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Bollywood and brands: what can marketers learn from product placement in the world's largest film industry?



Product placement in Bollywood could at one time have been described as blatant and unapologetic. But with social media users in India now numbering some 200 million, many of whom are all too happy to call out the brands and studios getting it wrong, the industry has been forced to rethink its approach. We look at the lessons to be learned from this lucrative market and, over the following pages, find out what programmatic could mean for product placement and look at brand integration in the age of streaming.

Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and many other luxury brands popped up, unquestioned, in Sex and the City for six seasons and two films. More recently Old Forrester launched a new whiskey for the new Kingsman film and audiences barely batted an eyelid when an early scene pivoted around a bottle of the stuff. But it isn’t just western TV and film that continues to get into bed with brands. Much like Hollywood, Bollywood also has a long history of product placement. And it’s a relationship that has had as many highs and lows over the years as the characters in its movies and shows.

But as India’s digital sophistication reaches mainstream levels, an increasingly savvy audience is expecting a new type of relationship from its actors, directors and producers. Being on top of this is paramount because, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation, the Indian media and entertainment sector is expected to grow at 13.9%, to reach $37.55bn by 2021 from $19.59bn in 2016, outshining the global average of 4.2%.

This growth has empowered product placement in the Indian entertainment industry, which has become more sophisticated in recent years. Previously, placements were unsubtle and generally stuck out like a sore thumb, creating limited impact and the potential to actually make the audience annoyed with the product.

Filmmaker Vikram Bhatt believes product or in-film brand placements have almost become redundant in Bollywood. “There was a period of years when it was a huge thing, and it still can be,” he says. “However, when it doesn’t seem like a natural fit in the script, the audience today is smart enough to know how to distinguish between something subtle and something seamless. Unfortunately, for a long time the product placements were too loud in films.”

According to a report released by GroupM – Showbiz, the Indian Superpower – the total co-branded marketing media spend for Hindi films has reached approximately Rs.100 crore [$15.7m] a year. More brands tied up with films through co-branded marketing associations than in-film associations across all years. Brand alliances increased steadily from 2010 onwards until 2016, with media spend exceeding marketing budgets of the film in few cases.

Bhatt believes the growth of digital will create new opportunity. “With the digital era exploding, there’s a huge integrative opportunity for product and brand placements in web series and over-the-top (OTT) platforms, more than films. Audiences of the digital formats are more aware and will respond better to such techniques.”

The brands have already cemented their future with OTTs. The Indian digital sector is expected to cross the Rs. 20,000 crore [$3.14bn] mark by 2020 from Rs. 8,490 crore [$1.33bn] at present, largely led by OTT and digital advertising, according to an EY report, ‘Digital Opportunity: India Media and Entertainment.’
OTT players are catering to the millennial needs by integrating brands. SonyLIV rolled out a new home improvement show, House Proud, in association with Asian Paints and home accessories e-commerce business CuroCarte. Last year, SonyLIV partnered with digital entertainment company Pocket Aces, which earns its revenue by syndicating content to various OTT players like Uber rival Ola Cabs and airlines like Etihad and Jet, as well as selling merchandise based on the series.
Most recently, Pocket Aces partnered with Dice Media and Pepsi Co brand Kurkure to create a web series called 2by3.



Rahul Puri (above), managing director of Indian film production company Mukta Arts, says that an increasingly savvy audience has also made actors and producers savvier, with brand relationships becoming subtler and having longer lifespans.

“As marketing tie-ups and brand positioning have become more intrinsically linked with actors and actresses, the positioning in films has also found a way that doesn’t offend the audiences and is well understood. Shah Rukh Khan [known as ‘the King of Bollywood’ having appeared in over 80 films] using a Nokia phone in his films is now a given, and audiences completely relate to why it’s there. Similarly with Sonam Kapoor [one of the industry’s highest-paid actresses who also has her own clothing line] and her multitude of brands. Actors themselves are also smart enough these days, as are producers and brand managers, to not force products, but to read scripts and carefully choose the type of placement according to the story and the film’s characters.”

