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Thursday, November 01, 2001

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When brands become stars


Harsha Subramaniam

`Evolution' is a flick that belongs to the Jurassic Park genre. The storyline goes like this : Alien-life forms find their way into our planet. Scientists are discovering ways to destroy them. After some research, they find the answer. No, it's not a retired cop or a hunk of a hero who comes to rescue the world. Instead... well... it's a brand of shampoo. Sounds ridiculous? Let's explain. This brand of shampoo contains a certain chemical which destroys dandruff and dinosaurs. So shampoo saves the world and we live happily ever after.

The movie ends. This story begins.

This is a classic example of `in-film advertising' - a brand using the medium of cinema to promote its message. A number of marketers are now using movies to project the core values of their brands. In-film advertising, in its most effective form, is about a brand being a part of the cinema's content. Many global brands are now turning to this medium for the sheer impact that a movie can make on its audiences. Take for instance, the Hollywood flick `What Women Want'. This Mel Gibson starrer has a Nike commercial as part of the script. It gels with the script so well that you don't realise you're watching a commercial camouflaged in the screenplay.

Brands promoting films

Earlier, in-film advertising was merely brand placement. The brand was just a part of the scene as a prop, an accessory or as the backdrop, at the most. In return, the advertiser sponsored the movie's publicity and promotions.``Brands associate themselves with film promos because they get huge discounts on airtime on channels. It is good exposure at a low cost,'' says a media planner.

For instance, HLL's brands such as Bru, Taaza and 3 Roses have been sponsoring film promos. Bru was associated with the promos of Manirathnam's Alaipayuthey. Recently, 3 Roses, the largest selling tea brand in the South, was involved in jointly promoting a Telugu movie, Prematho Ra, produced by actor-producer Venkatesh. This co-branding exercise in theatres also had on-pack contests where winners would get a role in Venkatesh's next movie. There have been other localised promotions. For example, 3 Roses, was also associated with the Madhavan starrer Dum Dum Dum, where the perfect couple in a show would get a prize.

Brands - a part of the story

However, advertisers are now looking at in-film advertising for more than just presence. They expect the brand to naturally weave in with the story.``Just being there in the film is not good enough, there has to be thematic connect. The brand's message has to be crafted into the story in the most subtle way possible,'' says J. Rajeev Choudhry, Entertainment and Media consultant. He explains that it is important for the film's content to be customised to carry the brand's message to the audience. For instance, Cadbury's Five Star has associated itself with a Tamil movie called Choklet which depicts youth and fun. There is even a song in the movie which goes `Five Star, Five Star'.

In-film, however, is not about a brand entering the screen at every possible opportunity.``The picturisation of the scene should be such that the audience does not get the feeling that the brand is an intruder and has made an appearance only because the brand has paid some money to the film-maker,'' says Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison Communications.

Marketers also expect a brand to be associated only with a story which is relevant to the value that the brand potrays.

``There has to be a `brandfit' between the story line and

what the brand stands for,''says U. Jayraj Rau, Vice-President & Client Services Director, HTA.

Why in-film?

``It's about building a connect,''says Rau, explaining the need for brands to look at an alternative medium. He explains that as brands evolve, they need to look beyond the conventional (print, TV and outdoor) media. ``Mature brands are already well- known. They don't need to build awareness, they need to create relationships,'' he adds.

However, Sam Balsara believes that new brands or new product categories stand to gain more from in-film advertising rather than well-known brands. ``Established brands could just become a part of the scenery and not even be noticed,'' he adds. But both agree that this medium is for sheer impact and not for numbers.

Marketers believe films can only be a supportive medium. V.S. Sitaraman, Controller (Beverages), HLL, says that a TV commercial is the primary source of communication for the benefits and the imagery of a brand. He says,``In-film can only provide one more meeting place for the brand and its consumers. It can establish a larger-than-life image in the minds of the consumer.''

Risks involved

There are certain inherent risks in in-film advertising. First, there is a risk of the movie failing to appeal to the audience. For instance, Coca-Cola and Pass Pass were associated with Subhash Ghai's `Yaadein', but the film flopped. So, unless the movie clicks, the brand's association with it is futile. ``There is a risk of a negative fallout on the brand if the film fails,'' says Sam Balsara. But some advertisers seem to be willing to take the risk. After `Yaadein', the brand `Pass Pass' is now associating itself with a regional movie, titled `123'. In most cases, the advertiser has little control over the content. Even if he does, it is impossible for him to ensure that the movie will work.

Also, there are no specific standards for advertising in this medium. ``How would you work out the price? There are no rate cards or verifiable figures,'' says K.Hariharan of Showspace Solutions, an event and exhibition company.

From a producer's point of view, it is all about covering his costs. But costs vary depending on the quality and the quantity of the resources employed. And there is no way a brand manager can question the rationale of production costs. Added to this, advertisers also have their own limitations of budgets to worry about.``Being an incidental medium, only a small percentage of the total budget can be used. I don't think in most cases the brand derives the benefit it expects,'' says Balsara.

Experts believe that the medium, at best, can be used only on an ad hoc basis. Sam Balsara says a brand cannot plan to use this medium.``If and when a good script comes up that fits the brand properties, only then it can be used,'' he adds.

Despite these apprehensions, many believe there is tremendous potential and scope for growth in this medium.

``The future is all about the producer, the brand and the communication expert coming together and working out an idea or a story board,''says Jayraj Rau. ``Everyday some producer is calling us to rope in some brand for his movie,'' adds Hariharan. But all of them categorically rule out brands becoming producers themselves. But then who knows?

There is a new Tamil movie called *Three Roses in the pipeline. HLL says it has nothing to do with the film's title, but then, it does not deny that it may associate with the film at a later stage. Brands have a greater role than being mere ambassadors - they also have to become stars.

 
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