Dream11 – Creating a Digital-Only Brand

The IPL 2021 buzz has faded out in light of the 2nd pandemic wave in India – after a strong attempt to enforce a ‘business-as-usual’ ecosystem earlier. However, in a digital world, it is unlikely you will have missed the “12-film” funny campaign series by Dream11 – an Indian fantasy sports platform that allows users to play daily fantasy sports contests and win money (read: rewards). In April 2019, Dream11 had become the first Indian gaming company to become a unicorn (which is yet another buzzing element in the India business media these days). If you haven’t caught them yet, here’s your easy reference link: https://www.campaignindia.in/video/dream11-sets-up-for-ipl-2021-with-12-film-campaign/468874

The buzz helped me recall the really engaging sessions at the IAMAI Marketing Conclave by the Dream11 team last year.  I had taken notes (!) then and I thought it will be a gripping read for all of you – covering their approach towards building a ‘Digital-only’ Brand. Obviously, I have added additional stuff from new reading on Dream11 – which exceeds my old notes by a factor of 10X. Let’s go… Outside In!

Early Days – 2008-2012

Founded by Harsh Jain, who was a fantasy football (EPL) “fanatic” during his university-days in the UK and the US, returned to India in 2008, around the same time when the Indian Premier League (IPL) launched. It didn’t take long for Jain to spot the opportunity as fantasy cricket didn’t really exist in India. The first version of Dream11 was created to fill that void.

  • After failing to succeed between 2008-2010, they learnt 3 important lessons:

    1) No season-long fantasy sports,

    2) No free to play with ad money and prizes,

    3) No feature overload (Games, News, Blog, Chats, Polls, Feeds, Messages, Etc.) – which took focus away from the core value addition to fantasy gaming

  • Additional learning came from practical difficulties of running a Season-long game. It required management of a virtual team for months. The consumer side wasn't working and since they didn't have many users, advertisers didn't come

  • They even pivoted to becoming a Digital/Social Marketing Agency, managing Social Marketing for 50-odd Brands

  • They re-launched Dream11 again in 2012 (after selling off their Marketing Agency) with a big difference. Inspired by the Cavin Kare “Sachet” idea, they brought down the season-long fantasy model to a per-match fantasy model

Growth of Dream11 Version 2.0 – A Roadmap for Digital-Only Brands

1) Product Proposition – Pay Model, in addition to Freemium

Dream11 was, in its early avatar, an ad-based platform, that included facets like a social cricket community, chat options, discussion forums/blogs and free-to-play, season-long fantasy gaming.

However, the ad-based, free-to-play, season-long game format soon ran into a hurdle as the seasons stretched on for too long. Around 2010-11, the team had realized the format wasn't working. 

The 2012 platform was re-launched as 'freemium fantasy sports for single matches'. The platform moved from an advertising model to a pay model, which means, the new Dream11 would earn directly from the users. Today, about 85% of the platform's total user base plays for free and the average investment made by paying players is Rs. 25. While the bets go as low as Rs. 11 (small bets help retain users), they also soar as high as several thousands of rupees. The combined prize pot of all winnings can amount to over a crore. However, the values vary from match to match and sport to sport.

Each day, the Dream11 platform launches 15–17 high-valued contests & 20–30 low-valued contest with total winning money ranging from 3 crore rupees (US$ 450,000) to as minimum as 5000 rupees. (US$75)

2) Focus on Product Development over Marketing

  • The company focused on developing the platform for Dream11 for three years while driving only organic growth – believing in achieving a Product-Market Fit first

  • They focused on Instant Gratification for a typical App user today, who runs low on commitment and has a short attention span

  • They were conscious about Not using marketing to try and achieve the product-market fitment

  • To quote Harsh Jain: Marketing will only work if the product is good, inversely, if your marketing isn’t that great, your product will still succeed

  • On Overcoming the APK Perception Hurdle (since they are not allowed to list on Playstore due to Google guidelines for Daily Fantasy Sports – DFS – Apps): “It was a difficult journey to convince customers to download their app as APK and reassure them about the legality of the app as many believed it to be illegal. But, in the end, it boils down to one thing– If your product adds enough value, people will find it and accept it”

  • The knowledge of the demand factor is helpful if you want to succeed in any business. And when it comes to the fantasy sports segment be it PlayStation, video games like FIFA, PES, etc. or those like Dream11 – the thing is people want to be in control. It is pretty much like; we feel we are the hero in every movie we watch; it is a psychological factor

  • Fans feel themselves leading the game when their favourite team wins or players score. They would hence give anything to have a near similar experience. They realize their jubilation through video games, fantasy apps, etc. So the philosophical guide for a Dream11 App Developer is this – “design the (Dream11) app in such a way that it gives more power to players and make it as realistic as possible.”

