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Exclusive: Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar on the BCCI deal, cricket and sports marketing

The global CMO of Mastercard talks about sponsoring cricket and other sports and how to break advertising clutter.

By  Saumya TewariSep 6, 2022 11:53 AM
Exclusive: Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar on the BCCI deal,  cricket and sports marketing
"We are truly a mass brand and we want to be able to connect to people. Our brand positioning is about “connecting everyone through priceless possibilities”... cricket provides us with deep penetration across all the segments," says Raja Rajamannar, global CMCO, 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 (both women and men) held on home ground. It is believed that the rights have been reassigned at the same price of Rs 3.8 crore per match. Alongside international matches, Mastercard will also sponsor domestic cricket tournaments including the Irani Trophy, Duleep Trophy, and Ranji Trophy organised by the BCCI as also all junior cricket (Under 19 and Under 23) matches held in India.

The BCCI sponsorship is the latest in line with marquee global properties that Mastercard is associated with including UEFA Champions League, the Grammys and the Cannes Films Festival. The company is also associated with the Australian and French Open tennis tournaments. In India, Mastercard signed the former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni as its endorser four years ago.

In an exclusive conversation with Storyboard18, Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, and president - healthcare business, Mastercard, talks about the BCCI deal, penetrating deep in India through sports and breaking the advertising clutter.

Edited excerpts.

What kind of value addition does the BCCI agreement bring to Mastercard?

People from India, more than any other country, are incredibly passionate about cricket. Mastercard’s brand strategy is all about connecting people with what they are passionate about. 

We have got 10 passion points globally that we focus on including sports, music, culinary, fashion, arts & culture, tourism, philanthropy and environment sustainability and health & well-being among others. In terms of sports, we started looking at soccer which happens to be the world’s largest, most-viewed sport so it’s not elitist. It’s easy to play, doesn’t require massive investment and everyone watches it.  

So, we are associated with COPA  America and UEFA. Now, the world’s second most-viewed sport is cricket and therefore deeply meaningful for us. While the epicentre of cricket is in India it is keenly watched even in the US, UAE and all British commonwealth countries. For us, it’s such a big deal to get into this space and be associated with the BCCI. It’s a big advantage for the brand because it gives a unique opportunity to connect in an area that people are truly passionate about.

It’s such a big deal to get into this space and be associated with the BCCI. It’s a big advantage for the brand because it gives a unique opportunity to connect in an area that people are truly passionate about.

Is Mastercard looking to increase its penetration deeper in the country through cricket?

Today, we have close to 2 billion consumers globally who own 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 to people. Our brand positioning is about “connecting everyone through priceless possibilities”. It’s not for the rich and famous or the well-to-do, it's for everybody even those who do not have access to the financial system today, we connect with them. Therefore, cricket provides us with deep penetration across all the segments.

How do you plan to leverage this association and yet stand out amidst the cricket ad clutter in the country?

On an average, it has been estimated that a consumer gets exposed to about 3,000 – 5,000 ads every single day. That’s the extent of clutter which one cannot process and people simply switch off. So, it is important for us to stand out amidst the advertising crowd. 

We have multiple strategies and one of them is called experiential marketing. Under this we curate experiences that money cannot buy but being a Mastercard user helps you experience it. When people go through these experiences they are so delighted that they call it story making as opposed to advertising which is story-telling. These people will then narrate the experiences to their social circles whether it’s through Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp. 

That’s the kind of brand advocacy we get. If we curate these experiences at scale and in an economically affordable fashion we get a breakthrough from the advertising clutter and people start talking about it. This is a strategic bet that we had taken nine years ago across the 10 passion points that I spoke about and it is paying off. We intend to do the same in the field of cricket.

Secondly, it's about the creative as well. If there’s a creative angle we present that stands out and becomes the talk of the town then that makes a huge difference. ‘Priceless Platform’ of Mastercard has been built on essentially standing out. That’s the recipe we will follow in India as well.

Thirdly, we do 360-degree marketing as opposed to doing a few ads. We tread across all aspects of consumers in a meaningful and strategic kind of fashion. It’s the combination of these three approaches that we feel confident that will help us stand out.  

Sports is an area where people get connected very well with and we have got a good standing over the last several decades. We are trying to bring our international experience with sports to India as well.

Apart from cricket, which are the other sports you’re looking to associate with in India?

Particularly after India’s performance in the Asian Games, there has been a lot of attention to the game of badminton. We decided to support that sport as well and we are getting positive feedback both from the players and the fans. We also got into the sponsorship of the Delhi Golf Tournament. We are trying to get across multiple sports within India. The team is looking at the entire spectrum – it can be a given sport, or a sporting event covering multiple sports or it could be teams or individual ambassadors. That’s what we are evaluating. You will see us very active in the space in an interesting fashion.

Sports is an area where people get connected very well with and we have got a good standing over the last several decades. We are trying to bring our international experience with sports to India as well. 

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

Do you think sports makes a brand more humane to the consumers?

Absolutely yes! Sports has got massive scale overall speaking. People’s passion and emotions come to the fore and they are really open to engage. We firstly humanise our brand through the medium of sports and connect to the fans. Mastercard moved from nowhere to becoming the fourth most-liked brand in the US four years back because of the connectivity that we have been establishing and humanising our brand. It can be through sports, music or philanthropy. It’s not about political correctness or pretentiousness; it's about authenticity. It’s about genuinely caring about the consumers and the fans and understanding their love for sports and then doing something meaningful in that space. It should not be just about throwing ads at the consumers.

First Published on Sep 6, 2022 11:53 AM