A group of teenagers cram into an SX4, the latest car from Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), and head out to the beach. Two of them later return to the car for a conversation which is not as private as it seems. Millions of

Judges Lalit Pandit, Alka Yagnik and Abhijeet Bhattacharya during a round of Amul Voice of India show.

It’s no secret that product placements within movies and television programmes are a popular way for advertisers to reach viewers, who are increasingly zapping commercial breaks. Product placements within reality shows are particularly drawing advertisers, since these shows have healthy viewership ratings. In the last week of August, Zee TV’s reality show, SaReGaMaPa Challenge 2007, notched 8.73 TVR (television viewership rating—representing the percentage of viewers in Hindi speaking markets that watched this programme), according to TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd. Reality shows are also strong on audience interaction; their enactments seem spontaneous and true. This enhances brand recall with viewers.

Says Gowtham Ragothaman, managing director of GroupM’s Mindshare: “Compared to general entertainment shows such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, reality shows are more focused on the youth segment. This makes the format very attractive to brands that want to be associated with youth. While these shows deliver to a niche audience, youth are also the most fickle audience. Typically, reality shows mean that higher involvement makes up for longer viewership."

Advertisers are tuning into these shows for branded content and in-film brand placement.

We’ve seen contestants on Star TV’s Amul Star Voice of India show practising on their Nokia phones. Again, L’Oreal Paris sponsored the makeover for Indian Idol contestants, while Scooty Pep from TVS Motor Co. India was featured prominently in another episode.

In a lyrical twist, Radio Mirchi FM 98.3 got contestants to play RJs on Sahara One’s reality show, Biggest Loser Jeetega. MTV’s Hero Honda Roadies saw contestants ride the latest bikes from Hero Honda Motors Ltd. The show also tied up with other brands such as Wrigley India Pvt. Ltd, Fastrack watches from Titan Industries Ltd, L’Oreal Paris and Castrol Motor Oil. Similarly, Channel [V]’s Launch Pad has placement tie-ups with Hard Rock Café, which hosts the performances. It also has placement deals with L’Oreal India’s Garnier Fructis, Bajaj Pulsar DTS-I, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverage Pvt. Ltd and Nokia India Pvt Ltd.

Reality shows register far greater audience involvement than most prime-time shows, say media specialists. Not surprisingly, consumer product and auto companies as also mobile service providers are sometimes paying as much as 80-100% premium for reality ad time over usual commercial rates, say media specialists. Ten-second ad time on Star Plus’ reality shows command as much as .7—1.8 lakh, while Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi would cost 1.5lakh for 10 seconds, they add. Product placements are hence also high-priced within reality shows, though rates vary with each tie-up.

Product placements on reality shows are clearly aimed at viewers tired of ad blitzkriegs. “Audiences’ affinity for the brand, or recall, is much higher in an interactive format as opposed to a daily soap, where viewers tend to develop a blind spot for branded content," says Navin Shah, chief operating officer, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd.

The format also lends itself very well to ‘Call to Action’ advertising. It hence serves as a great platform for companies such as mobile service providers, who could get viewers to message in their support for the contestants. For example, mobile service provider Airtel tied up with Indian Idol for SMS-based voting.

“Integration opportunities in a reality format are immense,’’ says Paritosh Joshi, president, advertising, sales and distribution, Star India Pvt. Ltd. He emphasizes that brands can seamlessly be a part of the visual imagery or be combined with the participants’ or judges’ natural behaviour.

Parallel viewing is considerably less in reality shows as the format is uncannily unpredictable. Also, every episode has a definite conclusion to that day’s occurrences. Hence, many viewers would watch nearly the entire episode, adds Joshi. The final episode for MTV’s Hero Honda Roadies scored high viewership. “Everybody wants to see what people do in a pressure-cooker environment," says Aditya Swamy, vice-president, marketing, MTV Networks India Pvt. Ltd.

Reality shows draw not just urban, but also rural viewership. These shows see more recruits and participants from small towns and cities, and hence they have become quite popular in these areas. “With over 300 TV channels available today, the audience is spoilt for choice. So, it makes sense for a brand like us to partner with a show that is popular across India," says Mayank Pareek, chief general manager, marketing, MSIL.

With so much going for reality shows, expect more brand heroes within these scripts.