  • This game is more of a calculative and skillful nature. The users are driven by the data of the leagues and competitions—the player data, their form, their overall performances, their performances under certain conditions, etc. It is not about “press-the key-faster” ability like video games. The game is played over data and its adept handling

  • To win the fan hearts, it should make their life easy in terms of analyzing the data. One needs to make the data presentable. It needs to be easy to read informatics with prioritizing the relevance of information, design the dashboard with critical elements like the news section, player profile, graphs all in the right place

  • The 5-second rule is on the top of the list of design aids. It stems from the user response studies. It states that a designer needs to capture the user’s attention within the first five seconds to get him to see further. Or the user will simply move on to something better. Applying the rule to the mobile app design process, they derive dashboards and interfaces that stick into user perspective

  • Dream11 Database structure is focused on three types of users: one who are merely curious about sports. The second category are the genuinely interested and followers of events. The third are the die-hard fans, who go to any extent to savor the game and stories

  • Essential Features List include Quick User Login, Landing Screen, League Arena, User Dashboard, User Account Management, Contests, Reports

3) Brand Building with Cricket Influencers

Renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle was the company's first-ever brand ambassador when he signed an endorsement deal with Dream11 back in 2017. In his tweet then, the cricket commentator welcomed Dream11 into the tournament and made a claim that the IPL Dream11 deal would be good for companies of the new economy. “Dream11 brings out the selector in you,” he had announced in a 2017 advertisement for Dream11. Around the same time, it became a League Partner to Caribbean Premier League and pursued performance marketing initiatives with him in the lead.

In 2018, MS Dhoni was onboarded as a new face of Dream11’s multi-channel marketing campaigns and brand engagement activities, as the company aimed to surge ahead and strengthen its leadership position in the online Sports Gaming industry. According to the Dream11 team, on how MS Dhoni was chosen: The tagline chose Dhoni… Dimaag se Dhoni. He loved it and signed up for the TV Advertising phase of their Marketing.

Besides Dhoni, they have also spotted cricketer Shikhar Dhawan's face on Dream11's digital posters. Endorsements are cricket-centric for now, and will continue to be in the near future. However, they now have 28-30 Brand Ambassadors across 18-20 Leagues spanning various Sports, after ICC, BCCI, IPL Etc.

4) Marketing Campaigns

Being a digital-first brand, the bulk of Dream11's advertising began on digital channels like Facebook, Cricbuzz and Hotstar. Now, TV is a significant part of the media mix, during the IPL this year.

Consumer Insight for Marketing: Dream11 and Cricket share a unique symbiotic relationship, which is why their campaigns are not focused on being a Product-centric Campaign, but more of an Ode to Cricket and its Fans

Dimaag ka Dhoni

The first television campaign for this digital-first brand was in 2018. ‘Dimaag ka Dhoni’ featured their brand ambassador and cricketer, MS Dhoni. The brand’s storytelling tone was largely functional during that phase and centered on creating generic awareness and education and how to create teams and score points.  

You can check the campaign snippet here at:

Yeh Game Hai Mahaan

Having created the category from scratch, they moved to the next level of storytelling in 2019. The campaign ‘Yeh Game Hai Mahaan’ had six films made depicting the passion and the memories around the game of cricket that most fans share. Despite the proliferation of new ways of consuming sport, the real passion for cricket is still in stadiums, gullies, mohallas and everywhere else where fans live the game, and the films were an ode to them, according to the Dream11 team. While capturing some real-life cricket situations, the brand has played a smart trick by featuring the brand ambassador MS Dhoni, which helped the brand to earn trust and credibility. The videos bring back the emotions and nostalgic feelings by taking us to the gully cricket days. Even the background music is so soothing that it makes the perfect match to give us a nostalgic feeling with an emotional touch.