E-commerce is indeed empowering the actors in Bollywood to integrate their own entrepreneurial ambitions within the content they are in. It is expected that Shahid Kapoor will wear his brand, Skult, and Anushka Sharma will wear her brand, Nush, in their upcoming movies. As to whether it is an effective way of getting brands in front of consumers, Puri says: “It can be. So much of it is to do with how the placement is done. Something that works well in the story and is relatable will have a lot of value for the brand. Remember, Hindi films are extremely well watched in theaters and on TV, so once the placement is done it will have immense repeat viewing as well.

For example, the hit movie 3 Idiots maintained an association with Pantaloons, who organised a fashion show featuring actor Aamir Khan and co-stars Madhavan and Sharman Joshi showcasing a range of 3 Idiots t-shirts, manufactured by Pantaloons. Ranbir Kapoor, star of Wake Up Sid, teamed up with Provogue to launch a range of t-shirts tying in with that movie.

Preeti Mascarenhas, principal partner of strategy at Mindshare, says Bollywood has been a strong recall and engagement medium for many brands. “It’s interesting to see the way brands have dramatically moved beyond using the medium tactically and borrowing the imagery to build relevance for the brands.”



When thinking about what not to do, Varun Duggirala (above), co-founder and content chief of The Glitch, an agency focused that produces video for the web, argues that having actors emphasize the name of a brand too often, or too obviously, could result in negative responses from the audience – and social media trolling.
He says: “The true future [of brand placement] lies beyond the film. Think about the opportunities the digital space has thrown out, by allowing filmmakers to create content surrounding the film for the audience to understand and dive into the world of the movie before they see it. Can these extensions be used to make the brand’s plug in the film less blatant yet balanced, and give the brand more eyeballs overall so it’s a better return on investment for both sides? Also, we have music and music videos as a great asset, but often under-used as a means of brand placement.”

As to what brands should do to make product placement work, Xiaofeng Wang, Forrester senior analyst, says: “They should normalize product placement and make the product fit naturally in the movie. It can’t be too forced or intrude on the movie’s plot, it has to be seen and used in a natural context. Brands should create signature moments that an audience can easily notice and memorize – a natural placement doesn’t mean invisible or easy to neglect. Pick an important scene or leverage visual and audio to make product placement memorable.”

According to Statista, in 2019 it is estimated that there will be around 258.27 million social network users in India, a prediction which shows that digital is already influencing the Indian audience at a huge scale.

However, despite digitization, television will continue to be the biggest advertising medium in the country. The Media Partners Asia report forecasts that over the next five years, the fastest growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region will be India at 10.7%, China at 8.4% and then Indonesia at 8.2%.

Product placement may not be new to Bollywood, but savvy digital audiences are already calling out those who get it wrong. The smartest actors and producers are signing deals with brands that have longevity on both the big and small screen, meaning that those brands are presented with a highly lucrative opportunity in this rapidly growing and dynamic market.

This feature was first published in The Drum's February issue, the Future of TV.

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Most marketers claim creativity ‘harmed by digital advertising growth’



Most marketers claim creativity ‘harmed by digital advertising growth’

Marketers face a challenge as they try to balance technology innovation with creativity, with digital growth in advertising coming at the expense of the quality of creative, according to a new survey.

The study, from Sizmek, surveyed more than 500 business decision making brand-marketers across Europe and the US, found that over two thirds (67%) believe digital growth in advertising has come at the expense of the quality of creative.

When looking at the impact of AI, 84% understand that it is entirely useless without the right creative input to support it.

The post Most marketers claim creativity ‘harmed by digital advertising growth’ appeared first on Netimperative – latest digital marketing news.

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10 questions with… Carter Murray, chief executive of FCB



The Drum speaks to people across the global media and marketing sector who are bringing something a little different to the industry and talks to them about what little insights they can offer the rest of us. This week's 10 Questions are answered by FCB chief executive, Carter Murray.

