Djitisha Bhonsle, business director, B-6, the branded entertainment division of advertising conglomerate Havas Media, is convinced that her trade, of featuring brands in movies, soaps, and assorted entertainment offerings, is older than most people think. And she is willing to risk sounding like a handbook of trivia to prove it.
In 1897, she says, the creators of the world’s first motion picture projector, brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere, embarked on making a short film with producer Henri Lavanchy-Clarke, who was also moonlighting as a publicist for Lever Brothers, the company everyone knows today as Unilever.
Their first short film together, Washing Day in Switzerland, featured several strategically-placed cases of Sunlight Soap. Customers taking Sunlight Soap wrappers to a viewing of the film also enjoyed half-price admission.
That’s not very different from what happens on some soap operas produced by Balaji Telefilms, a company behind several popular shows on Star Plus: every cellphone that rings on screendoes so in Idea Cellular’s signature ring tone. When four young couples from the popular daily soap Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi break into a song and dance routine, it is to the sound of the theme from Nikhil Advani’s film Salaam-e-Ishq, and with costumes and dance moves that are similar to boot. A character on weekend primetime show Ba, Bahoo aur Baby (again, on Star Plus), instructs his nieces and nephews on the benefits of a Dabur product. Another character, on another soap on Star Plus, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, insists on using Marico’s Parachute hair oil.
Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of the product-placement business, where brands are featured in shows and movies. Only, it’s no longer called that; advertising pros have a fancier name for it, branded entertainment. On business news channels, a solemn-looking analyst discusses stockmarket movements, against a backdrop bearing his firm’s name or logo. On Star Plus’ game show, Kaun Banega Crorepati, host ShahrukhKhan does find a way to promote HP’s brand Compaq Presario which is associated with the show, by referring to it as “Compaq bhai”, “Mr.Compaq” or “Compaq da”.
“The brands featured in the show fit so comfortably with the script that it doesn’t jar or put off the viewers,”says Paritosh Joshi, president, advertising, sales and distribution, Star TV.
Star TV recently set up a specialized unit internally to explore opportunities where brands could be integrated with the script of the show. Similarly, at TV18, a specialized unit for TV promos and content generation—The Cell— looks at branded entertainment.
Sony Entertainment Television (SET), has a special client servicing team for branded advertising that it created four years ago. This team works very closely with the internal sales team, the advertising agency and the client to understand the brand and work on the best integration possible, says Rohit Gupta, executive vice-president, Sony.
Branded entertainment has come a long way from the blatant in-your-face plugging of products (not too long ago, Balaji’s creative director Ektaa Kapoor tried to promote her brother’s first film in every serial the company produced, with mixed results) to more subtle efforts aimed at establishing a seamless connection with consumers. To be sure, integrating brands with the scripts of the shows, or branded entertainment is a win-win proposition for brands and content producers.
The ever-increasing brand clutter on TV—some 14,000 brands were advertised on television in 2006—is posing many challenges for advertisers. “With television becoming crowded with products of all kinds, brand recall among consumers is on the decline,” says a senior executive of a leading advertising agency.
Consumers, in fact, have started avoiding messages altogether, which is one of the biggest concerns among advertisers. Called ad avoidance in advertising lingo, it refers to the phenomenon of viewers zapping channels when an ad comes on.
“It (ad avoidance) is a reality today that advertisers have to deal with,” says Lynn de Souza, director, Lintas Media Services. According to a recent study conducted by Lintas Media, ad avoidance is as high as 77% among urban TV viewers.
To counter this, an increasing number of advertising agencies and television firms are now setting up dedicated divisions to explore possibilities of integrating brands with content. Madison Group, for instance, has Madison MATES, Starcom has Starcom Entertainment, Percept Holdings has P-9 Integrated, Group M has Mediaedge:cia, Lintas Group has Lintertainment, and Havas Media has B-6. Other firms are likely to launch specialized units for branded entertainment soon. TV channels such as SET, Star TV and TV18 are also looking at branded entertainment seriously.
“In today’s time, any newer media vehicle is on a growth path. The positive thing about branded entertainment is that it presents a mutually profitable opportunity for both content providers and brands,” says Darshana Bhalla, CEO, Madison MATES.
Content providers aren’t complaining. Branded entertainment has emerged as an alternative source of revenue for them. Brands, obviously, are not given a free ride over content; their managers have to pay a price for it.
According to people in the game, unlike regular advertising, there are no pre-set rates for such deals. “Advertising rates for commercial time are determined by rate cards, but branded entertainment deals are cut according to the exposure of the brand in the show and its level of involvement with the script,” says the marketing head of a leading general entertainment channel.
Yet, most advertisers and broadcast executives admitted that it is still cheaper than regular advertising.
For brands, the exercise makes sense because it not only helps them cut through the clutter and get the attention of involved consumers, but also does it in a cost-effective manner.
Some advertisers, however, caution that branded entertainment cannot replace traditional advertising. “Branded entertainment is not done to create awareness about products. For that, obviously, one would need to run dedicated campaigns. The idea behind branded entertainment is to reach out to our consumer at a different level,” says Pradeep Srivastava, chief marketing officer, Idea Cellular. Srivastava maintains that Idea’s ringtone-in-soaps effort has generated a lot of positive feedback for the brand.
Experts, however, warn that if badly done, branded entertainment can also put off consumers and hence, cause the brand substantial damage.
“Content producers and advertisers cannot afford to intrude on consumers,” says B-6’s Bhonsle.
“While there are dozens of independent out-of-briefcase deal makers, large agencies are upgrading their skills and have set up units that will hopefully bring in professionalism and drive accountability,” says Pranay Anthwal, general manager, Starcom Entertainment.