5) Guerrilla Digital Marketing – Pre-rolled Ads on YouTube Highlights at the ICC World Cup 2019

The campaign used a single pre-roll advertisement on YouTube videos of cricket highlights from the ICC World Cup 2019. This strategy was implemented to eliminate expensive sponsorships and instead use a digital trick to grab the attention of millions of potential customers for Dream11. According to reports, this campaign led to a 40% increase in CTRs and 50% better VTRs than Industry Benchmarks. It helped them extend their reach by 2.47X – all without paying Millions.  This campaign was an extremely successful effort and thus has been recognized as the official honoree at Webby Awards 2020.

6) Community/Fan Engagement – Sports Guru, Tuition Classes

The brand's official fan engagement arm Sports Guru was launched in 2019. They are happy about the fan-based content and the entire ecosystem out there.

They have received images of billboards about actual tuition classes on Dream11, which helps them prove their proposition point that it is a game of skill:

7) Digital and Social Media Marketing

Dream11 has been creating some amazing social content and has been successfully engaging its audience base of millions.

Customers as its Endorsers

The brand’s social media platforms are highly active and showcase their leading players who have won lakhs of rupees as the first prize. Also, they felicitate winners in the post-match presentation ceremony, which creates high aspirations and engagement among the customers


When it comes to social media, contests are one of the best strategies to enhance user engagement and attract new followers, and the gaming business never misses to leverage the power of social media contests. Check out ‘Star Memer of the Day’ Contest Winner below.

This campaign was a great initiative to encourage users to participate and curate user-generated content for their social media platforms. Each winner was given a voucher of Rs 1000 to keep the motivation high and content flowing

SEO Keywords

Dream11 has been excelling on the search engine result pages and has gained the ranking position for some really high-quality keywords. This constant effort helps the brand to spread awareness and boost visibility and reach among potential customers

App Push Notifications

  • Daily Engagement Campaigns

  • Reminder Campaigns

  • News and Updates

  • 4s/6s/Wickets Updates

Latest Moves

Dream11 now has a four-year exclusive deal with the IPL, which makes the platform the popular cricket tournament’s official partner. It is also powering the official fantasy game of the IPL. They expect to see their biggest growth spurt along with the IPL, especially after becoming the ‘Official Partner’.

In Conclusion

The takeaways from the Dream11 story so far are best illustrated by their own observations in one of the sessions I had attended:

1) Digital Data – Is the new Primary Research

2) Build for the Customer, Not the Brand

3) ‘Creative and Media’, not Creative ‘Then’ Media

Their biggest takeaway for engaging with Gen Z: Build a product that has a social element & network effects within it – That makes them invite their friends to play together. This could very well be the maxim for all Digital-first Brands going forward!


Share Outside In

References and Sources

1) Dream11 Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream11

2) Dream11 12-film Campaign for IPL 2021: https://www.campaignindia.in/video/dream11-sets-up-for-ipl-2021-with-12-film-campaign/468874

3) Dream11 Team Sessions at IAMAI Marketing Conclave 2020

4) Product Development Focus: https://www.financialexpress.com/brandwagon/marketing-conclave-2020-how-companies-need-to-focus-on-product-development-over-marketing/2068199/

5) Decoding Dream11: https://brandequity.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/marketing/decoding-dream11/68576426

6) Dream11 as a Brand: https://www.afaqs.com/news/digital/54171_dream11-how-a-fantasy-gaming-app-became-a-brand

7) Sports Business Sensation: https://smallbusinessforum.co/how-to-become-next-fantasy-sport-business-sensation-like-dream11-e4f1b5ec952a

8) Dream11 Marketing: https://www.themarcomavenue.com/blog/how-dream11s-bang-on-marketing-helped-retain-5x-customers/

9) App Notifications: https://www.amplework.com/blog/how-to-develop-an-app-like-dream-11-a-complete-guide/

10) Dream11 Fantasy Sports: https://the-ken.com/story/fantasy-sport-dream11-betting-regulation/

11) Dream11 App Development: https://mindster.com/dream11-like-app-development/

12) Dream11 Business Model: https://www.simplanations.in/p/8-how-did-dream11-become-indias-first

13) Dream11 App Features: https://www.capermint.com/blog/develop-fantasy-cricket-app-like-dream11-and-my11circle/