road.

Dinesh Khanna: I would have definitely taken it with a pinch of salt if there was one single person in the car. I think creativity can be taken up to a point beyond which, it then becomes irresponsible, if it is showing the wrong information.

Sumita Kareer: Ultimately, it will come down to the Advertising Standards Council of India to decide whether ads are irresponsible or objectionable. However, the larger question is should we, as a society, be reacting to every other ad. On the other hand, there’s also the question of subtle and subliminal messages being delivered by ads; a reason why it’s important for ASCI to look beyond the obvious.


Shruti Verma Singh: As some of us might be aware the Jaypee Group has spent up to $400 million on creating this expansive Buddh International Circuit. Last year they created history by hosting the first ever F1 Indian Grand Prix. Last year, there were about one lakh tickets were sold out. However, things are a little different this year. Not very many tickets have been sold, although there are still a few days to go before the event itself, 26th to 28th, 28th being race day. Anything can happen. But the question that we’re asking is there enough excitement, marketing and advertising buzz created around the event this year that has attracted advertisers? And joining me today are Askari Zaidi from the Jaypee Group, and Kushan Mitra, who is not just a journalist who reports on F1, but also an enthusiast; and of course, Sriram Sharma from Starcom to give us the media agency perspective. Thank you very much. 

Let’s begin with you Sriram. Has enough curiosity been generated because we’ve seen the advertising for Vodafone and Airtel, but that’s about it?

Sriram Sharma (VP, Starcom India): Yeah actually, not much has been done on this, especially on this event, if you compare with cricket, which is a religion in India. There are N number of brands that want to get associated with cricket as a sport, but not so this time, especially with Formula 1 as an event. But going further, I am sure there will be brands that will get associated with it. I am hoping that it does happen in the future because this is a sport that is to be taken to the masses.

Shruti Verma Singh: Well let’s not forget that Airtel actually, you know, stepped out of cricket to become title sponsors for this event.  And in fact, has spent a lot of money; Rs 34 crores, if I’m not mistaken, for the next five years.

Sriram Sharma: Yeah, close to that.

Sriram Sharma: Yes.

Shruti Verma Singh: But let’s just get a quick reaction from Airtel on what they think has been done.

Bharat Bambawale(Dir. Global Brand, Bharti Airtel Ltd.): I think we’ll see fan interest, you know, rise definitely. We, as you know, as title sponsors-- we’re title sponsors of the race, the entire marketing of tickets, the marketing of the race track is in the capable hands of our people who own that facility -- the JPSI -- and the Big Circuit is very much part of their their engagement with the F1. I am sure it will be as spectacular a success this year, as it was last year.

Shruti Verma Singh: Coming back to you Kushan, as an enthusiast, as somebody who reports on F1, has there been enough enthusiasm generated?

Kushan Mitra(Managing Editor, Digital Coordination and New Project, The Pioneer): Not this year. Last year, because it was the first event, I think, there was a lot of excitement. People wanted to come in from Chennai, from Bangalore, from Bombay. This year, I think, also partially to do with the slowdown, fewer people are coming in from other cities. It’s quite an expensive proposition coming to the race, if you’re coming from outside as airfares have gone up. Plus, looking at, I do not think the global sponsors, and Formula 1 is a global event, other than Vodafone, which is the lead sponsor of the McLaren Team, I don’t think any of the other global sponsors have done much. I mean, Red Bull owns a team; Mercedes, Renault, they’re large engine partners of the team, they haven’t done much. And obviously Force India seems to be quite quiet, I think, with other issues. It’s been very oddly quiet. If it wasn’t for Airtel, you’d wonder if there was any Formula 1 race happening at all.

Shruti Verma Singh: That’s true actually. Talking about big global sponsors, take a look at UBS, Tag Heuer, Hugo Boss, there’s been nothing, really?

Sriram Sharma: Yeah, absolutely. And also all these international brands don’t have that much of presence in India. So, Indian circuit as such doesn’t enthusiast them enough from a global perspective as well.  So, the key sponsors were in India this time, which is Vodafone and Airtel, they have been, and they’re also large players in India at the same time.