What was your first ever job?

My first ever job was cleaning boats. My first proper, steady job, however, was as an assistant account executive at Leo Burnett Chicago.

Which industry buzzword annoys you most?

“Guru” (as in “marketing guru”). Most people called gurus actually are not. And this misnomer often causes havoc within client organizations and the creative process more generally.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with?

My mother and father. I lost them both two years ago, within six months of each other, and still miss them terribly.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

The first was getting to work with Harry MacAuslan, THE gentleman of advertising (now retired) and the second was persuading Susan Credle to come to FCB and be my creative partner.

What piece of tech can you not live without?

Sadly (and my wife will very much attest to this) – it's my bloody telephone.

What is (in your opinion) the greatest film/album/book of your life?

Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. I read it when I was thirteen and it absolutely got to me. I loved the boxing, wildlife, Africa and personal narratives, but most of all, the constant reminder to “think first with your head and then with your heart.”

What one question do you never want anyone to ask you?

Why are you so obsessed with dim sum?

Best advice you ever heard or received?

Shut up and listen.

What do you still want to achieve in your career?


What industry event is most important to you to attend and why?

Cannes. It saves me multiple trips around the world, as everyone is centralized there, and I get to talk about our industry with some of the most groundbreaking work all around us, to inspire and push us to always do better. It’s always long and busy work hours, but it all happens in a ridiculously civilized setting.

Check out other interviews as part of the 10 Questions With… series.

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‘Bang for our buck’: how MSIG's first-ever CMO plans to reinvent insurance marketing



As the first-ever person to hold the chief marketing officer role at MSIG Holdings (Asia), Rebecca Ang Lee believes her most immediate priorities is to ensure alignment of the insurer in the online space, develop a regional sustainability direction, and promote digital transformation through innovation within the company and industry to stay relevant.

MSIG, which is a part of the Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company within the MS&AD Insurance Group, promoted Lee, who oversaw brand and communications and business excellence across ASEAN, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand as senior vice-president, in October.

Lee has wasted no time in getting down to work, ensuring that MSIG customers can expect dynamic websites with better user experience across its markets in the region. MSIG Vietnam was the first to complete the revamp early this year, with Lee pushing for more markets to complete their respective websites in the next couple of months.

“The new website was built with the users’ experience in mind and I am looking forward to getting our customers’ feedback. Content on our social media channels are also progressively evolving to better serve our customers,” she explains. “A success story to quote is MSIG Indonesia – we started out with less than 1k followers and achieved a substantial leap to about 90k today just after a year of introducing refreshed content.”

“We hope to replicate this success in the other markets, taking local preferences and nuances into consideration. Ultimately, our goal is to engage our customers with useful content that can aid them in their insurance purchase journey.”

MSIG’s sustainability agenda is now managed by the brand and communications team, which is led by Lee, after the creation of the sustainability taskforce for Asia. She explains this means she can embed the key messages into the group’s internal and external communications, therefore strengthening its brand building efforts.

“The goal is to ensure MSIG’s medium-term management plan ‘Vision 2021’, which emphasizes sustainability as a key focus for the group, is carried on. “With the creation of the sustainability taskforce for Asia, we hope to complement our group’s initiatives and achieve greater impact together,” she says.

“As sustainability is becoming an issue of growing importance around the region, and in the world, we have a responsibility to support this agenda. We will need to build a sustainability mindset and culture from within the organization, and are looking to collaborate with partners to engage and educate all staff.”

Lee is also trying to promote innovation within the company and industry through partnerships to catch up with its rivals like NTUC Income, which ranked the highest in Singapore when it comes to being future ready for digital transformation, while MSIG came in 22nd. It has since signed a deal with start-up accelerator Plug and Play which will see it become a founding anchor partner of Plug and Play’s Insurtech platform.

