In line with its international policy of forging "a cautious integration of advertisers' messages into programme content" Hallmark channel representatives in India are making aggressive media calls to push through its 'unique virtual product placement platform' in the country. To help it through the process, the channel has signed a deal with Mediascope Associates early this year. The market, according to Rohinton Maloo, director, Mediascope Associates, has already responded to the channel's new programming mix and Hallmark has added 11 new clients including Motzart (an apparel brand), Perfetti and Fiat, among others.
Clearly, the channel has been in an aggressive mode since mid-2001 when it decided to reorient its programmes for the Indian market. After two full years abysmal ratings, the channel brass realised not much of its programming and marketing mix was really working here. "Instead of having a mish-mash of everything, we decided to focus on movies and mini-series. The result is before you. Our reach has gone up 60 per cent since then," says Laxmi Hariharan, marketing director for Asia, Hallmark Channel.
While working on the programming front, the channel decided to tie up with Mediascope Associates to help it develop its advertising sales strategies in India. The association with Mediascope - which has been involved in the launch of STAR, Cartoon Network and HBO in India earlier - did help the channel in getting its act together.
Part of this new fangled marketing plan is to offer a virtual product placement option. "Hallmark owns most of the content that goes on air. Hence we have the ability to create unique packages for advertisers that will be different from the flat opportunity to air an ad some 50 times a day," says Hariharan. The decision comes at a time when marketers in the country are just beginning to experiment with the concept of product placement in music videos, movies and serials. According to Hariharan, the channel has successfully done this with the Samsung brand in Latin America. But, of course, this option would be made available only to clients who work with Hallmark on an annual contract or are willing to partner it on a long-term basis.
The channel is also looking to leverage its relationship with Hallmark's vast retailing operation for promotional and marketing opportunities. "We have the ability to contact consumers through the 400 Hallmark exclusive (greeting card) stores across the country. These attract a cross-section of consumers and make us uniquely placed to leverage promotions and drive viewership, brand awareness, generate response for contests, place signages, encourage product sampling etc," Maloo says.
Yet, Hariharan knows the task ahead is awesome. For one, senior media planners point out Hallmark's content is heavily focused on women. "While there is nothing wrong in this, it might not give the channel the crucial numbers because women in India tend to flock to language channels," says a senior media analyst based in Delhi. Hariharan differs. "We are a family channel with an equal divide between men and women. But then women have been more vocal in their appreciation," she says.
Another key bottleneck in the spread of the channel has been distribution. Though it is available in most of the metros and claims a viewership of 9 million homes, it still has to contend with the problem of poor quality reception in many areas. This s a problem that Hariharan says is being sorted out.
Another issue that needs urgent attention is the lack of driver programmes. Senior media planners in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai agencyfaqs! spoke to were in unison in saying the channel has not been able to garner much recall among viewers. "It might be big in the US, but in India, especially when ad budgets are tight, it almost never seems to figure on the planners' priority list," feels an ad industry veteran.
Hariharan says work is under way to improve the package. "We have overhauled our programming menu here. We are also working at cross-promotions on other channels such as Discovery and MTV. It is only a matter of time before we get people talking about our programmes as well."
That pursuit of new advertising relationships presages a new contemporary focus in the kind of movies and mini-series Hallmark will commission. For the record, the premieres scheduled for this year include 'Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows' - which is a five-time Emmy Awards winner, McLeod's Daughters, Steel Magnolias and King of Texas, among others. © 2002 agencyfaqs!First Published : March 15, 2002