With an aim to build brand VH1 beyond television, the international music channel from the Viacom18 stable has entered into about 410 partnerships in six major cities and plans to extend this to 10 more cities in the coming year. For more than a year now, the channel has been working to understand the places frequented by its target group (TG). The new partnerships with spas, gyms, lounges, coffee shops and salons on the local level are a result of this extensive study.
For the first phase of these on-ground partnerships, the channel has created a network wherein its volunteers (about four to five in each city) engage with the audiences at these places (such as spas and gyms) to build the brand. Terming it as one of the most laborious marketing initiatives, Ferzad Palia, senior vice-president and general manager, English entertainment, Viacom18, says "When you get the benefits, it's worth it. The international music market has a rapid growth beyond metros. This consumption is scattered as of now, on television, radio, MP3 players and internet. We want them to think about VH1 whenever they hear or talk about international music."
There is no integration of these partnerships with digital, since the channel considers that it will be an intrusion in the life of the viewers. Speaking about the challenges, Palia explains that the major problem is when a TV channel goes to a stand-alone gym or salon, the first thing that comes to the consumers' mind is that he/ she will be asked to advertise on the channel.
Explaining the kind of partnerships, Sabrina Dsouza, head, marketing, VH1 and Comedy Central, says, "We are very particular about the partnerships that we have and we had to turn away a few of them because we are a premium brand. Also, these people are influencers. The youth once influenced by an interaction will go and speak to his circle of people."
Each activity is customised to suit the setting and the audience. In a bar, one might find a VH1 cocktail menu or a game wherein the audience can tell about their favourite band. In a salon, the activity gives suggestions on the current trends in international styles or hair colour. In gyms, VH1 workout schedules and specified sets of songs, when implemented, burn a certain number of calories. "It's about the people executing them, and not just the partnerships. Even many coffee shops play VH1 music continuously and we interact with the people there," adds Palia.
Except for title sponsorship arrangements, the activations do not involve brand associations.
Palia explains that for the channel, these activities make more sense than traditional media. "We are not a mass channel; we cater to a set of audiences. We would never have mass marketing budgets. Once you start a campaign like this, no outdoor site or television campaign can match it."
However, VH1 does take up print campaigns to promote bigger properties like awards and popular concerts, albeit with reduced spends on the medium over the years. Also, there are contests through which the channel sends select viewers to the award functions and concerts.
How then does it calculate returns? Palia says it's difficult but one of the ways is to check on social media. "...and we are growing on social media from specific markets. Plus, we have a quarterly research about the brand connect; the growth keeps popping up in our research. We hardly go for outdoor or print. So if people are seeing our brand outside of TV, it has to be these activations. It is a very subliminal type of advertising."