Airtel 175: Showcasing the Technology of the Future by Taking People Back into the Past.

Leo Burnett India brought a never before seen cricket match to life using 5G technology and scored a coveted 8-ball from the agency’s Global Product Committee.

Bharti Airtel, one of India’s largest telecommunication companies, wanted to showcase their future-ready brand in an unconventional way, using novel technology. They teamed up with Leo Burnett India to establish their position as a leading communication’s provider by demonstrating their 5G capabilities and new age-thinking to the next generation of consumers.

We connected with the team behind the campaign to learn more about the inspiration behind the Airtel 175 campaign and how they recreated a legendary national sporting event that was never recorded—bringing the past to life in the present.

1. When Airtel reached out to Leo Burnett India to showcase the company as an innovative thought leader in the technology space, what made teams consider cricket to achieve this goal? What other objectives was Airtel trying to achieve with this campaign?

We realized that sports and entertainment would be the perfect industry to help people experience Airtel’s 5G capabilities, and Cricket was the obvious choice of sport. Indians don’t just watch Cricket—we worship it. This sport unites our vast and diverse country, so it was the perfect connector around a new technology. However, we realized we couldn’t simply show an ordinary match using 5G—it had to be the match that made India fall in love with cricket—Kapil Dev’s 175 run against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup. The match that made history but was never recorded.

2. What were the key obstacles you faced in developing this technology-rich campaign, and how did you overcome them?

Kapil Dev’s legendary inning was talked about and written about exhaustively, but the match was never recorded: no one ever saw him make history, they just heard about it. The only visual references that were available were three images of Kapil’s most iconic shots. We had to interview Kapil Dev, other players, match officials, and spectators to gather human data—recording people’s memories of the match. Creating a correct order of the events of the day and eliminating contradictions in people’s recounting of the match was a major challenge. The production process involved working with Kapil Dev to capture all his physical movements so we could recreate his shots.

3. You worked closely with Kapil Dev to translate his memories and experience from 1983 to create a realistic replay of an event that was never televised. What were the key insights you were hoping to get from Kapil’s personal recounts of past events to help you conceptualize the “vision” for the reenactment?

Kapil was our richest source of data in terms of play-by-play information about the match. While information about the biggest shots taken during the match could be obtained by interviewing others, only Kapil could provide data about every single ball he played and run he scored. And he more than delivered on this front. Even after four decades, he still remembered every detail of the match. His rich insights helped us envision this match from his point of view. We also interviewed his teammates and spectators to gather more robust data and make the recreation as precise as possible.

4. What key insights did you garner from the creation of this campaign that have potential impact on the future of advertising campaigns—especially regarding how technology is used to transform human behavior?

5G isn’t something you can just talk to people about or show them: you need to let them experience it for themselves. This campaign reimagined what a consumer demo can be by letting people try new technology in the context of watching sports. And this match was perfect for the event because by recreating it, Airtel was restoring a missing chapter of India’s history.

5. How would you characterize the response you received from viewers who had the opportunity to experience the immersive and in-stadium 4k video setting with the interactive hologram?

This wasn’t just about a cricket match for our viewers. They got to witness a major moment for India, a victory that made history but left no records. After watching the recreation, they were just as happy and excited as the spectators in 1983 must have been. They were also grateful for Airtel’s 5G capabilities as they were finally able to see the 175-not-out.

6. This campaign was awarded an 8-ball from Global Product Committee this Fall, which evaluated over 100 pieces of Leo Burnett’s work around the globe. What elements of this campaign do you think gave this body-of-work the edge it needed to secure such a prestigious ranking?

Technological benefits must have an emotional connection to truly awe people. That’s what this campaign achieved. Airtel managed to showcase its brilliant technology and all its facets in the perfect demo, while the people witnessed us recreating a major national and cultural milestone that we thought would be lost forever.

7. This work was heavily reliant on new technology that isn’t frequently used in creative advertising campaigns. How do you think this campaign’s diverse team of talent worked together to make this campaign such a success?

This team included a sports-specializing production team, India’s most esteemed sports journalists, coaches, an Oscar-winning VFX studio, stylists to recreate the era, and most importantly, Kapil Dev—a sporting legend and national inspiration. A shared desire to see this defining match in all its glory bound all the teams working on this project from day one. Additionally, the passion each team showed while executing their respective tasks also acted as a source of inspiration for the others. Most importantly, Team Airtel matched our enthusiasm for the campaign and were the perfect partners in our long, hard journey of bringing this match back to life.