It is difficult to ascertain when it really made an entry on the sly in the narrative; who fathered the concept and who the sperm donor was; as also who the carrier had been. But once it happened, it spread like an untreatable virus. And since the day it happened, no willing producer has escaped the consequences, positive or negative. Brand advertising has been in vogue in the West for as long as memory can travel (to the extent that Ford has actually set up offices in the US film capital) in the recent past, though it has been more prominently associated with the James Bond movies. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig countless brands have found prominence in successive movies begging with a prominent display of Omega Seamaster Quartz Professional in Golden Eye (the manufacturers celebrated the 50th anniversary of their association with the franchise in early 2012 by introducing two new commemorative ones. And the latest being Heineken Beer which has replaced Martini as Bond’s favourite drink, helping the promoters of the otherwise finance-starved Skyfall, the 23rd spy thriller.
In India, it really seems to be a chicken or egg situation. Almost all the leading ladies of Hindi cinema have promoted Lux toilet soap from the 1950s onwards, though it never got transferred on the screen. The same goes with the heroes’ smoking or drinking. But the concept of a film star as brand advertiser can really be traced back to Amitabh Bachchan being the one who has continued to capitalise on it till this day, gradually carrying the virus to his younger contemporaries to the extent that many of them seem to attach more urgency and prominence to shooting for the consumer items than that for films. And why not, a day or a few hours of work brings in crores in return.
According to a recent finding, Aamir Khan now the most favourite brand consumer product ambassador cornering 18.8 per cent of the market share, followed by the original AB with 11.8 per cent, Shah Rukh Khan (10.5 per cent), Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra (3.9 per cent each), and the husband-wife team of Aishwara-Abhishek Bachchan (3.6 per cent each) while all others get dumped together in the remaining 28.6 per cent. The leading sponsors, in order of merit, are Samsung, Airtel, Flipkart.com, Dell, Fastrack, Pepsi, Coca Cola, Levi’s, Soni and Apple all of them supposedly linked to younger users. Both sadly, and unfortunately, it is fast becoming the case of sublime to the ridiculous. Gone is the era of stalwarts (and the tradition seemingly continued till Rajesh Khanna in his last days succumbed to the lure and appeared in a commercial advertising Havell fans) ran miles from what even remotely appeared to be covert advertising. Now stars are available for almost anything, from a condom to real estate.
Coming to in-film advertising the most infamous in the recent history has been the naming of Zandu balm in a song from Debangg. As if that was not enough, a fake legal battle was generated to attain more mileage both to the film “which ensured 35 per cent growth in sales in that quarter for the brand”. IMPACT also quotes Sajay Moolankodan, Director, Go Fish Entertainment, saying: “Though it was not an integration, the song was an immediate hit and Zandu did major business of the film’s association to promote the song and the brand.”
Not that in-film advertising did not take place in Hindi films earlier but then it was more covert than overt. Subhash Ghai did it with great elan in Hero with the bicycle by the same name, and has continued to do so time and again, shamelessly or effortlessly is a subjective perception, like a substandard product called Paas Pass in Yaadein. It was blatant, and it showed though the same had not really been the case when Dev Anand covertly used the brand name of Garware naming it Garware Cup in a cricket match scene involving Aamir Khan in Awwal Number but refused all subsequent offers. Raj Kapoor only once used Rajdoot motorcycle in Bobby. The world knew his daughter was getting married to the scion of Escorts. Shah Rukh Khan drove in Santro, the camera focusing on the brand name in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. In recent times, L’Oreal products, Christian Dior Couture were blatantly used by Sonam Kapoor in Aisha; Kareena Kapoor flaunted VAIO laptop in Bodyguard; monogrammed Louis Vuitton brief case in Kal Ho Naa Ho; Tanishq jewellery in Jodha Akbar.
There have also been instances of operation overkill, as was the case with the nearly two-dozen products structured into the narrative of RaOne. Reportedly, only Sony PlaySation could make some capital out of it. Dhoom had Hayabusa while Ek Tha Tiger had Salman Khan riding a Suzuki Gixxer cleverly integrated in some sequences. Parachute Hair Oil in Cocktail; Nimbuzz in Kya Super Cool Hain Hum, Mentos in Love Ka The End are some of the others from countless other products that found prominent place in films. None remained dissatisfied with the results. After Fashion (which publicised Sunsilk, Lenovo, Rebook, Kimaya) Madhur Bhandarkar has predictably used as many as eight different products in Heroine though he alone can tell what kind of money he got because Lakme, Monarch Universal, Head & Shoulders are in any case associated with Kareena Kapoor (had perhaps Aishwarya continued to be the heroine she would have promoted other brands). Also visible in Heroine would be Cera, Rupa, Jealous 21 Apparel.
The in-film advertising has really gained momentum in the past few years largely because of the instant publicity a brand gets, thanks to big stars presence, in films releasing simultaneously in 2000-odd theatres across the globe. Besides, it is not the beginning and the end as the product continues to get flashed across small screens months and years later through DVD’s and television telecast from various channels. To quote Harish Bijoor, head honcho at Harish Bijoor Consults Inc who sums up the concept brilliantly when he states: “Movie offers pre-segmented audiences. Those who watch movies in theatres are enabled audiences. They are willing to fork out as much as Rs 1,800 per couple per show (top-end multiplex) or as little as Rs 200 per couple per show (bottom-end theatre). These are enabled audiences who have entertainment money to splurge. These are impatient audiences as well, who will not want to wait for the movie to reach their television sets four to six months down the line. These are, therefore, buying and decision-making audiences. The benefits of advertising and appealing to such audiences are obvious. In-film advertising provides for this.”
By Suresh Kohli