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Riding piggy back: In-film branding evolves to brand integration in storyline

Not just in Bollywood blockbusters, more and more brands are using television as well as regional movies to promote their products and services to a larger audience. ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, ‘Krrish 3’, ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ are among the best examples of this integration process

Riding piggy back: In-film branding evolves to brand integration in storyline

Not just in Bollywood blockbusters, more and more brands are using television as well as regional movies to promote their products and services to a larger audience. ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, ‘Krrish 3’, ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ are among the best examples of this integration process

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | January 21, 2014


  • When Priyanka Chopra has to be hospitalised in Krrish 3, we notice not just the characters of the movie, but also the brand name of Fortis Hospitals quite prominently displayed on the screen.
  • Anushka Sharma is an aspiring television reporter aiming to work for Discovery Channel in Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
  • Shahrukh Khan boldly rattles off the features of a Nokia phone in Chennai Express.
  • Hrithik Roshan drinks Bournvita to be the smart kid in Koi Mil Gaya.

Far from being accidental coincidences, these were all well-placed and well-thought of brand placements within films. Gone are the days of product placements in films. The game has become more sophisticated. As more and more marketers realise that Bollywood is the biggest medium to reach the masses, they are keen to take a piggy-back ride to promote their products and services to the target audience.

Ameya Sule Ameya Sule

"The way we describe it, in-film branding is about a brand being seamlessly integrated into the plot of a movie. This is usually done from the scripting stage itself, so that it doesn't look forced or unnatural," said Ameya Sule, Business Director, GroupM ESP.

In-film branding is not a new phenomenon at all, though maybe with big budget movies nowadays, we notice it more. Hollywood had woken up to it long ago (think of the Aston Martins in Bond movies). Bollywood too had shown early signs of embracing the marketing strategy in movies like Bobby - with the Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia duo riding a Rajdoot. Not old enough? Look at the Ashok Kumar starrer Chalti Ka Naam Gadi - way back in the 40s. That film found a mention - probably for the first time - of Coca-Cola. In recent years, Hyundai Santo was seen in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Fed-Ex in Swades, in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, Frankfinn in Dum Maro Dum, McDonald’s in Chak De India, and Mahindra Flyte in 3 Idiots.

This form of covert advertising is gaining popularity because of its clutter-free nature. The added advantage is the possibility of a celebrity endorsement and the obvious cost factor.

Winners All So, a brand gets displayed in the movie for a bit. Or maybe gets a mention as well. But is that reason enough for someone to agree to tie up with a movie?

Pritie Jadhav Pritie Jadhav

"As individuals we want to be seen using products that celebrities use or recommend. We like a product, and then our favourite star comes along and tells us he uses the same thing, and then we are doubly assured. This is from the perspective of the viewer. But the brand has huge financial advantage as well. This one-time cost for placing your brand in the film is going to be a fraction of advertising on screen or signing on a celebrity endorser," points out Pritie Jadhav, former COO, P9 Integrated, a division of Percept Ltd.

Not just that, for any brand, once it is integrated into a movie, no one will be editing it out. Then, even after the movie leaves the theatres, the brand still enjoys eyeballs every time it is played on television or even if someone watches it on DVD. And no one can change the channels, like they can with traditional advertising, without missing the plot.

For the film-maker also, there are benefits. There is, in most cases, a financial transaction that takes place which covers at least part of the shoot for any movie. Sometimes it is done through a barter system. Like Audi arranging for their cars to be used in Bodyguard. Or a specific drinking water brand supplying water for the entire crew during a film's shoot.

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

"Basically when you are trying to catch the attention of the viewer you enjoy a certain advantage. When you watch a movie in a theatre, it is a nice environment for ads and maybe a product launch. There are no ad breaks in this case. You can get your product endorsed by stars without making them your brand ambassador and not to mention the cost-effectiveness of the whole thing. For a filmmaker, too, such integration can help him recover some of his production costs," said Lloyd Mathias, Director, Green Bean Ventures.

What is Successful in-Film Branding Product placement in a film has to be done keeping in mind the plot and character. If a character doesn't seem the part or the plot doesn't stand by what the brand is about, the integration would fall flat.

Rajiv Bakshi Rajiv Bakshi

"We tied up with Jab Tak Hai Jaan where Anushka's character is seen making a documentary for Discovery. The whole story about SRK and Katrina evolves through this. Thus, Discovery wasn't just a mention, but a pivotal part of the film. We decided that it made sense because the plot was strong, and JTHJ was from the Yash Raj Studios – which meant they were credible and the stars involved would be big," said Rajiv Bakshi, Vice-President – Marketing (South Asia), Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific

The marriage between non-fiction (Discovery) and fiction (JTHJ) was done beautifully and the brand was involved with the process from day one. They had a say in how the logo would be placed, how the character would behave and even managed to shoot the climax at the Discovery London office. In the film, viewers could see the cohesive branding with the crew members in Discovery T-shirts, using Discovery branded stationery and Anushka’s Discovery branded camera. The movie not only established Discovery Channel’s core brand values of credibility and trust but also helped it garner its share of voice among the plethora of promotions around the film. The impact multiplied with the film's success. JTHJ went on to being the highest opening Bollywood film ever in the US, the UK, Australia and the Middle East.