The platform aims to invest in and help local and international fintech and Insurtech startups to grow through connecting them to major financial institutions and insurers. It will also allow MSIG to build relationships with start-ups that are developing new technologies and solutions.

According to Lee, this partnership will help MSIG innovate and explore revolutionary ideas as technology is changing at a pace where it is forcing the industry to undergo digital transformation especially in the more mature markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

“From the angle of internal communications, we explored different ways to engage our employees, creating thematic town halls that infuse the creative use of digital apps and tools to create a mindset change from within,” she says.
“The pace of technology also impacts the media channels and landscape. Digital no longer just means website and social media channels. While people are consuming news through social media, they are also getting their entertainment from Netflix, using more smart devices and creating smart homes to manage their lifestyle. This means that consumer digital touchpoints are increasing with new channels to reach out to them. However, budgets are always limited, and the challenge is deciding where to place them to reach out to our desired target audience.”

MSIG's marketing strategy and its relationship with its agencies

With limited budgets and facing the challenges of reaching out to its desired target audience even as they get more connected than ever before and expect seamless experiences when they interact with brands, MSIG wants to focus on its unique selling points of providing great service quality and offering a seamless claims experience for its customers.

Lee, who spent more than two years in total working at agencies like Leo Burnett, Dentsu and Y&R before joining MSIG, is keen to tap on her experience as a communicator and a leader having been on both sides of the fence, to ensure MSIG’s marketing strategy over the long term is relevant and that the company will continuously innovate to improve customer experience.

For example, in Singapore, she points out MSIG was the first to introduce straight-through claims payout using FAST bank transfer, eliminating the time to process cheques and in Thailand, it introduced MSIG SpeeDi, where motor insurance customers are able to get phone assistance within 60 seconds with the touch of a button, have their location triangulated by GPS and sent to a motor surveyor who will arrive on scene within 30 minutes. For Malaysia, MSIG optimized its processes to save claims processing time by over 98% so that customers can get their payment quickly.

“It’s about putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes and challenging the status quo. We have a few customer segments depending on the insurance need, and we target them through consumer insights, behavior and content marketing both offline and online,” she explains.

“The advantage of using online channels is that we’re able to measure our KPIs. However, it does not just stop there, the data needs to be analyzed with follow up action plans to improve on future communication and targeting of our products to customers.”

Lee is also keen to stress MSIG’s marketing strategy cannot succeed if it is not open and honest with its agencies, the key to forging a successful partnership, as they will help them understand the company’s challenges. MSIG’s creative agency is M&C Saatchi and its media agency is Wavemaker.

In addition, she also sees agencies as an extension of her own team and will take time to share information and insights in MSIG’s discussions with its agencies.

“When I joined MSIG two years ago, our branding efforts were only beginning. We were looking for partners who understood our starting point and were keen to grow with us. Two years on, we see both agencies as partners in this journey of brand building, supporting us in our vision to develop MSIG Asia as the centre of excellence,” Lee explains.

Cutting through the noise

Presently, the insurance industry is a saturated one with both life and general insurers vying for a share of voice. It also does not help when there is little differentiation between life and general insurance brands in the eyes of a consumer.

Moving forward, Lee says MSIG approach is to get a ‘bang for our buck’, to be more strategic and creative in its messaging, positioning and targeting. Digital is always a part of MSIG’s media mix as it enables the insurer to target its customers better and is a more cost-effective channel.

“However, we still try to adopt a holistic approach as our research has shown that a combination of traditional and digital media still works best for us to achieve high awareness for a campaign. Also, apart from advertising, it is important to integrate all other customer touch points in the entire buying cycle, from discovery to purchase to repeat customers,” she explains.

“It’s about the synergies of messaging through 360 marketing including in-store experience, PR and research. Pre- and post-campaign research is crucial in understanding the most effective media channel and the research results are always used to improve the media mix for the next campaign.”

There are daunting tasks facing Lee as she tries to future poof MSIG for the future, but moving Lee into the newly-created CMO role is the first step by the insurer to getting there.

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