India’s biggest advertiser Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) plans to launch 15 television programmes built around its brands on various TV channels because it does not want these brands to be lost in the clutter of commercials that appear along with other popular programmes.
“We are exploring such shows for many of our brands. We have sent out at least 15 such briefs...and most of these are in some stage of development already,” said Rahul Welde, general manager (media services), HUL.
The company, which spent Rs1,273 crore on advertising and promotion in fiscal 2006-07, and around 60% of this on TV, believes such shows will help its brands connect better with customers.
Welde said such shows would not replace regular advertising, but “only bolster our usual advertising (on TV)”.
To be sure, ad breaks across TV channels are increasingly becoming crowded, and a recent study by Media E2E, a firm that measures the efficacy of branded content, said most consumers skip these breaks.
Many companies have explored innovative ways to address this issue. Some have tried brand placements or having their brands positioned in TV shows. Others have tried sponsorships.
HUL’s efforts to build programmes around its brands belongs to a relatively recent genre called advertiser funded programmes, or AFPs. In these, an advertiser funds a show in return for having its brand woven into the script or shown in such a way that it unobtrusively blends into the programme.
The company plans to have independent TV production companies to produce its shows, which will later be sold to TV channels.
HUL’s move is inspired by the success of one such show, Wheel Smart Shrimati, launched last year on Doordarshan, the state-owned broadcaster. Wheel is HUL’s leading detergent brand and contributes around 50% to the revenues of the company’s laundry business.
Wheel Smart Shrimati, which is still on air, is a game show that fetes homemakers who are intelligent and resourceful.
HUL claims that the show has been among the Top 5 programmes on the channel and its popularity has built huge “franchise” among its target consumers.
In an unrelated interview in September, the head of HUL’s home care business had said that unique marketing and advertising initiatives had helped Wheel increase its market share by 2 percentage points to 18.3% in the quarter ended June 2007 against the same period a year ago.
HUL’s planned AFPs will be for its other popular brands and will air on other cable and satellite channels.
Media experts say that the increasing clutter (of advertisements) on TV is one reason why companies such as HUL are investing in AFPs.
“A 30-second commercial is not enough in today’s time to catch the consumer’s fancy. Also, research shows that the number of people watching a programme is always more than the number of people watching commercials. So, it makes strategic sense to be inside the content than outside it,” said Atul Phadnis, chief executive officer and chief evangelist, Media E2E.
According to Media E2E, companies spent around Rs435 crore on branded content in 2006 and such spends are growing at 25% a year.
An executive whose company produces an AFP for HUL said companies had to tread the AFP route carefully.
“The line between regular ads and AFP is very thin. AFP is like a marathon while regular advertising is a sprint. It (using AFPs) requires invisible strategies. It is important for the brand to have a subtle appearance in the show to ensure a better acceptance among consumers,” said Ravina Raj Kohli, chairman and managing director, Sundial Creative Media Pvt. Ltd, the company that produces Wheel Smart Shrimati for HUL.
Media E2E’s Phadnis agrees: “It demands a balance between the content and the brand. The audience doesn’t like the story line to be varied to accommodate the brand.”