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Pepsi India ropes in 87-year old as ‘swag partner’ in ambush marketing cricket world cup campaign

Pepsi India has roped in an unlikely brand ambassador for a campaign around the ongoing cricket world cup: an 87 year old British national of Indian origin Charulata Patel, in an attempt to upstage official sponsor Coca-Cola.

The first creative work with this new ambassador in place – a fan anthem – was launched on July 9 just before the semi-final match between India and New Zealand. The anthem ends with Patel saying “Pepsi is good” in her native Gujarati.

Patel gained popularity when she was spotted in the stands during India’s match against Bangladesh. Pepsi and its agency Wunderman Thompson saw an opportunity to make inroads into the world cup surreptitiously by roping Patel in, since the beverage had been cut out of advertising by Coca-Cola.

A devoted fan of the Indian cricket team, Patel claimed she had personally witnessed  India’s first cricket world cup victory in 1983, an event that played a huge role in the enduring popularity of the sport in the subcontinent.

The Indian team skipper Virat Kohli subsequently met Patel and tweeted about it to his over 30 million followers, granting her instant celebrity.

Speaking about the plans to deploy Patel, a source close to the Pepsi campaign told Mumbrella: “It is going to be largely digital. We finished the fan anthem in 48 hours.”

According to the source, the campaign was a coup. He said: “We moved from not having anything on air during the world cup to becoming the most talked about brand and reclaiming the mojo for Pepsi.”

The source added: “The idea was born when we saw the respect and love shared by our team captain and vice captain who went up to Patel in the stands to seek her blessings as she was the oldest Indian fan on the day when India beat Bangladesh.

“It was time to take a leap to own this epic fan moment forever. It was time to celebrate the spirit of the 1.3 billion fans of team India. So what if the competition was the official sponsor? We could become the swag partner of the Indian cricket fan.”

The ‘swag partner’ concept tied back to Pepsi’s summer campaign for India, ‘Har Ghoont Mein Swag’ [Swag in Every Sip].

Patel was tracked to her house on the outskirts of London and signed up, and Pepsi released several online videos with its latest endorser. 

However the feedback around the advertising featuring Patel has not been universally positive. An ad on Twitter and Instagram had to be taken down after it featured Patel with an inverted Indian flag on her cheek, resulting in widespread criticism and dark hints that the team creating the ads were not Indian.

Arguably Pepsi India’s most memorable campaign for the world cup was ‘Nothing Official About it’ from 1996; a cheeky potshot at the then recently launched Coca-Cola which was the official beverage sponsor of the tournament. 

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