The former army captain sinks into the sofa, exhausted. His pretty young wife (whom he met on a tour organized by Equino Fun Holidays) walks across stage in her high-heels, says, “You need some energy, darling,” and throws him a can of Rhinos, an energy drink.
That’s a scene from Knotty Affair, a play by Vandana Sajnani. And Equino and Rhino are real brands that have been written into the slapstick comedy’s script.
In what could be the latest twist in the trend of product placement, brands are written into the scripts of movies and television serials. Rhinos is an energy drink brand owned by Rhinos Energy Drink and Food AG, a German company, and Equino Fun Holidays is a division of Mumbai travel firm Travel Post Pvt. Ltd. These brands and a few others paid Rs1.5 lakh a show to Moksha Creations, the production house behind the play. That covered 50% of the play’s production cost.
Advertising executives say companies and advertisers are constantly on the lookout for ways to reach their customers, especially in an environment where a growth in the number of television channels, newspapers, Internet portals, radio stations and magazines has resulted in “fragmentation of audiences”.
“Theatre serves as a new avenue to do just that,” says Djitisha Bhonsle, business director, B-6 Integrated Entertainment, the branded entertainment division of Havas Media, a French marketing communications conglomerate.
Thus, plays, which have always been used as communications media by companies in the liquor and tobacco businesses—Indian laws prohibit them from advertising in publications and television channels, although several get around this by claiming to sell limited edition CDs or other products—have now become popular with telcos, banks, financial services and insurance firms, consumer products companies and travel firms. And production houses that were until now dependent on ticket sales and sponsorship can’t have enough of product placements.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to promote and sample their brands among upmarket consumers,” says Alyque Padamsee, the former head of Lintas India and a veteran of Mumbai’s theatre circuit.
Dell Computers India Pvt. Ltd tied up with Main Course Productions (MCP), a Mumbai-based theatre group, for its play Chanakyashastra. In return, the script had a bit where the protagonist spoke about Dell computers. MCP isn’t averse to writing in roles for brands in its plays. “We offer our advertisers several in-play branding and activation options,” says Ekta Dalal, head, marketing, MCP. “We also offer advertisers branding options on hoardings, tickets and play brochures,” she adds.
Theatre doesn’t have the scale of other media (such as movies or television) in terms of reach, but experts say that it allows advertisers an opportunity to reach a specific audience in a cost-efficient manner. “The impact quotient (for brands) is very high in theatre because of the performance being live. It works wonders if the brand integration is intelligent and seamless,” says Navin Shah, CEO, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd, a Percept Holdings company.
The ability of plays to narrow-cast messages at specific audiences encouraged Shree Raj Travels & Tours Ltd to part-sponsor a Gujarati play, Baa Ae Mari Boundary, when it travelled to London for a few shows. “We have a strong focus on inbound travel and the option available to us was to either advertise heavily in those international markets or use theatre as a tool to reach our target audience. The latter proved to be both economical and effective,” says Lalit Sheth, chairman and managing director, Shree Raj Travels & Tours. The company spent Rs 5.5 lakh for the association. “The association with the play allowed it (the firm) to interact personally with over 7,000 members of the Gujarati community in London,” says actor and producer J.D. Majethia, whose production house, HatsOff Productions, did the London shows.
Not all companies look at plays as marketing vehicles. Hutchison Essar Ltd has been associated with Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre Festival, Kolkata’s Odeon Theatre Festival and Bangalore’s Ranga Shankara, but Harit Nagpal, director, marketing, Hutchison Essar, says the company’s objective isn’t “economic gain” but to give the brand “a different social relevance.”
Even as production houses express their willingness to write in brands, Sanjana Kapoor, director, Prithvi Theatre, says that brands and producers need to be careful about the extent of involvement.
“There can be (brand) associations at various levels but you can’t meddle with creativity,” she adds. Kapoor speaks of a junior marketing manager who turned up at a recent rehearsal for a play his brand was associated with—to ensure it had enough visibility in the script.