Brands queue up for television couples

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 19, 2011
On-screen television couples seem to be the latest favourite for brands when it comes to endorsements. What's interesting is that these creative strategies are backed by effective media plans as well.

For more than 80 years, the lead female actor of each era - from Leela Chitnis to Katrina Kaif - has been the face of Lux except for disruptions like Shah Rukh Khan, something which happens once in a few decades.

Lux bent the rules on yet another occasion. Sharing screen space with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a Lux commercial was on-screen couple Archana and Manav, from the popular daily soap Pavitra Rishta.

This isn't the only example. Dulux Paints, too, has used two other popular on-screen television couples - Tej and Toasty from Sony's Saas Bina Sasural, and Arnav and Khusi from Star Plus' Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon.

Lately, Hyundai Eon, the newly-launched brand, has featured Toasty and Tej from Saas Bina Sasural, and Vikram and his on-screen wife Neha from Bade Achche Lagte Hai in its latest commercials.

So, what's drawing these brands to television couples? What's interesting is that these couples are not there to sell the brands as celebrities or actors, but portray their on-screen character in the endorsements.

Shailesh Kapoor, chief executive officer, Ormax Media, which specialises in television content research, says, "Film stars bring their personal equity and brand values to the table, which have little to do with a particular film of theirs. On the other hand, TV stars are all about the characters they play. Hence, the strategy will work only if their character fits in with the brand's values."

For instance, a certain character may be traditional, while another may be fun-loving.Yet another may be strong and empowered. Such characteristicsmay be considered while trying to fit the stars with the brand they will endorse.

Saurabh Dasgupta, executive creative director, Innocean Worldwide, agrees. "Television characters come with certain pre-established positions. It's about integrating the values of the brand with these positions, as well asintegrate the values of the brand with certain 'GEC sensibilities', or 'TV serial values'", says Dasgupta.

While these characters try to fit with the brand positioning, ad film makers also try to find a fit with the storyline of the commercial. For instance, each hit pair has its own history, its own story. Brands exploit this very story that the characters bring along with them to the 30-second spot.

Dasgupta explains, "Usually, in ads, one needs to write a script, build characters, define their characteristics, and get someone to play those defined roles -- all this in a few seconds. But, by casting an already established couple, known and accepted as husband and wife by the target audiences, half the job is already done."

We have all seen television stars endorse brands in their personal capacity, or as characters. But, in most cases, the value of television actors remains intact only if cast as a pair.

The star equity draws on the power they wield as an adored on-screen pair. This power is a function of the popularity of their respective characters in the serials. "They may not be too high on the traditional 'celeb-quotient' as individuals, but ooze appeal when coupled in an ad," says an ad veteran.

One explanation is that brands attempt to leverage the relatability of these couples as audiences can identify with them more than they can with traditional celebrity endorsers. "There's a certain warmth these characters possess," says Anita Nayyar, CEO, MPG, India and South Asia.

They are people whom family audiences 'meet', almost every evening for an hour, and gradually become a part of the household. The couples are more relatable, more accessible, and viewers are less in awe of them as they come across as more accessible when they appear on TV to endorse a product. They lack the aura of film stars or sportspersons. Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, Ogilvy India, says, "It all boils down to the bond between the audience and the couple."

Media strategy and channel promotion

To increase the effectiveness of these ads, their placement is strategically chalked out in such a way that they are most viewed by those very audiences who watch the serials.

The ads are placed right before, soon after, or during that particular serial, and appear only on that particular channel. Therefore, the use of these popular TV couples has less to do with product endorsement and advertising, and more to do with the promotion of that specific channel.

Some call this placement advertising or integration. Consider the latest TVCs - a mix of 10 and 60-second edits -- for Hyundai Eon.

The ad films for the brand are played when these serials are on air, on customised spots on the channel, and the treatment is not by the route of traditional brand endorsements.

It's more about a strong media strategy that aids the promotion of both Sony TV and these serials as that's the primary goal. The association with a product -- Hyundai Eon in this case -- is a secondary aspect.

Nayyar of MPG, (the agency that has worked on the media strategy for Hyundai Eon), explains how this works. It basically has a dual benefit as it helps the brand by way of 'subtle endorsement', and helps the channel to promote the serial in which these popular faces play key roles.

"Eon is a car positioned in the lower segment, and therefore, needed to have mass appeal. " Sony Network was identified as the ideal launch partner for the car," Nayyar shares. On the day of the launch, the media agency did a virtual roadblock on the Sony Network, to ensure an instant connect with the brand's TG (target group), namely, the viewers of these serials.

Short-lived glory?

Whether they're used as out-and-out brand ambassadors or channel promoters, a general word of caution prevails: The equity and brand value the couples come with have an expiry date. Firstly, the relevance of the couples as viable brand endorsers -- whether it's for regular brands or the TV channel -- is a direct function of their on-screen popularity, which in turn, is a function of the TVRs that the respective serial garnersing. Thus, casting them in an ad is a very topical and tactical formula.

Says Navin Khemka, senior vice-president, ZenithOptimedia, "It's about a local connect at any one given point in time. This cannot be a long-term strategy for any brand."

Casting Rai Bachchan in a Lux TVC is probably part of the brand's long-term strategy, but featuring Manav and Archana in the commercial is a mere short-term solution, the effect of which will last for only a fixed period of time.

Even brands know that the couple is not long-term brand property. "Clients ride on the couples' current wave of popularity," says Avasthi.

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