Shruti Verma Singh: It is a perfect platform for players like Jaypee, who are expanding to the international market. Hero MotoCorp, the Shriram Group or other such instances, has there been a silence in that end as well?

Sriram Sharma: Yes there has been a silence at that end.

Shruti Verma Singh: Why do you think that is so?

Sriram Sharma: Largely because of the slowdown, point number one; and point number two could also be possibly because F1 as a sport is largely a European phenomenon. And now it’s slowly starting to move to other countries, as well. Couple of years back or a decade back, it was only 14, 15 races, largely only concentrated on the European market. So, the Indian multinationals, which are trying to get associated with the sport also need to have Europe as one of their bases or rather look at Europe as well. So, that’s possibly the reason why things have not been that lucrative.

Shruti Verma Singh: Mr Zaidi, let me bring you in here. Do you agree with this discussion that there has not been enough interest generated?

Askari Zaidi(Sr. VP, Corp Comm., Jaypee): It is correct that this year, the kind of promotions we had seen last year, are missing.  Advertisers, you know, they had started off a bit earlier last year than this year. So, we had also advertised quite a bit both in print and in TV. As you know, F1 has the media rights and sponsorship rights, the circuit promoters do not have any of these rights. We have the ticket sale money, which comes to us.

Shruti Verma Singh: But don’t you think there should be enough publicity generated just to make sure that people are interested enough to buy those tickets, expensive as they may be.

Askari Zaidi: The thing is, if you have noticed in the case of IPL, BCCI has the rights, all rights, and they also promote. F1 in that sense does not do any promotions, especially in new circuits. If that kind of help is coming from them, it will be far more better and you know, India is not a motorsport country barring in South India where we have few motorsport clubs. It will take time to pick up throughout India.

Shruti Verma Singh: Do you agree with this point of view, Kushan?

Kushan Mitra: Should the FIA support more in India? Maybe yes, because India has a huge market for automobile companies also. I personally am surprised Renault hasn’t really got on the board because they sponsor the leading team. They supply engines to Red Bull. India is the world’s third largest automobile market or will become the world’s third largest automobile market. So I am actually surprised that FIA and the Formula One management, the guys who hold the rights, they haven’t been pushing this more. And it’s down to the race organizers. As Mr Zaidi said that the BCCI promotes the IPL, the rights holder should also do some more over here, yes.

Shruti Verma Singh: Have you put this point across to them?

Askari Zaidi: Not in so many words, but we have discussed these aspects also. And I am sure they will realize and it is just that we had done it last year, this is our second year and we will be on a far better footing, in order to push internationally, that India needs support. Indian motorsport needs support.

Shruti Verma Singh: Interesting point that he has made -- there should be support from the FIA. Let’s talk about on-air advertising. Inventories were sold out last year, days before the event itself. This year it’s going a bit slow despite it being the festival season.

Sriram Sharma: If you look at the ratings of all the F1 races last year, Indian Grand Prix had the highest ratings which crossed 1+ ratings. Now outside of cricket, 1+ is huge for any other sport, because you take either football or Formula 1 across other parts of the world, we get ratings of what 0.2, 0.3 per match. I am sure this time advertisers will look at it in some form or the other. But yeah, you’re right it’s not gone a chock-a-block, the inventory is still available.

Shruti Verma Singh: The rates you’re saying is 3, 3.5 now--

Sriram Sharma: Yes.

Shruti Verma Singh:--and likely to go up, you think?

Sriram Sharma: No, I don’t think so, likely to come down for a couple of reasons. One, there’s not much of demand.

Shruti Verma Singh: Discussions on social media, because that is something that really generates interest amongst the youth and the urban youth, is something that most of the advertisers are looking at by associating with this game. What kind of buzz do you see there?

Kushan Mitra: Look at Red Bull. I think they have one of the most effective one-- teams in social media. I do not think a Formula One can top that space jump. That was a three-hour-long advertisement for Red Bull.

Shruti Verma Singh: Absolutely.

Kushan Mitra: So, social media is big but I would expect people, who are sitting in the stands, to be tweeting. Do teams reach out effectively, yes I think. Most of the teams have very effective social media outreach on Facebook and Twitter. But they can do more.

