When Deepika Padukone reaches out for the bottle of mineral water, you nearly miss the brand the first time, but a few scenes later, the familiar label of Himalayan Mineral Water is impossible to ignore. In Bombay Velvet, Ranbir Kapoor's desire to be a big shot is neatly sewed into his campaign for domain registration major, GoDaddy.com and in a recent video called Honest Marriages by the infamous AIB (All India Bakchod), two brands: Snapdeal and Ola Cabs are an integral part of the script. Ubiquitous and omnipresent, a posse of brands is finding its way into every mode of entertainment, redefining the relationship between actors and audience and products and consumers.
Brands are being integrated into the script to become a part of the characters' daily routine. Like Deepika Padukone and her preferred drink in Piku; also in the film, Ceat Tyres gets prominent screen presence when the group of four makes a stop at a petrol pump. Irrfan Khan also uses one of Ceat's service centres that can be found at petrol pumps across the country. For this film, brand endorsements were not restricted to the screen, but found a place in publicity interviews even after the release of the movie.
The brand is being seen as part of the cast of characters in some films. When e-commerce player Ask Me collaborated with the music and lyrics team at T-Series, they asked them to develop an entire song which incorporated their brand name. This song was used in the film Roy, which starred Ranbir Kapoor, who endorses Ask Me. There have been times when brand names have been used, but not necessarily as part of a commercial association, but because the script demanded it. In such cases, the script is sent to the brand's marketing and legal teams for approval. There have been instances when this was not followed and film-makers have landed in trouble. The most recent examples are Zandu (balm) in the song Munni Badnaam from Dabangg (2010) and Murphy Radio in the title song form the 2012 flick Barfi!.
The objective is to seamlessly incorporate the product into the script until it becomes impossible for the viewer to separate the real from the reel. Amitabh Bachchan (in keeping with his character in Piku) for instance mentioned a few brand names (mostly local to West Bengal) during an interview when promoting the film. He does this while providing everyday examples of how a father and daughter interact and when describing the trials of old age. The film is real, the interview is real, but the brands have been subtly woven into the conversation without making it obvious that they are being advertised.
"The flip side to such endorsements is that if the film or video does not click, chances are the brand placements could stick out like a sore thumb," a TV and film media analyst, who declined to be quoted, says.
In case of in-film placement, if the branding is too overt, it may put off the audience altogether as also in digital videos. One classic example is the 2013 release Krrish 3, where social media buzz was more around the brands placed in the film rather than the film itself. And then the brand placement was tacky which boomeranged because the audience mocked both the film and the products on social media.
Films are not the only ones using this communicating strategy. In a recent video titled Honest Marriages by comedy act AIB, brands such as Snapdeal are prominently placed. They are intelligently used and seem like a natural extension of the script. The video spoofs the system of arranged marriages in India - from the moment a prospective groom is sought for a girl till their final marriage itself. It is also perhaps a sign of the increasing maturity of brands that they are open to being used in a situation that has not been expressly created for it. In the AIB video, the characters even rue the fact that they have to work harder for a sponsor and hence the placements.
The smooth integration of brand and film or brand and video is something that the publishing world is familiar with. They call it native advertising. Says Rajiv Dingra, CEO and founder, WATConsult, "Native advertising is an evolved form of communication, where you will not find blatant hard-selling of a brand. It seamlessly weaves itself into the surrounding content of the page with its data, images and text. The only give-away that this is sponsored content is that there is a disclosure at the end of the piece that it has come from the brand."
As fatigue for conventional advertising sets in, marketers, say experts, are turning to innovative ways to keep communication of their brands alive. Native advertising alone, according to media experts, is expected to double in size next year from the tiny Rs 70-80 crore it currently attracts. This rate of growth is expected to last for the next few years, they add, implying the market will become sizeable by then. For movies and videos, the sky could be the limit.