N. Shatrujeet

In-film placement: Keeping the spirits up

With surrogate advertising of liquor brands on television under threat, liquor advertisers are increasingly looking at movie associations. A lowdown on the score

The hammer of State disapproval first came down in mid-July last year, when, in an effort to curb surrogate advertising by liquor brands, the Government ordered private television broadcasters to pull commercials of liquor brands McDowell's No. 1 and Gilbey's off air. The month after, it directed private channels to stop airing surrogate commercials of another six liquor brands - Aristocrat Premium, Kingfisher, Smirnoff, 8 PM, Haywards and Whytehall. And making its intent abundantly clear, the Government further proposed to constitute a panel to look into the issue and suggest stringent guidelines to put a check on the incidence of surrogate advertising.

Yes, ‘clarified apple juice', ‘sparkling water' and ‘party albums' continue to be advertised on television. But whether this implies a change of heart at the top or is merely a momentary reprieve is something industry observers aren't willing to wager their paychecks on. And according to one opinion, it's a matter of time before an over-zealous panel catches up with advertisers and grinds any form of liquor advertising on Indian television to the dust.

Small wonder more and more liquor brands are looking at new avenues for reaching out to the Indian consumer. And one vehicle that appears to have caught the liquor advertiser's fancy is Bollywood movies. Via in-film brand placement and brand associations, to be precise.

Take the following instance. ‘Chhod na re', the popular song from heist flick Kaante, has a re-mixed party version titled ‘Bagpiper Remix'. Beer brand Zingaro not only features prominently in the just-released Jism, the brand has also come out with a co-branded calendar with sizzling pictures of the film's leading lady, Bipasha Basu. And promos for Vivek Oberoi's soon-to-be-released cop number Dum suggest that Bagpiper has pitched its lot with the film.

Three-swallows-do-not-a-summer-make and all that notwithstanding, there are indications that in-film placement is something that liquor companies in India will be looking at more closely in the days to come. "Globally, liquor has been used in films as there is a very natural fit between the two," says Sanjay Bhutiani, general manager, Leo Entertainment, which brokered the Jism-Zingaro deal. "If handled well, the association can be very effective, be it through product placement or joint promotions or both. Look at what an association with James Bond has done for Martini. Today when you drink that drink, you immediately think, ‘Shaken, not stirred.'"

Geetanjali Kirloskar, president, Lintertainment (Initiative Media's recently launched entertainment division), believes films allow for a natural integration of liquor brands. "Very often, in films, you have situations where people are seen drinking," she says. "The situation is usually integral to the story, so it is a slice-of-life which a liquor brand can use to blend in. And because the situation is real in the movie, the consumer/audience does not block it out, unlike in an ad."

A similar thought is echoed by Ravi Kaza, vice-president, sales & marketing, Millennium AlcoBev. "An in-film placement is more credible than an ad simply because 99-per cent of the audience doesn't know it is a placement, and the effect it has is subliminal," he says, but adds that the placement has to be done delicately and intelligently to work. "If the placement is too obvious and stands out, the audience movie will feel cheated." The trick, obviously, is to escape notice and yet get noticed.

Which is why it is imperative to find the right fit, the right relevance. "The association has to be strategic," Bhutiani insists, "Radico's 8 PM featured in Maa Tujhe Salaam in a song sung by army jawans and officers, and I liked the idea as it was natural, though I feel it could have been done better. If you see Jism, you'll know how Zingaro fits. The hero in the movie loves his drink. And Jism is about sensuality and appeals to young adult males. The brand's ‘Lighthearted strong beer' platform goes well with the film's thought of ‘The dark side of desire.'" In this context, Bagpiper's brief association with Kaante's ‘Chhod na re' makes sense, given the brand's slug, ‘Khoob jamega rang jab mil-baithenge yaar…' It's about ‘male bonding', about great times. Similarly, at a concept level, the association with Dum - which is also a ‘macho' movie - sounds good.

One reason why associations with movies could work for liquor brands is that Indian movies are very mass-based. "Bollywood has mass appeal, and the target audience (men constitute the bulk of movie-going audiences in this country) is just right for liquor brands," Kirloskar says.

But this does not mean in-film can totally replace television advertising. "It cannot be an avenue in lieu of advertising," observes Kaza. "It can be a good complement to advertising." Reasoning this, he says, "In advertising, you pay against a confirmed viewership. Reach is more guaranteed. But in-film is a gamble, because no producer can guarantee the film's success. So you base your decision on your gut. If the movie does well, good for you. Otherwise…"

That the concept of in-film is nascent in this country is an impediment. "So far, placements have happened at the last minute and are very ad hoc," Kaza continues. "Clients should get into this at the scripting stage. It's good that agencies such as Leo Entertainment are getting into the act. The industry should get more organized now." He reveals that with Jism, Millennium got into a contract where everything from the number of scenes in which Zingaro featured to the nature of the placement was detailed. "Whether the film works or not remains to be seen, but I am happy that what had been promised in terms of placement and association has been delivered," he says.

There remains, however, one grey area. Considering these are paid placements, what happens to the scenes with the placements when the movie gets subsequently aired on C&S channels? Does the channel edit out the scenes? Bhutiani does not think there should be a problem, considering the film's producer and the channel negotiate to airing of the movie as a whole. "See, film is a different media, and the channel is simply telecasting it," he argues. "The scenes may be a part of the film, and I don't think the producer will agree to cuts. And the channels aren't showing brands, they are showing the movie."

A senior executive with a lead C&S channel does not think it should be a problem - as long as it's okay as per the regulations. "We buy the telecasting rights of the film as a whole, and if the Censor Board has cleared the film, we can air it as it is," he says. "Channels have no reason to chop scenes. As of now, I don't think there are any stipulations on this for television channels, but if a regulation is passed, we will have to follow it." He admits that liquor brands could draw attention, but a lot depends on the subtlety of the placement. "If someone in the film says, ‘I drink so-and-so rum,' it could become a problem. It all depends on how things develop."

Of course, there is a simple solution to this. "In a worst case scenario, TV channels will not acquire the rights for such films," the channel executive states. More importantly, as Bhutiani points out, in-film placements don't happen keeping a C&S telecast situation in mind. "The whole thing is about the movie theatre, and the movie is the primary driver," he says. Yet, Kaza advises caution. "Censorship is a delicate issue, which is why even in the case of placements, only half the money is paid to the producer up-front," he says. "The balance is paid post-censor certification. I think liquor brands should show restraint in placements. You shouldn't attract too much attention. And that's not only because of censorship. If you become too in-your-face, you lose credibility, and the medium might lose its potential appeal."

But there's no doubt that the medium holds potential. "I see more and more instances of in-film placement by liquor brands happening, especially if a clamp down on surrogate advertising happens," says Kirloskar. "Liquor brands will look at it as a viable medium, given the opportunities it affords in terms of on-the-ground activity too. If advertisers are creative enough, they can leverage the whole gamut of possibilities." She does add that it won't be an overnight shift, but thinks that "maybe 20-to-30 per cent of spends could go into movie associations". Bhutiani too is positive. "Already, roughly Rs 8-10 crore of liquor spends is coming into film-related activities," he says. "I think liquor brands

will leverage placements and associations even more in the days to come."

"Liquor brands and entertainment have gone hand-in-hand, so it is natural and logical for us to look at it," Kaza gives the client point of view. "This is an avenue that Millennium AlcoBev will definitely be looking at - especially going by our first experience." © 2003 agencyfaqs!