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Last week saw the publication of a survey, presumably conducted by the Department of the Glaringly Obvious at the University of Duh!, which found (and you might want to be seated for this) that mid-over adverts during the IPL were not, repeat not, popular with television viewers. I know, surprising eh? Who could have guessed that being subjected to a continuous stream of visual marketing junk might begin to rankle a teensy bit with the watching public?
Now, in the interests of fairness, I should say that advertising can have beneficial side effects. For instance, yesterday, in search of distraction from my list of chores, I slumped onto my sofa and flicked through a few channels. In no time at all, I had racked up a new record of eight consecutive adverts without seeing a single scheduled programme. I was so irritated, I decided to clean out my fridge instead. Thus, thanks to advertising, my kitchen no longer smells and I burned a few more calories hacking away at encrusted ice with a screwdriver.
It is also worth pointing out that the cricket watcher’s relationship with brand peddling is not a straightforward one. Certain ad campaigns, if they are sufficiently well conceived and interwoven with the cricket, can become part of the experience. For example, the short sequences on a fictional Caribbean beach that ran during the recent World Twenty20 were almost entertaining, which is pretty much the pinnacle of advertising achievement.
However, I will be honest, I would have to think twice and possibly seek a third opinion from my subconscious to recall precisely which product it was promoting. And it isn’t just me. Apparently half of IPL 3 viewers were unable to remember the main shirt sponsors of their favourite team. Even more astonishingly, a quarter of respondents could not name a single IPL advertiser. And if that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, then you are probably Lalit Modi. Or an accountant.
Those of us who watched the IPL from these damp and clammy shores were fortunate in that we did not have to endure the mid-over brainwashing. I cannot imagine what it must have been like. The sheer effort required to maintain concentration in the face of such a barrage of nonsense must have been enormous. And the necessity to press the mute button so often must have left Indian cricket viewers with the most muscular thumbs in the developed world.
Now the IPL, it is true, is not the typical cricket event. It is an enormous, powerful, magnificent elephant of a tournament, with far too many people trying to squeeze into the howdah. But this overloading of the viewer’s plate with great steaming piles of commercial propaganda is symptomatic of how the cricket spectator is seen. We are not real people, we are demographics, we are potential market share, we are viewing figures, we are just the saps who buy the KKR pyjamas and the Yuvraj tea cosies.
Commentators are no better. They think we have the attention spans of goldfish on caffeine, and so they shout gibberish, make bad jokes and generally carry on like holiday-camp entertainers. Expert summarisers think we are too stupid to understand technical matters and so lard their punditry with dollops of lazy, can’t-be-bothered observations. Isn’t it about time the viewer got a better deal? After all, without us there would be no IPL.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73