For those who maintain that product placement within serials is a myth, the Cadbury bash on Star Plus would be an eye-opener. Not so long ago, on the New Year Eve, the entire ‘Khichdi’ team had moved serial to serial greeting fellow actors with Cadbury’s chocolates. Or, let’s not forget the time when Armaan Suri (Apoorva Agnihotri) of the Gulmohar House-fame chose to wear an ‘Asmi Walli Ring’ while the bespectacled beauty Jassi gazed on with an impromptu ‘Bohot Acchi Hain’. The wedding episode of Kum Kum was also an epic in itself with the glassy eyed female protagonist dressed from nails to neck in De Beers Diamond Vivaha Jewellery.
These are just three instances of brand placement within serials. Others would be brand placements in game shows such as ‘Khulja Sim Sim’ and ‘Jeeto Chappar Phaad Ke’ wherein the shows not only displayed the products but also briefly described them to viewers. One might recall the time when Balaji Telefilms developed a sudden soft spot for Australia, as a part of Australia Tourism Commission’s strategy to attract Indian visitors.
In the West, brand placement has always been a norm for small screen entertainment. Global wizards elucidate their point in a way that’s simple enough: It’s a branding opportunity that guarantees sizeable visibility without intrusion, and in the process, acts as a source of rampant revenue for broadcasters. The underlying implication is – if you are in the business of peddling dreams why not peddle a few brands as well? Which explains why Coca Cola invested millions of dollars in a popular teenage television series titled ‘Young Americans’ or Saab 93 SE car brand preferred partying with a sizeable sum just to be driven by a nightclub owner in the show East Enders.
Says Sameer Nair, COO, Star India: “What was done with Cadbury’s was more of a goodwill gesture than anything else. Cadbury’s is a prized client and we wanted to convey our appreciation, by taking on something special for New Year. It can’t really be called ‘brand placement’ as the initiative was never really weaved into any particular storyline. The biggest issue with brand placement is that we are not really sure as to what can be charged monetarily from a client, for a particular scene. Again, the client needs to be assured of a good deal. The reality remains that there is no fixed charges for brand placement in serials. And, unfortunately, it’s not a free lunch.”
“The other aspect is that, product placement of any kind needs to be well integrated into the storyline, without which, it would stick out like a sore thumb. The average viewer watches so many commercials on television that an integration of the same within a serial could prove to be extremely intrusive. I believe brand placement is an art and a science in itself and it calls for plenty of planning and thought,” he adds.
But if brands have been incorporated well within the storylines of films for so long, why would a different rule apply to soaps and suds? Rajesh Pavithran, COO, Balaji Telefilms states, “It’s different with serials. There are too many commercial breaks already, and if a brand stands overt and intrusive within the serials as well, it could tire the viewer. These days the depiction of various brands within serials is more or less by default. If a character within a serial walks into a shopping mall, the frame would naturally capture some of the brands that are on display. But as a deliberate strategy, broadcasters are not approaching us for tailor-made storylines that feature brands. Perhaps things would be different in a CAS scenario, wherein channels would be seeking newer avenues of revenue generation. Product placement would then emerge stronger.”
Sony Entertainment Television, however, begs to differ. The channel has successfully translated brands into showbiz, and the move has reaped revenues. Commenting on a scene where Jassi and her buddy Nandu examine the finer aspects of a flashy new Zen, a senior official from Maruti Udyog remarks: “The mandate before Sony was to integrate our brand in such a way, that the effort seems relatively seamless. Our association with the show has been a positively fruitful experience for us since Jassi is a show that’s watched and enjoyed by people across the spectrum. Visibility is the middle name for any such initiative and we believe that we have derived more than enough through this little effort.”
A client’s word is enough an encouragement to fall back on. Albert Almeida, Senior Vice President (Marketing), Sony Entertainment Television, remarks: “We believe that in-serial product placement is a remarkable way of getting brands to interact with consumers. There can be no better way of getting through to your desired audience than by getting your brand message seamlessly integrated into a popular storyline. We certainly see a trend in this direction as clients are on the lookout for customised options.”
Then why aren’t most other channels just as forthright about in-serial product placement? Almeida answers, “I am afraid to comment on behalf of other channels. But we, at Sony firmly believe that in-serial product placement is a powerful tool, when used intelligently and works well for both the marketer and the broadcaster. We believe that we can expand this space still further; an example would be the brand proposition of Kelloggs ‘Dimaag Chalega Nahin Daudega’, which was packaged with a few bytes of Jassi. A parallel was drawn between the values of the brand and the sharpness of Jassi’s mind. The piece not only sent the brand message across in the best way possible, but it also promoted the show and the character Jassi to a good extent.”
It’s a cross over between commercials and television suds. But it’s also a trend, that’s likely to be manipulated a lot more effectively in the times to come. As television gets more and more fragmented everyday, the need of the hour is for new and innovative options. Which is why the marriage of brands within tentative story lines, could be a quick fix solution for most brand woes.