Brands get starring role in reality shows

Brands get starring role in reality shows

New Delhi: Contestants on Perfect Bride, a reality show on entertainment channel Star Plus, spent an episode last week shopping. They bought what appeared to be the only products available—Lux soap, India Gate basmati rice, and Red Label tea, brands that happen to be the show’s sponsors.

Loading video...

Instances such as this one are becoming common across reality shows across channels as lines blur between content and advertising.

On lifestyle channel NDTV Good Times, bikini-clad models participating in the The Hunt for the Kingfisher Calendar Girl 2010, pamper themselves with facial massages and other treatments from the show’s sponsor Kaya Skin Clinic. After stepping out of the clinic, the models give a first person account on how effective the Kaya treatment has been, a message reinforced by surprisingly similar ads from Kaya that air during the breaks.

“Advertisers are demanding more value for their investment in reality shows; merely placing a product in the backdrop does not do enough justice to the kind of money going in (to these shows)," said Kevin Vaz, executive vice-president, advertising sales, Star India.

Click here to watch a slideshow of product placements in popular reality shows.

That’s a view seconded by Rohit Gupta, president, network sales, Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSMPL), which runs channels such as Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and SET Max. “When advertisers pay triple the amount to be on a reality show, they also expect triple the amount of brand visibility."

While the two executives did not disclose the amount advertisers shell out for reality shows on their channels, they admitted that networks usually charge a 200-300% premium above regular advertising rates for product placements in programmes. The price is also a function of what the client wants. On offer are: passive product shots (where there is no interaction with the brand); an active placement (with limited interaction or activity around the brand); or “a hyperactive placement, meaning an aggressive use of product in the show", according to Vaz.

“In a hyperactive placement, a task could revolve around the brand in a reality show," said Rajesh Kamat, CEO of Viacom 18’s Colors. Currently, Bigg Boss on Colors appears like a case study on product placements with brands such as Vodafone, Max New York Life, Sunsilk and Lux active on the show. This is the third season of the big-ticket reality show in India.

According to the head of a Hindi entertainment channel who did not want to be identified, on average, a 10-second advertising spot on a top-rated reality shows sells for between Rs2 lakh and Rs3 lakh compared with the Rs1-1.5 lakh a spot of similar length goes for on a soap opera. That could mean a product placement deal could cost anything between Rs5 lakh and Rs10 lakh. None of the channel executives or advertisers was willing to discuss the cost of product placement, though such deals are usually multi-layered with a certain amount of advertising in addition to the product placements.

Still, despite the steep rates, advertisers are not complaining. They say reality shows provide them a platform that cuts across audience segments.

“The platform gives us an opportunity to educate the consumers and build awareness about our brand. We have a long-standing deal with NDTV which has various deliverables including commercial air-time. This tie up is a natural fit," said Suvodeep Das, head marketing, Kaya Skin Clinic.

To be sure, products have always been placed in films and television shows. What is new is the extent of advertiser involvement. The placement is rarely about visibility. Instead, it is about an aggressive exhibition of the brand’s core values. For instance, branded soft drinks and bottled water is still found on tables of judges of talent shows or in the refrigerators of participants in reality shows. This is a typical instance of passive product placement.

Parle Agro, however, has sought to do one better for its lemon drink LMN on Dance Premier League, the new dance competition on Sony. LMN is the show’s official beverage partner. After the dance performances, a branded trolley carrying packs of LMN is brought on to the stage to refresh and hydrate the participants and the judges. The commercial breaks on the show are labelled “LMN refreshing lemon drink break".

Some part of the trend of “active" and “hyperactive" product placements can be attributed to the emergence of reality shows where such placements can be more effectively engineered than on soap operas.

“Products are part of our life and reality shows, which are meant to be unscripted, automatically becomes an ideal platforms for advertisers to push their brand advantage," said Santosh Desai, chief executive, Future Brands Ltd.

“Brands follow eyeballs. Situational advertising has existed in movies for a long time and product placements have found their place on sitcoms and soaps. But now reality is a new entertainment format and its natural for brands to try their best to be visible in that environment," said Hari Krishnan, vice-president of advertising agency JWT India.

Thus, consumer electronics and home appliances company Haier India Co. Ltd is targeting its core audience by picking up the title sponsorship of Gladrags Mrs India 2010 contest that started on NDTV Imagine on 15 November. As part of the deal, the company has got the sets of the show wired with Haier appliances.

The trend of aggressive product placements has definitely benefited broadcasters. The marketing head of an entertainment channel said revenue from brand integration has suddenly jumped from 1% of revenue to 5% for his channel. Incidentally, India’s broadcast industry is following the US model in integrating brands in television content. If it were to follow the UK model, product placement on TV shows would not be easy. The UK media industry regulator Ofcom does not permit brand integration in television programmes.

India doesn’t have a regulator that looks at content and anything goes here said the head of a Hindi entertainment channel who did not want to be identified.

Still, an overdose of such product placements could make consumers indifferent to brands. ““Not so long ago, Bollywood went overboard with in-film placements and after a while, viewers just switched off," said Santosh Desai. “Now, on television, too, if we continue to offend consumer sensibilities, there will be a backlash after a point," he added.

“Channels need to know where to draw the line."