Mumbai: Tune into any entertainment channel today and chances are you’ll be accosted by brands that have been cleverly woven into scripts. But as more brands fight for space on general entertainment channels, some advertisers are tuning into a medium that has traditionally been off limits for brand placement—television news.
During an episode of IF: India’s Future on NDTV 24X7, the English news channel, a discussion on the future of fashion was carried out at Cafe Nescafe in Gurgaon. Comprising designers such as Ritu Beri, Ashish Soni and Rohit Bal, the panel was seated near a brightly coloured Nescafe vending machine with a bright red coffee mug, globally associated with the instant coffee brand, placed in front of them. The channel maintains that no money was exchanged for the promotion and attributed the “freak instance” of product placement to a location tie-up.
Early this year, when Network 18 launched its real-time financial news agency NewsWire18, other group channels such as CNBC TV18 were seen promoting the site through aggressive branding in the form of bold, back of laptop, stickers screaming www.newswire18.com and branded coffee mugs that were rarely touched by the news anchors.
Again, ICI India Ltd tied up with Zee News to create a quasi news ad campaign to announce the launch of their new weather shield exterior paint. More recently, TV9 in Andhra Pradesh ran a campaign for Godrej Eon’s new XLCD TV sets, which was seamlessly integrated into the 10pm news bulletin.
“The idea is always to add to the efficacy of a particular communication,” says Clifford Pereira, director, Associated Broadcasting Co. Pvt. Ltd, the holding company for all TV9 network channels. While the company was very apprehensive about integrating a brand campaign into news bulletin, it did make an exception because “the communication wasn’t coaxing the consumer to buy a product, neither was it attempting to mislead them”.
This campaign cost the advertisers quite a packet. “It accounted for approximately 30% of our marketing budget for the launch,” said Ramesh Chembath, general manager-marketing, appliances, Godrej and Boyce Mfg Co. Ltd. However, the campaign helped achieve its two-month target of getting 60% of colour TV dealers in Andhra Pradesh to stock its product, in the first 15 days.
News channels can deliver engaged and informed audiences. But experts maintain that such innovations could also cost the news channel dearly as the arrangement may raise questions about the potential conflict between the message and news content. “Legitimacy and credibility are your only claim to fame,” says Zubin Driver, head of Cell18, a division of Television Eighteen India Ltd. “Once you’ve compromised that, you have nothing.” Which is probably why most news channels are averse to having branded content or brand placements during their news bulletins. “There is, what I like to call, a huge Chinese wall between editorial and marketing,” says Raj Nayak, chief executive of NDTV Media Ltd, adding that the company refrains from accepting any brand integration or promotion into hard news content. “News is off limits.”
Mint, which operates in the business news domain in print and online (including videos), follows a policy of clearly distinguishing between advertising and editorial content.
Traditionally departments such as editorial and marketing have always worked in different silos and attempts to insert advertiser-driven content is considered a threat to what is supposed to be unbiased, credible news reporting.
With the economy in rough shape, advertising spending has come under pressure. Being worst hit, news channels are looking to create different platforms, such as awards functions, lifestyle and entertainment shows, which could attract a wider range of advertisers, without compromising their credibility as unbiased, independent news companies.
This trend is also driven by the fact that most advertisers are wary of being associated with a property that is unpredictable. “Because there is no clear sense of what the (news) content will be, advertisers are always concerned about a negative rub-off on the brand,” says Gowthaman Ragothaman, managing director for South Asia at Mindshare, the flagship media buying agency of GroupM, part of WPP Group Plc., the London-based marketing communications group.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that news channels are off the radar for media planners. “News and movie channels are seen as the next best option to general entertainment channels,” says Ragothaman. “They deliver eyeballs.”