Thu, 29 Oct 2009 08:34:18 GMT

Airtel looks at leveraging ‘world’s richest’ Delhi marathon

The telecom major is leveraging the annual half-marathon to strengthen brand salience in its largest market

Airtel looks at leveraging ‘world’s richest’ Delhi marathon

Former U.S. athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee gestures during a press conference in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2008 (Last Delhi Half Marathon). Kersee was the event ambassador of Delhi Half Marathon. This year Airtel has roped in Shah Rukh Khan for the event.

Ever since they were introduced in India in 2004, marathons have become something of an annual event on the social calendar, not least because they provide a huge networking opportunity for anyone who is reasonably fit - from common or garden executives to page three and corporate celebs.

For Bharti Airtel, India's largest telecom company by subscriber numbers, the 21.09 km Delhi half-marathon on Sunday provides a unique opportunity to build the brand in its largest and oldest market, Delhi.

That's because the Delhi half-marathon, for which Airtel has the title sponsorship for the second year running taking over from its competitor Vodafone (formerly Hutch), provides its brand focused exposure to hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, for several reasons.

Airtel looks at leveraging ‘world’s richest’ Delhi marathon

Defending champion of Delhi Half Marathon Dieudonne Disi of Rwanda, from left, Sally Barsosoio of Kenya, former U.S. athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Magdalene Mukunzi of Kenya and Piet Jacobs of South Africa pose for a photograph during a press conference prior to last year's Delhi Half Marathon.

Richest half marathon in the world

First, with total prize money of $210,000 - men and women standing first will win $25,000 each - this is one of the richest half-marathons in the world.

Second, because it has received the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) Gold Label Award, the highest rating the international organisation offers to road races, the Delhi half-marathon attracts runners from around the world. (IAAF's ratings take into account various parameters such as participation rates, racing standards, TV coverage and organisation standards.) Consider the numbers: Sunday's run, organised by sports management company Procam International, will see over 30,000 people running, up from about 26,000 last year - and that doesn't reflect the number of people who still want to register. The event draws participation from 30 nationalities, not to speak of the lakhs of people who come to see and be seen.

Airtel looks at leveraging ‘world’s richest’ Delhi marathon

Children run during a marathon run in New Delhi.

Marathon and Airtel: What's common?

For Airtel, these numbers are only part of the attraction. As important is the opportunity for brand positioning that the event provides. "All marathons, whether in Mumbai, New York, Boston or Delhi, have three basic characteristics. One is breaking barriers by testing your endurance with all its connotations of fitness and good health; the second is the coming together of people from different walks of life and nationalities; and the third is showcasing the characteristics of the city and its vibrant youth culture," says Chandrasekar Radhakrishnan, senior vice president-marketing, Bharti Airtel. All of these, he explains, offer a "perfect fit" with Airtel's tag line "Barriers break when people talk".

The overall essence of the sponsorship, Radhakrishnan adds, is to suggest that "together, good things happen". Like marathons elsewhere, these "good things" are not just limited to values of health, endurance, togetherness and so on. The half-marathon also provides a unique opportunity to raise funds for charity with participants raising contributions, including by the Bharti Foundation. Since 2005, over 200 NGOs have registered for the event.

Internal brand building

The event also provides an opportunity for some internal brand-building with HR initiatives such as a "super loser" contest that offers a prize to whoever loses the most weight ahead of the contest and a medal of honour for whoever runs the fastest.

Last year's event revealed that the brand return on investment were huge when measured on a range of parameters such as recall, intention to purchase and so on, though Radhakrishnan declines to share specifics. "We saw a clear shift in brand awareness not just in Delhi but across the country after the event," he says.

Airtel looks at leveraging ‘world’s richest’ Delhi marathon

Lydia Cheromei of Kenya, 37, Sun Ying Jie of China, 6, and Teyba Erkesso of Ethopia, 12, run past the India Gate memorial some years back.

Airtel ropes in Shah Rukh

Accordingly, this year's event is being packaged and marketed in an even bigger way. Apart from the print and outdoor campaigns, Airtel has roped in its brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan to market the event via a TV commercial produced by Rediffusion Y&R in which he reminisces about growing up in the city. The idea is to showcase the culture of Delhi, in which Bharti Airtel has been present since 1995.

Earlier this year, Bharti crossed the 5 million subscriber mark in the city and NCR region, but it is operating in a crowded market that is expected to see more competitors soon with aggressive pricing strategies. Already, one more player - MTS - has launched services and four more are expected by next year. In such a market, it will require a marathon effort to ensure brand loyalty.

Source: Business Standard

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