Our track record shows that we have been long-term partners: Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

The chief marketing and communications officer of Mastercard, discusses the brand's marketing plans in India, post the bagging of BCCI's home matches sponsorship deal

Sep 07, 2022 10:55:00 AM | Article | Raahil Chopra

 
While the deal is for six months currently (completing Paytm’s tenure), in a chat with Campaign India, Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer and president, healthcare business, Mastercard, revealed that all the brand’s associations are usually long-term, and that the team will also be evaluating a long-term sponsorship.
 
“Our track record shows that we have been long-term partners. We’ve partnered with the Grammy Awards for 17 years, the Brit Awards for 15 years, the Rugby World Cup for more than 12 years, and in tennis - the French Open and Australian Open for a long time too. That doesn’t mean this deal will automatically be long-term. This (association) depends on a lot of situations at the point of time (of renewal), but we intend to be there long-term, in any field that we get into,” said Rajamannar.
 
The deal with the BCCI will see Mastercard bringing its experiences-led marketing plans to India. This shift has seen the ‘priceless’ advertisements being replaced with ‘priceless’ moments.
 
“For around nine years, around the globe, we’ve been trying to shift our marketing strategy which was advertising-led, to experience led. Priceless was a brilliant advertising campaign, but we wanted to level up. So, instead of celebrating priceless moments, we wanted to create and curate priceless moments." 
 
This pivot has led the company to enter areas where people are extremely passionate.
 
“When we learnt that the BCCI sponsorship was available for cricket, we jumped at it. Cricket is a religion in India. It’s not just a sport and passion. We thought it was a great opportunity to get associated with the passion category. That’s what drew us to BCCI and this sponsorship,” he explained.
 
While the brand has partnered with Indian cricket, the plan on leveraging is work-in-progress, according to Rajamannar.
 
Getting into details about this, he said, “The team is brainstorming as we speak, about the kind of experiences that we will curate. We are not a direct-to-consumer company, we are B2B2C. We currently work on a full spectrum of things globally and we’ll figure which ones can be administered in India very effectively and which will give us the bang for the buck and the impact for the brand." 
 
“It will be a combination of experiences and advertising and because we are so new with this partnership, we have to figure out the ideal mix. We will test out experiences and discover how easy or difficult it is because there are unique execution challenges and hurdles in each country and sport. It’s not known today, that Mastercard is associated with the BCCI for sponsorship, so to propagate that message we need to have advertising. As we go ahead we need to keep fine-tuning the marketing plan. If I have to fast forward and see, the future will be full of experiences,” he added.
 
Effect on brand Mastercard
 
Rajamannar was of the view that the association with the BCCI will have a positive impact on brand Mastercard in India.
 
“If you play an authentic and positive role in that space, it’ll help have a positive brand impact. There’s no question about that. We’ve seen it happen time and time again, around the world. Quite contrary to the popular belief that countries are different, at different stages of development, people are people wherever they are. They have the same emotions, aspirations, and fear-factors. We have to be authentic and not opportunistic. If we’re consistent, committed and do things that people like in a credible way, we’ll be liked,” he said.
 
Giving an example of how the brand entered into eSports, even though there was resistance, he explained, “We were the first global brand to have entered the world of eSports in a big way. We partnered with Riot Games (Leagues of Legends). E-gamers are one of the most finicky ones. They believe they’re in a sacred space. So, we had to behave in a way that we are non-intrusive and native to that environment. We’ll do the same thing with cricket in India. Who would not like their favourite passionate sport to be supported by a brand that makes their experience more enriched and so on?”
 
Bad-results
 
Passion for sports results in reactions. A few bad results for team India could result in fans turning against the team.
 
Could this mean that the supporters end up turning against the brand too?
 
Rajamannar doesn’t believe so.
 
“If the team loses three or four times, they might diss the team, but they won’t disown it. That’s the same thing with the brands. When you are associating with the passion, you have to ride the ups and downs of it too, if you want to be a part of it,” he explained.
 
He added, “The learnings (from this partnership) will be steep. The scale of cricket is mind-blowing. While we have handled scale in football (across countries) in the past, for cricket, the hub is India. When you’re talking about a massive deal, the experiences you’re curating need to match the scale. You can’t just give two experiences and say you’re doing experiential marketing,” he said.
 
Sports associations in India outside of cricket
 
Globally, Mastercard associates with football (UEFA Champions League, COPA America, COPA Libertadores, women’s football tournaments, Leo Messi as brand ambassador), Major League Baseball in the US, Rugby (the World Cup and the New Zealand team), ice hockey, and others.
 
In India, too, the association with sport isn’t limited to cricket. The brand announced a partnership with Lakshya Sen, Kidambi Srikanth, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty, as ambassadors.  
 
“We are not one-dimensional. We do something called ‘passion-mapping’ and get associated with those properties or sports that people are passionate about. With the recent performance and victory of India in the Commonwealth Games and so on, suddenly badminton has taken off in the country. Since people liked the sport and were passionate about it, we found a way of getting into the space. We’ve partnered with Vijay Amritraj as a brand ambassador for a while (for tennis). In Golf, we have Anirban Lahiri. So, we’re trying to look at it holistically. It’s not just tapping into the current trend, but trying to see if it’s a lasting trend and if it is a lasting trend we’d like to be there,” he added.
 
Outside of sport
 
Rajamannar revealed that while cricket is a religion, cinema and music are also passions for the consumers in India, and so the brand will try to reach the consumers in these spaces.
 
“If I have to forecast, in the coming years, I would see ourselves playing a big role in these spaces. We do have limited associations right now with brand ambassadors (in cinema), and partnerships with Yash Raj Films in the past. What we are going to do is have thoughtful analysis and come up with more opportunities in the next few months, after which we start marching along with the execution,” he surmised.