Namah Chawla

Could 'Darlings' have done its brand integrations better?

The Alia Bhatt-starrer on Netflix features at least 15 product placements. What are the learnings for brands and studios?

Kama Ayurveda hair oil, Daawat basmati rice, Veeba ketchup, SanDisk, Milton tiffin box, Eva deodorant, Manforce Condom, Parle Frooti, Amul milk, Tide washing powder, Vega Auto helmet, P&G’s Whisper and 24 Mantra. While there may not be anything common between these brands, all of them found a frame or two worth of screen presence in Netflix’s dark comedy thriller, titled Darlings.

If you got a chance to watch the Alia Bhatt-starrer closely, every other frame has a brand lurking in the corner. While some brands effortlessly merge with the film’s storyline, others seem to be a massive force-fit.

For instance, in one of the scenes, Bhatt, who plays the role of a young housewife living in a South Mumbai chawl, can be seen applying Kama Ayurveda hair oil. It costs Rs 895 for 100 ml and belongs to the premium category. Hence, it doesn’t fit well in the character’s dressing cabinet.

Other products that were seen lying in Bhatt’s small house and seemed to be an unnatural fit include Tide washing powder, Daawat basmati rice, Milton tiffin box and Veeba ketchup.

Could 'Darlings' have done its brand integrations better?
Could 'Darlings' have done its brand integrations better?
Could 'Darlings' have done its brand integrations better?

Tusharr Kumar, executive vice president of OML Entertainment, says that brands should evaluate their in-film/content placements based on multiple criteria. Especially, when the brand integration is only visual or passive.

Tusharr Kumar
Tusharr Kumar

“The key driving factor should be whether the placement is organic to the scene, and if it drives relatability with the audience consciously. In an entertainment plot, it’s very easy for the audience to miss a brand placement,” adds Kumar.

As per Pranay Anthwal, founder of Happy Lion (a Mumbai-based entertainment agency), most brands and their creative agencies have a clear (brand) positioning lens to decide when to associate with a movie.

However, he mentions that the honest problem on the ground is that they (brands) also need information about the movie. The studios share very little information with brands - it could be just about a brief scene. They never share the whole script.

Pranay Anthwal
Pranay Anthwal

Anthwal points out that the actual problem is that the filmmakers don’t share some critical aspects of the film with brands. It must be mentioned that the filmmakers are also in a tricky position and can’t share the details with every other brand.

“What can be done to address this issue is that filmmakers can appoint an agency that they trust. That agency can share a few relevant details with key brands (often under a non-disclosure agreement). This way, the information will not spread all over the town. But currently, this is not happening.”

In Darlings, while most brands didn’t find a relevant positioning, there were a few that integrated well. Bhatt and her on-screen husband Vijay Varma drinking Frooti at different times, is one such example of a seamless product placement.

Eva deodorant and Manforce Condom’s appearance also came across as being organic, and aligned well with the scene and characters of the movie.

Ishan Naman Sinha, VP strategy of Supari Studios (the content studio of Kulfi Collective), shares that a factor that contributes to the subtlety of these product placements, is that many films are released and viewed on OTT platforms. It translates into a higher number of people watching them on their mobile phones.

“Filmmakers are revisiting what they would call a ‘close-up shot’ by going really close-up so that it comes across well on a mobile screen. Hence, the product placement will be a little less subtle to register in the audience’s mind.”

Ishan Naman Sinha
Ishan Naman Sinha

According to Sinha, there is a higher intent to make them hidden in plain sight and seamless to the storyline. The discoverability of these, similar to that of Easter eggs, gives a sense of accomplishment to the audience, as they feel they discovered something in the movie that others may not have.

Sharing another example of a strategic integration, Anthwal mentions that Amazon Sellers association with Varun Dhawan and Anushka Sharma-starrer Sui Dhaaga made sense. It was a story of an entrepreneur, and the platform encourages entrepreneurs to scale new heights.

“Brands should invest if they can find a strategic fit like this. But this may be a rare possibility. Usually, most studios just provide 10-15 placement opportunities for scenes that would be relevant to a brand. When these initial conversations begin, brands are generally not interested. This is because of a lack of positioning and an ideal brand fit,” shares Anthwal.

With diminishing attention spans of the audience, are product placements in movies and other OTT content, an effective marketing strategy to garner favourable ROI for brands.

Sinha of Supari Studios agrees that the low attention span is a concern. However, he also feels that a good movie keeps one engrossed and on the edge of their seats. As long as these products are placed in a good movie and done right, then they will hit the bull’s eye.

“The best output is generally when there is an opportunity that has been identified early on, and both the filmmakers and the brand work towards it (for example, Indian tourists visiting Spain rose by 65% in the year following the release of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara).”

Kumar of OML Entertainment says that product placements are a good cog in the marketing media mix.

Explaining how these brand collaborations, when further executed in the actual world, can generate even better results, he says, “While OTT is a great place for brands to show up, they must be aware that OTT performance numbers are still based on what the platforms are telling brands. Creating brand collaborations that show up outside the main content piece, really helps drive cultural impact.”

For example, when Baskin-Robbins partnered with Stranger Things on Netflix, the brand didn’t just show up at the ice cream parlour in the hit web series. It transformed actual parlours across the US market to look like the Scoops Ahoy ones featured in the series.

Netflix created a limited edition flavour that was a throwback to the era and the series, and also had cast members churn out scoops from a travelling ice cream truck activation. It also created an era-specific immersive game for the audience, and launched a commercial created with the show’s characters.

Kumar informs that the brand’s partnership with Netflix’s popular drama series helped Baskin-Robbins hit it out of the park and witness an 11% increase in its sales. Hence, the leading ice cream brand was able to churn the best out of its in-film placement.

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