"We would say it was more of brand integration than branding inside the film. The end results were good with positive responses coming in and the reach growing both in terms of deliverable and viewer experience. With the DVDs hitting the stores, the brand would always be a part of the YRF legacy," Bakshi said.

Another brand that saw good results was Maruti Suzuki. The brand is not just featured, but is also mentioned in the title of the recent Bollywood movie Mere Dad ki Maruti. After the movie's release, which in itself was not a big-budget, highly promoted one, the sales of Maruti Ertiga went up. The movie had a hard-selling pitch for the carmaker's latest SUV. According to industry reports, this is not just a brand integration story but also one where the brand has funded the production cost of the project in parts.

Manohar Bhat Manohar Bhat

"Since we were launching a new model, it made sense for us to promote it in as many ways as possible. We realised that movies were the single biggest medium and our target group was also the same people who went to watch these movies. After the launch of the movie the key performance indicators of the car went up. The brand recall is also rising. However, this has not been the first time nor will it be the last that we have used movies to market our cars," pointed out Manohar Bhat, Vice-President, Marketing, Maruti Suzuki India.

These are different sorts of integration. There can be active or passive integration, there can be verbal mentions, there can be co-branded movies, etc. However, the point on which everyone agrees is that it has to be seamlessly weaved into the plot of the movie.

Dhruv Jha Dhruv Jha

"Any kind of integration has to be there and yet not shout. You cannot force it on the script or the content, which would be contradictory to the whole idea. If there is a movie about adventure or something young and rebellious, maybe a Thums Up will work, whereas a feel good movie can have Coke in it. You have to understand the character of the movie itself," said Dhruv Jha, General Manager, IPG Mediabrands.

The Changes Now According to Jha, one can also create a whole lot of 360-degree marketing around a film, instead of just placing the product in the film. Like Microsoft did for Don 2. An online contest was arranged whereby one had to shoot a picture with the family having fun (what Microsoft basically stands for - Fun times, together), and post it on social media websites. A TVC was created with scenes from the film as well. The contest winners stood a chance to meet Shahrukh Khan. Therefore, the movie star had to endorse not just the movie in this case, but was also promoting the product. Similarly for Talaash, there was the launch of Windows 8. For Krrish, a game was launched which could only be played on Microsoft. While the estimate was 2.5 lakh downloads, the company saw around 25 lakh downloads in the first three weeks itself. This goes to show how pre-hype of a movie franchise can work wonders for a brand as well.

That it is a trend on the rise is apparent by the number of deals going on at the moment – from MetLife being featured in the forthcoming Happy New Year to Tata Motors tying up with Singham 2. In regional cinema too the story is no different. In the Bengali movie, Antaheen, the heroine is seen to oil her hair with a particular brand of hair oil, while in the Telugu film Anukokunda Oka Roju, Real juice is promoted nicely.

Television is catching up as well. Tata Motors launched a new variant of its Safari Storme with the show '24' on Colors.

New Technology As a matter of fact, a new technology is already in India which lets one place a product in a particular show after the production. MirriAd is the patented technology that embeds products into content that has already been shot. The content is fed into a server from where a machine picks up the most impact locations where a product can be placed. This offers flexibility and choice of what to pick and what not to pick. Brands also get to be aware of how the brand and content is looking before it actually goes on air.

Tejaswini Aparanji Tejaswini Aparanji

"One of the biggest problems of product placements is the service deeds. Not to mention that it takes a really long time to actually get done. Therefore, we cut cost and time and help in product placement through digital technology. We also have content analysts to narrow down our search. They conduct a hygiene check on the blue boxed slots. In the second phase, a brand manager gets a catalogue of the various points where his brand can be displayed. So we give several options, unlike the traditional in-film branding,” said Tejaswini Aparanji, Commercial Head, Asia, MirriAd.

“In India, Zee TV is exclusively offering this technology to brands and we are seeing quite a bit of traction in the market. Brands have always wanted to be a part of primetime Hindi fiction shows. However, given the short timeline between shooting and airing, this made placements difficult. But with our technology, Zee is now able to help brands place products seamlessly and effectively," Aparanji added.

How Much is Too Much? This double reach out to the production house and the brand is not a foolproof way to get your brand some eyeballs. If there are too many brands involved in a single film, it can lead to disaster. The audience certainly doesn't want to come home thinking only about the brands and not about the movie.

"The point is how seamlessly the product can be integrated into a movie. If the plot requires it, only then should it be part of it. In a 2-3 hour movie, four or five brands should be more than enough," pointed out Sule of GroupM.

IPG Mediabrands’ Jha agrees, saying that too many brands in a single movie can look very ugly. “While it won't let one get mega bucks, it may just destroy the brand's reputation and image,” he said.

As Tejaswini explained, a fleeting glance of a beverage on a table may not meet brand recognition and recall goals – where an overexposure of the same beverage on every single table scene “crosses the comfort threshold”.

Moreover, if a movie doesn't do well, there is a chance that the brand, especially a new one, will be negatively impacted by it. There is also the challenge that if a celebrity endorses a certain brand, its competing brand cannot be part of the movie he or she is acting in. Keeping all these things in mind and yet managing to gently place a brand for all to see is what brand placement in movies is all about. Increasingly, it is becoming more of integrating a brand in the script itself rather than placing it somewhere a few times. In-film branding has moved a few significant notches up – to the brand’s integration in a film.

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