Smell the Fevicol
By Harish Bijoor
Brand-integration in Bollywood has surely come out of the closet. And how!
One has traversed an entire 360-degree movement here. From the days of yore when brands had a prominent Pan Paraag banner on a college stage when a filmi ‘jhatka’ was running, to the appearance of a packet of Red Label tea on the drawing room table, to the cut-out of a brand being crashed into by a zooming car in which the ubiquitous villain (now dead) was racing, we have come a full circle. The subtle gave way to the overt and the overt gave way to the subtle.
My contention is a simple one. Subliminal however works. Works better than the overt. The subtle rules. Works better in a more long-term manner of speaking than the overt and crass brand placement efforts that have given brand-placement an entirely terrible name for itself in India.
Look at it this way. Brands cannot be forced down people’s throats. Brands can be guided seamlessly into psyches by patient, constant, slow and subliminal effort. When something is pushed down a throat, it has the habit of being noticed and has a habit of being re-gurgitated back out, rather fast and swift. Reverse-peristalsis.
When you place a brand in a film with care and subtlety, it has a habit of staying there. The Aston Martin in a James Bond film is there, but is there with a clear context of placement. The Aston Martin does not shout. There is a FedEx in Castaway, but there is a clear context to it. It has not been forced into the plot, certainly not as forcibly as the effort of Fevicol in Dabangg 2.
See the success of an accidental brand placement versus a conscious one. Zandu Balm in a Dabangg was a big, big hit. And in the beginning, Emami went after the filmmakers for infringing on their brand.
From Hollywood then we have a similar case when the makers of Louis Vuitton went behind Warner Brothers, the makers of The Hangover2. The brand actually gained by the casual and the irreverent mention of a Louis Vuitton (pronounced wrongly with purpose) by the irrepressible Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Nevertheless, whether it is Hollywood or Bollywood, the best brands seem to respect forced and paid placements over the spontaneous and un-paid. And this is where the error lies. When you as the brand custodian control brand placement in a film, you make it as forced as forced can be. When a creative mind uses it accidentally in a script, the best use really happens. The most spontaneous and the most real.
Fevicol in a Dabangg 2 looks as forced as forced can be. There is so much discomfort in the lyric. There is so much discomfort in the meaning of it all as well. And most importantly, there is discomfort in the intent of the filmmaker and the marketer as well. And it shows. The consumer is not a moron. The consumer is your wife! And hopefully your wife is not a moron! Marketers need to understand this. Understand it before we stifle the goose that is actually laying the golden eggs. At least it was. In the past.
If the debate is over the subtle versus the shameless use of product placement, as of now, the shameless seems to rule. Everyone is out to force the worst out of product placement. Everyone is out to force the most. Everyone wants to milk the most. And not too many are concerned about context.
This sin is really a two-way sin. We need filmmakers with spine who insist on context when looking at product placement deals. We equally need marketers who look for proper context when studying scripts and options. We need to avoid the forced. We need to tread the path of the subtle and avoid the one that is in the eye and in the face. That era of brand-placement is done with. It worked when the masses thought like the masses. Today, the masses think like the classes. Consumers are really tired of attempts to poke them in the eye, in the gut, and in the groin equally. There’s been just too much of it.
Wake up and smell the Fevicol.
Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.