Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Real money games plan marketing blitz with celebs to grow base, credibility

From Shah Rukh Khan to Hrithik Roshan to Virat Kohli, stars from the entertainment and sports world are endorsing real money games' platforms, helping the brands grab eyeballs and create instant credibility

Published: Apr 6, 2022 04:51:40 PM IST
Updated: Apr 6, 2022 05:17:20 PM IST

Real money games plan marketing blitz with celebs to grow base, credibilityShah Rukh Khan stars in A23 gaming ad

Real money games are spending more on marketing than ever before. Alongside creating multimedia campaigns, a huge chunk of marketing investments is going towards getting celebrity endorsers on board. From Shah Rukh Khan to Hrithik Roshan to Virat Kohli, stars from the entertainment and sports world are endorsing real money games’ platforms, helping the brands grab eyeballs and create instant credibility.

“The real push for these spends is coming from the exponential growth opportunity in the segment. Out of the approximate 450 million online gamers in India, only about 12-15 percent are real money gamers—gamers who pay to play. This creates a huge room for growth and brands in the segment are making the most of it,” says Ramsai Panchapakesan, senior vice president and national head - Integrated Media Buying at Zenith.

Explaining the growth story of the segment, Panchapakesan says the gaming sector in the country that had only about 25-30 homegrown gaming studios now has about 500 of them. Most of these new studios have come up in the last 12 to 18 months.

Growth in gaming

Clearly, there is a growing demand for the sector, even in the post-lockdown phases of the pandemic. Brands want to take it a notch higher by engaging celebrities to get noticed in the clutter.

According to Panchapakesan, getting celebrities on board is the safest bet for quick reach and top-of-mind awareness. He says India is at the propelling stage of all things gaming and when it comes to the ad spends from the real money games, it is expected to triple in the next two to three years.

Talking of growing ad spends, Bhavin Pandya, co-founder and CEO of Games24x7, which runs platforms like My11Circle and RummyCircle. says, “With various associations and high-volume campaigns, our marketing spends have doubled over the last 5 years.”

The brand that has recently partnered with Hrithik Roshan invested in technology, data science, AI and ML to provide hyper-personalised, bespoke experiences to players which are made even more pertinent by their association with influencers and brand ambassadors.

Doubling marketing spends

Like Games24x7, A23, now endorsed by SRK, is also making heavy marketing spends this season. “We are literally doubling our marketing spends in 2022,” says Deepak Gullapalli, founder and CEO, Head Digital Works.

Getting SRK on board has helped the brand in improving brand reputation, grabbing more eyeballs and clicks, says Gullapalli. Its brand presence in Google organic search has also doubled in 2022 after bringing SRK on board.

The endorsement fee of a celebrity endorser is only meagre when compared to the ROI in the category at the moment, according to industry executives.

As per market and consumer data experts Statista, in FY 2021, the value of the real money gaming segment of India's online gaming market stood at Rs 49 billion. Estimated forecasts say that the value would increase by Rs 11 billion over the next four years.

Becoming household names

Interestingly unlike popular belief, ad spends in the sector are not restricted to digital-only. A combination of television, print, radio and digital is the way for most players in the segment.

MPL, for instance, has a holistic approach when it comes to overall marketing strategy.

The company combines both digital as well as conventional channels to drive branding activities through all mediums synchronously and effectively. The brand also takes up sponsorships and partnerships to create visibility, associating with popular properties like Bigg Boss and IPL. These have helped MPL become a household name.

Alongside creating brand recall, some brands like MPL also consider category awareness a crucial part of their marketing initiatives.

Conflating gaming and gambling

Dibyojyoti Mainak, senior vice president, Policy and Legal, Mobile Premier League (MPL) says one of the biggest challenges this industry faces is people conflating online skill gaming with gambling.

Online gaming apps in India offer games that are classified as games of skill, such as chess, carrom, archery, fantasy cricket, and more. Referring to such skill gaming apps as gambling does a huge disservice to the burgeoning gaming industry and undermines its potential, says Mainak.

“To dispel this incorrect notion and to promote an industry that is truly competitive and constantly innovating to serve the Indian gaming community, it is critical to have clear regulations. This will not only bring much-needed clarity and stability but also bring in more investments that will spur growth,” he tells Storyboard18.

While fully complying with guidelines set by the Advertising Stands Council of India (ASCI) is a priority for players in the segment, Mainak points out how it is important for the brand to also focus on educating users on ways to play safely and responsibly.