Rival brands ride Diwali blockbusters

Rival brands ride Diwali blockbusters

Come Friday, and the big fight in India won’t just be between Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om (OSO) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, which will be slugging it out for honours as the year’s biggest Diwali blockbuster. The fight will also be between rival retail chains, television makers, broadcasters and mobile phone makers, that are piggybacking on the two films.

Thus, while Kishore Biyani’s Future Group is rolling out elaborate furnishings, apparel and other merchandise branded with the Saawariya theme, rival Shopper’s Stop Ltd has four separate apparel brands inspired by OSO—and most of these are endorsed by the film’s cast, Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Arjun Rampal.

See: Off-screen war (PDF)

That’s because cinema is the only thing “that can deliver as many eyeballs as cricket", says Sooraj Bhalla, director (creative & content), Madison Teamworks Film Promotion & Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, the company managing OSO’s brand associations.

The market for such associations could grow to Rs800 crore in 2010 from Rs200 crore today, according to Navin Shah, chief executive officer, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd, which is handling the associations for Saawariya. Such associations will only increase in the future, adds Harshvardhan Gangurde, manager (marketing), SPE Films India Pvt. Ltd, the co-producer of Saawariya.

The brand rivalries, which are already playing out and will reach a climax on Friday, aren’t restricted to the retail and mobile phone companies.

Consumer electronics maker Sony Electronics is associated with Saawariya, while Videocon Industries Ltd is rooting for its ambassador Khan with special promotions centred on OSO.

And while Saawariya has associated itself with Sony Entertainment Television India, CNN-IBN and Channel [V] India, OSO has picked Star India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi Television India Ltd and MTV Networks India Pvt. Ltd, with each channel promoting “exclusive interviews" and content for the films—all during during prime time.

Mobile telephony company Bharti Airtel Ltd had signed a contract with Saawariya for content such as ringtones and wallpapers, but people familiar with the developments say the company stopped promoting the association because its brand ambassador Khan, the star of OSO, wasn’t particularly happy with the deal.

OSO is currently trying to clinch a deal with Bharti Airtel, added one of these people.

Saawariya is the first Bollywood production of SPE, a Sony company, and the firm has clearly pulled out all stops, including roping in all associate companies, to make the film a success.

“The amount of money riding on both these projects is mind-boggling," says Komal Nahata, editor, Film Information and The Film Street Journal. He estimates that this is the first time in Bollywood history that the stakes have been this high.

While production costs for Saawariya and OSO are pegged at Rs40 crore and Rs35 crore, respectively, their marketing budgets, independent of all endorsements and associations, are said to be in the Rs5 crore range, a first for Bollywood, where films “rarely spend so much, and if at all they do, it’s never more than Rs3 crore," Nahata says.

The excitement and money riding on these two projects is understandable; the holiday season has always been a good time for film launches.

“Diwali, traditionally has been a great time for films launches, as everyone is in the holiday spirit—in the mood to celebrate and spend," says Santosh Desai, managing director & CEO, Future Brands.

This time, Diwali falls on Friday. All educational institutions, companies and government departments are closed on Friday, and most on Saturday too, making the coming weekend a long one.

According to Gowthaman Ragothaman, managing director, Mindshare India, a media-buying firm, the fact that both films are “Diwali releases" gives companies an opportunity to write them into their marketing and promotional plans. Much of this activity peaks in the festive season.

Experts predict it’s going to be a “win-win situation" for all brands associated with the films. “...with all the media hype...a lot of people are going to be tempted to watch both films to compare notes," says Nahata.