“Not everyone gets it.”

The tagline for CRED’s new series of television advertisements is steeped in irony. On one hand, it hints at the exclusivity that the credit card payments company promised since its launch in November 2018. On the other hand, the series couldn’t be more mass-market if it tried.

All three ad spots are rooted in Bollywood—featuring leading yesteryear actors Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit Nene, and singer Bappi Lahiri. And just in case the tongue-in-cheek loudness of these ads wasn’t enough to convince you that CRED was going beyond its niche, elite user base, the series was aired during India’s biggest festive season. No, not Diwali, but the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The IPL, inarguably the world’s most popular Twenty20 cricket tournament, draws hundreds of millions of fans who passionately follow each game over a two-month period. While the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the tournament—which traditionally coincides with India’s summer holidays—and even saw it moved to the United Arab Emirates, fan enthusiasm has hardly dampened.

Advertisers, however, were a whole other story. The somnolent economic conditions precipitated by the pandemic made some advertisers and sponsors wary of splurging on the tournament. Several brands even pulled out pulled out Scroll IPL 2020: Future Group pulls out of BCCI’s central sponsorship list for Indian Premier League Read more of partnerships.

Chinese smartphone makers, traditionally one of the big spenders during the IPL, backed off in light of the fractious geopolitical optics of recent months. This included Vivo, which had bought bought Bloomberg Vivo, Cricket Body Dump Sponsorship Deal Amid India-China Strife Read more the IPL title sponsorship rights for five years in 2017 for Rs 2,190 crore ($293 million).

Indian startups rushed in to fill this vacuum. While the likes of edtech giant Byju’s and payments player Paytm* have long been associated with Indian cricket, the roster of startup sponsors has grown broader.

Fantasy gaming unicorn Dream11 has replaced Vivo as the title sponsor. Other startups that have joined the bandwagon are edtech unicorn Unacademy, e-commerce giants Myntra and Swiggy, and Dream11’s rival Mobile Premier League. Beyond the six main sponsorship slots (out of which four are startups), there are 120 other sponsors. They back either the IPL or individual teams; as many as two-thirds of these companies are startups.

While this is a sign of how far the Indian startup ecosystem has come in the last few years, CRED’s involvement—not just as an advertiser but as one of the official partners official partners IPL BCCI announces CRED as official partner for IPL Read more of IPL 2020—seems out of place.

AUTHOR

Sumanth Raghavendra

Sumanth is a serial entrepreneur with more than eighteen years experience in running startups. He is currently the founder of Deck App Technologies, a Bangalore-based startup attempting to re-imagine productivity software for the Post-PC era. Sumanth’s columns appear regularly in leading publications. He holds MBA degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, USA.

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