Brand placements need to be done in a subtle yet clever way – Nikhil Khatri
Brands piggybacking on films and vice-versa is a booming trend in the film industry. Be it in-film branding or a co-branding association, these are gimmicks that can work wonders if handled smartly or fall flat due to ambiguous planning. With specialized agencies creating alliances between movies and brands, the game sure is changing.
Outside The Box (OTB) Entertainment started in 2011 specialises in movie marketing and has associated with various Indian and international studios for over 20 movie tie-ups. Nikhil Khatri, the founder of OTB Entertainment, takes us through the intricacies involved in in-film and co-branding strategies and what it takes to get a win-win association.
In-film branding and co-branding. Tell us about the difference between the two and how do you approach brands for these strategies?
In-film branding is a product placement that varies as per the content of the film. For example, if there is a children-oriented film, we could place a chocolate or a notebook brand. Co-branding is an outside association. For example, if a movie is completed and scheduled to release around Diwali and there is a brand that also wants to run their campaign around the same time, through co-branding we give the brand the leverage of running their campaign through the movie content. It is an indirect endorsement where we give them the face of the star along with the movie property, which matches their brand communication also. In co-branding too you need to see the content of the film and approach brands accordingly.
FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) and electronic brands spend largely during festival time. So while approaching brands you need to take into account the season, which quarter of the year it is etc. For instance, in the first quarter of the year we approach finance companies & banks because they spend on their campaigns as people invest a lot at that time. Now with the wedding season coming up, the apparel brands indulge in huge campaigns. Associating with big properties and movies, where stars are actually wearing their apparel or launching a new collection, really works for them.
How have you seen this trend changing in the past 2-3 years? Do you think that there is an overdose of in-film branding?
It is a trend that has been increasing by the day. There was a time when brands would look for agencies to advertise and promote their products in a unique manner. And they got celebrities to endorse their brands. That trend still continues but there is one change where rather than getting an individual celebrity to endorse their product, the brands are now going through films. The investment involved in a movie tie-up is way lesser than getting a celebrity on board.
But in-film branding is also a tricky area because viewers who go to enjoy a film are forced to look at so many brands. The product placement we plan to do is subtle but instead what you get is in-your-face branding. In the past year, this trend has increased manifold because few studios feel that more placements lower down their spend but in the process, the content of the film gets affected. There are many movies that have multiple products in the film resulting in a brand overdose. So this needs to change, brands and even production teams need to understand that brand placements need to be done in a way that is subtle yet clever.
Take us through the process of approaching brands for a particular film through the example of Krissh 3?
There are two kinds of production houses, one that welcome any brand, irrespective of whether the script/content demands it while some studios strategize and shortlist categories they specifically want. When we approach brands, our first aim is to do an in-film association more than co-branding. When a star is using their product and millions of viewers see it, the value is much more than just an outside association. However if we lose out on that opportunity for some reason, we try to invite the celebrity to the launch of the product or any event where the star is actually talking about the product.
In Krissh 3 we did an association with Mad Over Donuts (M.O.D). Though it was a superhero film, it was a film that targets kids. The target audience of M.O.D. is also kids and youth and donuts were a rage. So we thought of coming up with an exclusive Krissh 3 donut range. The shape was the same but the upper layer had a special flavor and a stencil of Krissh 3 on it. Also to create more value for the brand we made a special six-donut box for the media, the celebrities and their families at the trailer launch of the film and they all loved it. That created more value for the brand.
For Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, what was the brief received from the studio and how did you go about it?
Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was one of the best associations we have had. Mr.Bhansali is very particular about the brands that come on board his films. We had a brand that belongs to the apparel category and is an e-commerce portal. The brief that we received from the studio was that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has himself designed the apparels in the film. They were not looking at giving the rights of the clothes to anyone or replicate them in any way. The suggested brand Cbazaar is into ethnic apparel and when the studio saw the inspired line-up that the brand was proposing, it worked for them. Cbazaar ran an extended campaign even post the release. Their target market is largely the NRIs and the movie was a huge hit overseas as well and even the collection was very well received.
Are brands more open to tie-ups with Hollywood films? What is the kind of response you got for Despicable me 2?
In India brands and corporates have a very restricted approach towards Hollywood films because these films don’t have a large shelf life here, mostly just a week. So brands feel that people will not even get to know that they have associated with a Hollywood property. But if you see the same thing in the overseas market, every brand comes up with exclusive merchandise for every Hollywood film and they run campaigns lavishly. So even if the movie is not playing in the theaters the campaign runs and they make the most out of it. But in India brands focus more on Bollywood films obviously because it is a huge market.
Superhero films like Dark Knight, Superman etc. had several brand associations in India. But there is a timeline when we are working on exclusive merchandise with international studios. The loophole in Indian market is the slow decision-making and approval time. To make exclusive merchandise you need to start way in advance. So currently we have some films in the pipeline including Avengers and Fast and Furious 7 and though there is a year we have already started speaking with brands and giving them merchandising opportunities.
The response for Despicable Me 2 was very good as minions and the entire concept is a huge hit in India. We associated with a retail outlet, Time Zone and did a BTL activity. Time Zone is targeted at kids and receives a footfall of around 3000-4000 every weekend and has over 22 outlets pan-India. We gave them movie tickets and merchandise and freebies work very well in Indian markets.
How different are the demands of international studios as compared to their Indian counter parts?
Hollywood studios are more professional. Even if they demand something, it is a justified requirement. Deliverables for both the markets are the same but for Bollywood films you can have meet and greet sessions with the cast that isn’t possible with Hollywood films. But that option too is opening up as some studios have tied up with Hollywood studios to get the stars to India.
What are the deliverables expected of a brand and the film’s producers for such associations?
The brand expects:
- The product has to be placed subtly and has to be used by the main cast.
- A dialogue integration, where the star talks about the product, is highly preferred.
- At the time of release, the brand would want the cast for a press conference or launch of the product.
The studio expects:
- Media commitment is needed from any brand that comes on board.
- In any activity that is done, the brand can use only the character name and not the star’s name. For example for Kick, you say that you have associated with Devi Lal and not Salman Khan.
For co-branding, we suggest that brands integrate the film with their existing campaign rather than spending on a new campaign. At times in co-branding too, brands look for meet and greet opportunities with the cast of the film but this depends on the star’s availability.
Is there any particular category of brands that are more open to film associations as compared to others?
Apparel brands are always open. A very good example is Vishal Prints who are manufacturers and distributors to retailers and have been so aggressive for the past two years that you can see their association with almost every film – Bollywood and regional. They were using films as the only mode of promotion. And having created their mark in the market, they launched their first TVC just a month ago.
What are the challenges you typically face while looking at such tie-ups?
Challenges are largely with deliverables. The turn around time in getting plans approved is also a problem. Sometimes the delay is from the studios’ side while sometimes the brand takes a long time to confirm. Our role is to try and balance it out and ensure that things work for both sides.