Cycle Pure Agarbathies’ association with cricket is a very natural match in many ways, even though it came about almost by accident. The company was started by my grandfather N Ranga Rao in 1948. From the outset, we have believed in collaborative growth. We have believed in value for money, in being very transparent, in taking the team together. Clearly, we have done several things right, which is why many of our employees today are those who have been with us for several years, through thick and thin.
Like all kids growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, I was also an avid cricket enthusiast. I captained my college team, the JCE Engineering College in Mysore, and I played club cricket, which is the extent of my involvement with the sport as a player. I was a keen sports buff who represented my college in 10 disciplines, but then when I went away to the United States, I only played golf and tennis. I returned in 2000 and joined the family business, aiming to keep my grandfather’s vision going.
When he started the company, my grandfather felt we needed a brand that everybody in India could understand and relate to, immaterial of their background or language. That’s the reason he chose the word ‘cycle’, because a cycle is called a cycle everywhere. A lot of philosophical values have been added over the years, how the cycle of life continues through prayer and agarbatti, through the ups and downs of life. Cycle personifies freedom; it’s the first thing you want as a child – to be able to get on your cycle and feel free. It’s also just like how you are liberated with prayer throughout your life.
The original intent was to create a symbol that everybody in India would understand, immaterial of their religious background and language. And we believed that cricket is one thing that is a unifier, just like how prayer is, just like how God is, just like how cycle is. And that’s how we got into cricket. As a brand, we had been looking for a way to get into cricket, and the breakthrough came in 2005 when India hosted Pakistan. It was Pakistan’s first tour to India since 1999, a big series which still boasts among the highest TRPs to date. A night before the series, I got a call from the agency handling sponsorships saying the main sponsor, an international multi-national, had backed out because they couldn’t get overseas approval in time. That’s the reason they needed a family business that could take a decision over a phone call, without any deliverables and without any understanding. Because I knew the game and I did understand that it was big, I said I would invest in the property and took up associate sponsorship; we sponsored the fours and sixes. And we got a lot of value-adds because we came in at the last minute.
That’s when we realised the power of cricket, and more so as a brand awareness tool, especially when you are on-ground like we are – the perimeter boards, the third umpire, the sightscreen, the pitch mat. Around the same time, we came up with a tag line as well – ‘Everyone has a reason to pray’. We were trying to find an opportunity in cricket where we could tag our tagline. We felt the third umpire was the biggest opportunity. When the third umpire is making his decision and the screen shows ‘decision pending’, everyone is actually praying. Till date, we have stuck with the third-umpire branding, it is our marquee property. The first major tournament we took up main sponsorship of was in 2013 in the Caribbean, in the tri-series in which MS Dhoni hit Shaminda Eranga for 15 runs in the last over to win the final. Since 2013, we have taken things forward as one of the major sponsors for all series.
Cricket is a medium where there is a high level of exposure to the audience, but there is also too much clutter, too much cricket. Unless you are there constantly, you will get lost. It has taken us six years for people to actually see us in cricket, to associate us with cricket. You do one series, you are not going to go anywhere, it is just a waste of money. That’s what we have learnt with cricket – to be sustainable over a long period of time. People initially would ask, why would an agarbatti brand get into cricket? But for me, it is not an agarbatti brand. We are in the business of giving hope, the spiritual and the ethereal. The person who is asking why an agarbatti is here would have prayed in the morning using my agarbatti and then walked out of the house. His prayers would have meant his whole life, his children, his wife, his mother, his father, for their safety and their health, and that’s what I am giving him. That’s what cricket is to the nation as well, we kind of pin all our hopes and dreams on it. Every ball, every match, everyone is praying all the time. We felt a strong connect for the brand as well. That’s the reason we took to cricket. And it has taken consistent, persistent effort for people to connect the dots. Today, ‘cycle’ is kind of synonymous with agarbatti, and with cricket. Connecting with India cricket, consciously not with the IPL but only with India cricket because we believe in the nation.
Having said that, we are associated with the Karnataka Premier League for obvious reasons. As a family, we are from Mysore. My grandfather worked for a coffee estate in Coorg till 1947, and post-independence, moved to Mysore in 1948 to pursue his dreams. The city of Mysore is what has given us what we have today. In terms of philanthropic activities, we do a lot for the city. We have a charity called the NR Foundation under which we run a school for blind girl children, which is a 30-year-old school. We are in the middle of a 10-year project as a part of which we have identified ten slums in Mysore that require upliftment. We are working with the children in the slums and their mothers. We do a lot of activities in Mysore but we felt we needed to do that one activity that brings the city together, that unites the city for a cause. We felt the cricket team, the KPL team (Mysuru Warriors), would be one such thing. We have been able to do that successfully in the three years, including winning the championship. Cricket unifies the city. That’s the reason we got involved in the KPL, more to do something for the city than anything else.