India in South Africa

From ‘Angrezon ki pungi’ to ‘Hisaab 25 saal ka’, Indian cricket series promos need to grow up

Perhaps the promos should focus more on what has happened or will happen on the field?

Note: This article has been updated on January 2, 2018, to include Cricket South Africa’s own promo for the India series.

Have you ever heard of anyone who has smashed a television screen after India lost a cricket match against South Africa? Or even shave off his moustache?

Sounds a bit too extreme, right?

While such reactions would perhaps not be so unbelievable if it was an India vs Pakistan match, does a loss or a winless streak against South Africa evoke enough anger to break a TV? Or enough sorrow to skip a meal? Or enough shame to snip your ’stache?

Well, Sony Pictures Sports Network sure thought such reactions are valid, given the promotional video it has produced for the upcoming South Africa versus India series.

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The campaign is titled “Hisaab 25 saal ka”, or payback for 25 years, playing on the fact that India have never won a Test series in South Africa since their first tour in 1992.

The video tries hard to evoke a yearning for revenge in Indian cricket fans watching the series. This is evident when Sachin Tendulkar is shown walking off after being dismissed, with the voice-over saying “Badla lenge bhagwaan ke apmaan ka” (We will take revenge for insulting our god).

Incidentally, Tendulkar had scored 146 in the match from which the clip was taken. His innings had played a major part in the Test ending in a draw, which can’t really be categorised as an insult. But Tendulkar’s score is cleverly blocked out in the ad with the hand of a fan holding a TV remote.

The ad fails miserably in evoking any sense of revenge, instead coming across as rather juvenile. The idea behind the ad is also not really original. Ahead of England’s tour of India last year, Star Sports had run a similar promo with the tagline “Score to Settle”.

Why?

Because India had not won a Test series against England – home or away – since 2008-’09. Thankfully, the videos in the campaign did not include any smashed television screens.

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These two ad campaigns, however, aren’t nearly as cringe-worthy as the ones Star Sports had produced for England’s tour of India in the winter of 2012-’13. The running theme of the series of ads was “Kya Team India baja payegi angrezon ki <insert musical instrument>?” It really isn’t worth a translation.

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The campaign was rightly pilloried on social media at the time but the real slap in the face was given by the England team itself, which defied all odds to win the four-match Test series 2-1. It was England’s first Test series win in India after 28 years, which in turn provided Star fodder for its “Score to Settle” videos.

The prize for the worst ever promotional videos for a cricket series has to go to Neo Sports, which tried to sell series against West Indies and Sri Lanka in 2007 with ads that were borderline racist with the intent of being funny. The commercials were rightly withdrawn by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Not all promotional videos for cricket series in India have been in such poor taste. Star Sports has also produced some brilliant ads, such as the famous “Mauka mauka” series during the 2015 World Cup. The first ad of the campaign chronicled the despair of a Pakistani cricket fan from 1992 to 2011, a period in which his team failed to beat arch-rivals India on the biggest stage in world cricket.

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Not only did the ad go viral, but after India won the match to keep their record intact, Star went ahead to build on the success of the video by carrying forward the theme for subsequent matches in the World Cup. It also allowed Star to increase its rates for advertisers by 25-30%, reported Quartz, and charge around Rs 20 lakh for a 10-second spot.

Neo Sports has also done some good commercials, such as the one with the gas leak, and the rusty nail, which both play on the tension that builds up during an India vs Pakistan cricket match. So it’s not that Indian sports channels cannot make good advertisements.

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Then, why aren’t they?

One of the possible reasons could be that the broadcasters are targeting the Hindi-speaking belt with these commercials. All of the abovementioned campaigns have a tagline in Hindi, except “Score to Settle”. Even there, the language used in the ad’s voiceover was Hindi, as it was in all other campaigns.

Both Star and Sony have launched Hindi-only sports channels in the last couple of years. Today, viewership of Hindi sports channels regularly outstrips that of the English ones, according to data provided by the Broadcast Audience Research Council of India. It is thus understandable that most of the promotional videos are in Hindi.

However, does this mean the Hindi-speaking cricket fan only identify with feelings of patriotism and revenge? Can he or she not appreciate a good sporting contest regardless of the result?

One of the many reasons why the “Mauka mauka” ad worked was because it had managed to reignite the flailing India-Pakistan cricket rivalry in an age when the two teams hardly get to play against each other.

Was the ad disrespectful towards the Pakistan cricket team and its fans? While many Pakistanis on social media felt so, there were quite a few who also took it sportingly and perhaps empathised with the fan in the video. There was no TV smashing or moustache snipping.

There was also no way the ad could come back to bite Star. Even if India had lost to Pakistan, Star could have produced a sequel to the ad showing the Pakistani fan finally lighting his box of crackers. It was a win-win.

The same can hardly be said for “Hisaab 25 saal ka” or “Score to Settle”. Luckily for Star, India managed to “settle the score” by beating England 4-0. But what if Virat Kohli and his men don’t manage to “take revenge for 25 years of defeat” in South Africa? What will Sony do then?

On December 21, Cricket South Africa published a video on YouTube which was their own promo for the India series. Here’s hoping Indian sports channel have watched it:

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