Product Placement in Movies

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on January 24, 2013

Chipka le saiyyan Faavicol se… Couldn't help but hum this cheesy number as I walked out of a not-so-plush single-screen theatre in Dadar, Mumbai. Guessing the name of the movie isn’t rocket science, no? During the movie, one exasperated bloke screamed out loud – “Oye Chulbul, picture me kitna ad hai be!”, while the MBA in my head shouted “Product placement, product placement, product placement!”

So, what exactly is product placement? It’s nothing but a means used by companies to promote their products through a non-traditional advertising technique, usually through appearances in movies, television soaps, or other media.

Though it is widely believed that the practice of using movies to promote brands is a recent phenomenon, this trend can be traced way back to the 1955 Raj Kapoor movie – Shree 420, in which when the protagonist enters Bombay for the first time, a large Coca-Cola banner is visible right above his head.

There are other instances as well. In Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), the story revolves around three brothers who own an auto repair shop. Several scenes in the film feature a poster depicting Mobil brake-fluid along with at least one mention of it by one of the primary characters. In An Evening in Paris (1967), the hero and heroine of the movie carry a Coke bottle everywhere they go, and an entire crate of Coke is clearly visible in one of the scenes. Oh! And how can one not mention the legendary association between the super-hit Bobby (1975) and Rajdoot Motorcycles. The motorcycle brand also became famous as the ‘Bobby’ motorcycle for quite a while, thus riding on the goodwill garnered by the movie and its lead characters.

However, there is little data about the financial aspects of these product placements. Also, there is no clarity about whether these were intentional or not and their respective repercussions.

The practice of placing products in Bollywood films really took off in the 1990s. Yash Chopra’s Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) featured several brands such as Pepsi, Levis, and Killer Jeans. However, it was Subhash Ghai’s Taal (1999) that became very famous (or rather infamous) for being a tad too blatant with product placements. This Aishwarya Rai-Akshaye Khanna starrer had an entire 10-second song segment around a Coke bottle. The lack of subtlety raised many an eyebrow.

Ghai carried forward this trend of not-so-subtle product placements in his next movie, Yaadein (2001), though this time round he took it to an altogether different level. In the movie, Coke had the mouth-freshener brand, Pass Pass, for company. Not only did he go for repeated Coke banners in the background, he also had Jackie Shroff flaunt a key chain with the Coke logo. This key chain was twiddled in front of the camera in every other frame Jacky was in. To add to our woes, everyone kept offering one another Pass Pass throughout the film. So much for subtlety! Sigh.

Some other movies that come to mind when one thinks of extremely blatant product placements are Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya (2003), Yash Chopra’s Ta Ra Rum Pum (2007) and Farhan Akhtar’s Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara (2011). Koi Mil Gaya had Rekha trying to push Bournvita down a callow Hrithik’s throat while it also promoted Coke and Hero Honda. Ta Ra Rum Pum, which revolved around the life of a car-racer (Saif Ali Khan) pimped auto brands from Castrol to Goodyear to Chevrolet, while ZNMD made its share of moolah by selling Mountain Dew, Land Rover Discovery 4 and Spanish Tourism. We can also add Krrish (2006), Don (2006) and many more to this list.

This method of marketing one’s product is viable because it is a highly effective way of advertising. In a fast paced consumerist society, advertisements are being filtered out. Consumers watching TV or listening to radio can skip these ads played during intervals, but that is not the case with product placements. Product placements also make it a lot easier to reach the target market segment and to etch brands in their minds. Moreover, the one-time payment in case of product placement in movies is only a trivial fraction compared to the cost of repeatedly showing ads of a product on various television channels.

Also, the Indian psyche of adulating and looking up to film-stars work in its favour. The Indian audience is emotionally involved with onscreen characters, and has always looked to actors and actresses for new trends, fashions, and hairstyles. Thus, brands placed in the hands of characters admired by the audience can be very effective. All this makes product placement a potent and cost-effective tool of promotion.

Having said that, care has to be taken that the product is portrayed appropriately. An unflattering demonstration of a product can wreak havoc with its brand equity. This also means that it is essential for brand managers to work closely with movie producers to ensure that the right message is being sent out to the target audience.

Looking at the current trends, it would be safe to say that product placement as a means of promotion is certainly here to stay. Also, Dabangg 2 has added another twist to the tale, what with Chulbul Pandey not only using a certain mobile phone brand and a riding a certain motorbike but also dancing with a raunchy Kareena Kapoor to tell you that you’ve got to stick it Faavicol se!

This article has been authored by Rohit Haldankar from Welingkar.

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