World Brand Congress 2009: A tale of three channels

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | November 06, 2009
On the second day of the World Brand Congress 2009, representatives of HBO, Colors and NDTV Imagine presented the success stories of their brands in a knowledge sharing session

Clutter and monotony is something all brands strive to break. The significance of churning out a unique product has been emphasised on time and again. The television channel space is one where clutter is witnessed immensely, with every channel trying to get an upper hand on the other, often trying out tried and tested methods.

In a knowledge sharing session on the second and final day of the World Brand Congress 2009 in Mumbai, Shruti Bajpai, country head, HBO, Rameet Arora, marketing head, Colors, Viacom18 Media and Nikhil Madhok, vice-president, marketing, NDTV Imagine shared their marketing strategies behind the successes of the respective channels in India.

& #BANNER1 & #While Bajpai and Arora spoke about the launch strategies of HBO and Colors in India, Madhok spoke of how the much talked about and successful reality show, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar, turned around the fortunes of NDTV Imagine.

It's not TV, it's HBO

Bajpai began her presentation, titled Making Insights Happen - The HBO Lens, speaking of successful strategies that worked for HBO in the US.

She said how the category (television channels) empowers the viewer with 'ease to exit', referring to the power the viewer has to switch channels as and when he/she pleases.

"We realised that we needed to be the initiator of change. Monotony is a threat and hence we needed to marry change with innovation," said Bajpai.

As a part of these innovative strategies, HBO became the first cable TV channel in the US, the first channel to tie up with cable service providers for promotion and the first to offer free preview service.

"However, you cannot make a successful channel just on the back of technology, which can be substituted soon. Hence, we also looked at innovative content," she added.

HBO thus launched its much successful property - HBO Originals - that boasts of highly successful TV series such as Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, Entourage, Deadwood, Rome, Big Love and True Blood.

She emphasised the need to create the brand alive even when it is not on air, thereby selling exclusive merchandise of the shows.

"We did not lose sight of the fact that these shows could become bigger than the channel," she clarified, a problem tackled by the channel with a property called HBO Stories.

A set of ads, HBO Stories had two versions of a story, with the second featuring a twist in the script, with an unexpected ending that ended with the tagline, 'There are stories and there are HBO Stories'.

Another property created was HBO Voyeur, which was a theatrical multimedia experience and marketing campaign based on voyeurism.

Bajpai then spoke of how the channel was launched in Latin America, where it ran original HBO content as well as dubbed versions for mass appeal.

Moving to the channel's launch strategy in India in 2000, Bajpai recalled how the country was witnessing a cultural change during that period. The Indian mindset towards most things was changing as people began to get comfortable being more flamboyant, multiplexes were coming in and interesting cinema was being made.

Amid the many other movie channels, HBO had the option to launch a full-scale Hindi channel, Bajpai added.

However, HBO decided to "remain constant to its philosophy" and tied up with the four major studios in Hollywood to "bombard" the Indian viewers with blockbuster movies.

"English entertainment was still in a stage of infancy. People were still not comfortable with the western accent and many considered English cinema not suitable for family viewing," Bajpai revealed.

To deal with the observations made about the Indian viewer, the channel introduced movie subtitles, movie synopses between commercial breaks and full page print ads for movies.

The channel further decided to do away with the common notion that Hollywood is a male bastion by airing family movies, and also introduced the occasional Hindi dubbed movie to extend the channel and Hollywood's appeal beyond the metros.

"We have won several awards and have been recognised for our efforts. But at the end of the day, what we are most proud of is the fact that we are a profitable business," Bajpai remarked.

The 'Color'ful leader

Arora followed Bajpai with his presentation on the launch of the general entertainment channel, Colors, in India.

"It was a challenging market when we entered. There was lots of clutter. Every show and every channel looked the same," he said.

He, too, subscribed to Bajpai's theory of the 'ease to exit'. "The remote control is a fantastic thing when the viewer has it but not for the people behind the television channel," Arora quipped.

He stressed on the significance of consumer feedback, saying that the channel has more listening posts than speaking posts and does a lot of consumer research.

The choices Colors opted for during the launch, Arora said, were to be different by generating unique content and maintaining the "Indianness" by wanting to be "both Bharat and India".

"90 per cent of India is made up of single TV homes. This means that if the father is watching something, the children are watching it, too. If one wants to go mass, one must appeal to the family," Arora observed.

Comparing the programming of Colors to the 'Indian Thali', Arora said, "While the dal, vegetables, rice and roti are usual, it is the pickle, salad and the spices that add the flavour and bring the difference to the meal."

He said that Colors did not want to challenge the competition but be challenged.

"We behaved like leaders from day one," he said.

"The general tyranny of rules is created by marketers like us. It is perfectly fine to break rules that are not created by consumers," Arora added as he explained how the channel took on market leader STAR Plus by placing reality shows against soap operas during prime time, breaking long held notions about non-fiction shows working only on weekends.

"It was easy to be different when we launched. Differentiation is in our DNA. It is in everything we do. Being different and being consistent go hand-in-hand," said Arora as his closing remarks.

A Swayamvar well imagined

Madhok was next in line as he narrated how a reality show reversed the fortunes of NDTV Imagine in his presentation, titled Developing Content for Marketing and Media Effectiveness.

Within 15 months of its launch, NDTV Imagine was faced with the challenges of being unable to cross the 100 GRP mark, facing stiff competition from other GECs, new formats on other channels such as the Indian Premier League being successful and the inevitable recessionary environment.

"The plan to sustain was not just to do a campaign but develop content," Madhok said. In a gesture best referred to as humorous, he remarked how he was inspired by Colors and Rameet Arora and embarked on the 'reality show on weekdays' route.

"We planned to launch a non-fiction show that captured viewers at prime time and at the same time, involved low costs," said Madhok.

Thus was born the concept of Rakhi Ka Swayamwar, a show that was arguably the most talked about, whether hailed or hated, in recent times.

The marketing challenges with the show, according to Madhok, were the viewer's response to the concept and dismissing it as unbelievable, ridiculous and absurd, and the apprehension of advertisers.

"However, there was enough curiosity about the concept," Madhok said.

The channel approached the property with the intention of maintaining the credibility of the concept, conducting an actual Swayamvar and surprising the viewers with the content over the duration of the show.

To maintain authenticity, the promos featured actor Rakhi Sawant as a bride and not as the 'item-girl' she is otherwise popular for, called for entries and involved matrimonial ads and web sites.

The show, Madhok said, surprised the viewers by showing a "fully-clothed Rakhi", using a royal palace as a location, with regular 'next-door' imaged men as aspiring grooms and not showing the otherwise aggressive persona Sawant is known for.

The show received a tremendous response from advertisers after the first two episodes, claimed Madhok.

"We did not stop at the launch. We kept the message alive. We had limited resources but we ensured that there were press conferences where Rakhi (Sawant) answered all questions upfront, our radio campaigns where we used shehnai as the background music during the show launch and our Mid-Day print campaign, where we featured the bride as the 'Mid-Day Mate'," said Madhok.

The show found takers on the Internet as well, where it was a huge hit on the social networking sites and video sharing sites. Live chats, community and gaming furthered the show's popularity.

"A marketing show, conceived by the marketing team with the obvious help from the content team, catapulted the channel from the sub-100 GRP levels to over 100. Our market share improved and so did our viewership and we have maintained the same thereon," said Madhok.