Shruti Verma Singh: Let’s take a quick look at what Airtel has to say about attracting the urban youth and especially on social media. Have a look.

Bharat Bambawale: Formula One allows us to connect to urban youth, right, which is a sub-segment within our overall segmentation strategy; that’s very important to us in terms of their presence in our overall marketing plan. The Airtel India Facebook page is the largest F1 community in the world knocking on the door of 1.2 million.

Shruti Verma Singh: Okay, one of the issues that we really brought up last year was how you were going to use this circuit, branding the Buddh International Circuit. Now last year I remember Mr Gaur had made the statement that you would breakeven in the next three years. However, there have been statements just the last couple of days that it would take five years, because it’s not gone as you had thought it would.

Askari Zaidi: See, after the last year’s race there have been whole lot of track days sponsored by automobile companies, Ferrari, Porsche and Audi and BMW. This is one stream of revenue for us. Formula 1 is not going to give us the kind of money which we will need to recover our investments. The second thing is that as you maybe knowing that we have tied up with World Superbike Championship--

Shruti Verma Singh: That’s right.

Askari Zaidi: --and they’re going to have their championship here in March-- early March, you know. In that championship we will have media rights, we will have sponsorships and bulk of the things are with us, and we hope that we will be able to make good money.

Shruti Verma Singh: What kind of monies are we talking about - 30, 35?

Askari Zaidi: Somewhere in between Rs 30 and 40 crore. Other thing is that, this circuit is part of Jaypee Sports City which is a 2500 acre project. This circuit is in about 900 acres; the rest of the land, which we have, will have some more sporting facilities like a cricket stadium, go-karting arena and there are whole lots of residential and commercial projects lined up. We are trying to tie up with some of the teams. Force India, which is based out of Silverstone in U.K., can shift to this circuit, the kind of facilities they have are available here too. Similarly, the possibility of such tie-ups with other teams will be explored after the Formula One is over.

Shruti Verma Singh: One last word from all of you. Looking ahead to the race itself, what other things can be done right to ensure that advertisers are interested.

Kushan Mitra: I generally think the car companies have to get involved as well; the team sponsors have to get involved. Other than Vodafone, no other team sponsor has really been involved. Also gets a matter of pride going. I mean, the circuit, the race organizers and Airtel; the fact that this is the Indian Grand Prix; this is taking place in India; it is a matter of pride for all Indians that something like this exists.

Shruti Verma Singh: Quickly respond to that Mr Zaidi, it is your chance to really put yourself out there and you know, talk about patriotism a bit, encourage people to come this year. Probably it’s too late for the FIA. But, you know, you’ve got ten days to go.

Askari Zaidi: See, the thing is that the nationalistic aspect of our project, this Buddh International Circuit, is very much visible. This facility will encourage young Indians to take to motorsport and some sponsors, some advertisers, will also back them. Why not an Indian be based here and be supported by various companies?

Shruti Verma Singh: Well, ticket sales yet to happen the way they did last year; but unpredictable like the races, one never knows where that could go by the 26th. Well on that note, thank you gentlemen for joining us on All About Ads.


Shruti Verma Singh: Now the best part, the international segment. It was Super Sunday for the Austrian energy drink company, Red Bull, not just at the Korean Grand Prix circuit but also for this particular jump which generated almost, we’re told, hundred million pounds of free publicity. Have a look.

Felix Baumgartner (Pilot): Learn to love what you've been taught to fear. Since I was a little kid, I’ve been told don’t fall off anything, don’t go too close to the edge. I wanted to see what’s behind this edge. I mean, I’ve been working so hard for the last 12 years to develop my skills and take it to another dimension and I think with this project, I definitely reached the peak locking myself in a pressure capsule and going up to 130,000 feet. And I am going to slide the door open bail out and I am going to be the first human person in free fall just breaking the speed of sound. To me Red Bulls Stratos Project is the biggest thing that I can do.

Shruti Verma Singh: From the entire team, from the Buddh International Circuit, thank you very much for watching. We’ll see you again next week.

(This episode of All About Ads was aired on October 19)

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