Kwangl, the developer of an innovative marketing platform for social media, has signed a deal through the Indian sports agency ITW with the Puneri Paltan, one of the top teams in India's Pro Kabaddi League.
It will see the Paltan's adopting Kwangl's technology to incentivise fans through social media during the league's fifth season.
If you need to get up to speed, kabaddi is a high-paced, full-contact team sport, quite popular in the Indian subcontinent. Deeply rooted in the regions of Tamil Nadu and Punjab, it has become the national sport in Bangladesh and is also one of Nepal's national sports, where it's taught in schools. In 2014, a sports-management company introduced the Pro Kabaddi League, adopting viewer-friendly rules and a competition format inspired by the IPL (Indian Premiere League cricket) Twenty20 format.
Aggressive marketing and distribution have helped the league to draw huge audiences to the game, so much so that Kabaddi's TV reach is now closing in on that of the IPL. Consequently, it's attracting big sponsorship money, such as Vivo's recent Rs300 crore deal (US$46 million at today's exchange rate) to acquire the title rights for five years.
This year's tournament starts Friday.
The Puneri Paltan will be using Kwangl's platform to engage more deeply with fans in India and across the globe.
"Perhaps the most salient feature of Kwangl is its ability to bridge the gap between traditional advertising and social media," said its chief strategy officer, Eduardo Salazar, "though the use of programmable hashtags", which the company calls "p#".
The idea behind the p# is to transform a hashtag from a construct that helps curate or reference content (as it in many social-media platforms, Twitter being the best-known example) to a construct that facilitates the interaction and spread of a brand's promotional activities.
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"We do so by making brand-initiated hashtags trigger an action whenever they are posted on social media" Salazar said. "For example, a brand creates a hashtag to promote a competition to win tickets for an event; once people become aware of that hashtag and post it, they will receive a response from our platform inviting them to join and delivering the coupons to the competition." In that way, hashtags do more than simply referencing a campaign, or helping it to trend on social media. "The hashtag becomes live, delivering what the campaign is seeking to deliver, be it a ticket or video content."
Another salient feature of Kwangl's technology is that it operates within a brand's digital ecosystem. "We either develop a fully-branded microsite, as we're now doing for Puneri Paltan, or we plug our API on the back-end of a brand's pre-existing digital assets." In that way, "we aim for the user's experience to be immersive" added Salazar.
In more general terms, this is a big bet both for the Puneri Paltan, Kwangl, and ITW.
Social-media usage in the key Indian market is reportedly below the average for Southern Asia, if judging by the key metric of "active users" of just 14 percent of the total population, compared to 37 percent for the region as a whole. The adoption of social media, however, has been growing at roughly twice the regional rate, adding 55 million new users in 2016 alone.
Coupled with the fact that nearly 70 percent of Indian Internet users do still watch TV in the traditional way, "we're quite confident to help amplify Puneri Paltan's presence in social media, for example, by combining the second screen with promotions pushed during a game using banners around the pitch."
Quoting a recent research paper on second-screen behaviour in India during sports broadcasts, Salazar added that "if you incentivise your fans in a creative, engaging way during a match, they will hook on to their second screen to talk about it. The key ingredient here is to help them interact and see a promotion unfold in real time on social media, and that's what Kwangl delivers."
According to Nielsen's 2016 Social Media Report, about a third of people using social media do so "to find out about products and services or to receive exclusive offers, coupons and other discounts" pretty much across all stratums of social-media usage. In addition, Twitter usually sees a dramatic increase in traffic behind TV-related sports events. "It's true those numbers reflect a mature market like the US, and [at least to my knowledge] there are no reliable numbers for India yet, but for brands who think social media's only destination is customer support, it's worth a consideration," Salazar said.
The problem, he added, is that native formats have a somewhat limited punch "and become more of an interruption and annoyance than anything else." However, by exploiting the reach and options offered by traditional advertising, coupled with the fact that audiences are the ones "rolling the dice" by posting the incentivised hashtags, there is a higher probability for inducing engagement "because you see the people you follow, with whom you have a certain affinity, doing something and that might be enough to make you jump into the same boat." In that sense "audiences are self-selecting", and sports provides a great opportunity.
Therefore, the argument is that "instead of doing social-media marketing in the same way that brands do" by pushing content through social-media timelines using native formats, "Kwangl uses social media for marketing, perhaps a subtle but quite powerful difference."
It ultimately shows how a traditional, ancient sport considered by many "a pursuit of the underclasses, a dusty, pre-modern relic devoid of the glitz, spectacle, and revenue of sophisticated, contemporary sport" (as The Guardian put it) could also embrace new strategies and technologies to reward and engage its fans.
The Puneri Paltan are taking the lead though the use of Kwangl. "We'll see how it plays out" concluded Salazar. "At the current numbers and if the league mirrors the success the IPL has had on social media in 2017, the impact could indeed be huge."