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Product placements in Hindi films

The lines between advertising and content are constantly thinning, partly thanks to new distribution technologies such as internet, browsers, mobile digital video and audio players etc. Think of all the viral marketing campaigns (Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, Halo 2’s I Love Bees, Sunsilk’s Bride has massive hair wig out etc). But to give credit to new technologies alone would be intellectual laziness.

n 2006, product cameos in Hindi films have been estimated at Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 mn). This year, they are expected to touch Rs 200 crore (or Rs 2 bn, i.e. $45 million), which if true should place the industry amongst the leaders after the US. The US is currently the world’s biggest market for product placement, valued at $1.5bn (£800m) in 2005. Of that figure, $941m (£496m) was spent on television, and $500m (£264m) on film. Brazil and Australia are the next biggest markets, owing to fewer regulatory controls, with $285m (£150m) and $104m (£55m) spent respectively. France is ranked fourth at $57m (30m) because of product placement in its films, and Japan completes the top five at $53m (£28m). EU countries lag behind the rest of the world because of strict rules regarding advertising on television. However, EU regulations have been relaxed and one should see changes.

Films and product inserts share multi-layered relationships. On one hand, film texts cannot escape the afilmic reality. Thus the relationship between the plot/theme of a film and the product inserts is pre-determined by the real and ordinary world from which they are derived. However, at the consumption level of the spectator we can theorize two separate phenomenons, a) the film being sought as yet another good, and b) the product cameos as further information about other goods. However, the product cameos do not appear as disjunctures in the narrative but as natural habitants of the diegesis. Clearly, product cameos should not be viewed through the lens of advertising. In the examples listed below, the plot/themes of the films are fantasies of real, imagined, and filmic worlds.

Hero Cycles
Tag Heuer, Motorola, Garnier, Citibank, Oakley, Louis Philippe

Coke, Pennzoil, Pepe, Sony, Disney channel, Sugar Free, McDonald’s, Speed, Suzuki Zeus

Lage Raho Munnabhai
Worldspace, IOCL, Go Air, MSN, Good Day, Kurkure, Bright Outdoor, Reliance Communications

Singapore Tourism Board, Sony, John Players, Bournvita, Tide, Hero Honda, Boro Plus, Lifebuoy, HP Power, Acron Rangeela, Hansaplast, Lays

Rang De Basanti
Coca-Cola, Airtel, LG, Berger and Provogue

Historical examples of product placements:

Bobby (Rajdoot Motorcycle), Hero (Yamaha 350), Yaadein (Pass Pass, Hero Cycles, Coke)
So the question is, how do “real” goods exist in, and interact, with the “fantasy” worlds of films. Do they acquire the fantasy-qualities of the film texts to re-enter the realworld with the new qualities, or do audiences read the falseness of the images cancelling its power? With commodity exchange being the central organising principle of social relations, things get a little muddled here. I am guarding against slipping into critical theory arguments as that would be fairly easy. Instead, I will try to point at some initial observations.

Filmmakers see themselves as practitioners embedded in norms of production that are at the same time local, hybrid, global, and/or glocal. Cinematography, editing, lighting, set-design… all these are elements of film that, by nature, are similar in their usage. They may be different in their style/form, but their cognitive goals are similar. Contrary to the completely different film forms of Hollywood and Hindi cinema, they share structural similarities, for e.g., being made up of devices, systems, and relations between systems. Thus practitioners closely observe films from other cinemas to borrow techniques (technical interest), which they either use in entirety or adapt for local cognitive requirements (practical interests). Consider the usage of western music in Hindi cinema during the fifties and its gradual assimilation, or the introduction of martial arts action — all such instances are primarily driven by economic ends rather than artistic or emancipatory needs. When practiced in institutionalised settings, these subtelities are not noticed as the sociology of production does not permit reflexivity. Only the avant garde filmmakers can engage in “art” and are consequently shoved off the mainstream (for e.g., Mani Kaul).

The reason to examine practice is its centrality to the origins of the end text. The practitioners embraces ideas that are considerered “cutting edge”, “modern”, “progressive”, all associated with industrial societies. Once filmmaking is subsumed by late capital, product placement is just one of these practices that make a “modern” filmmaker. Young filmmakers working in such modes of production identify with such rational interventions.
Two upcoming projects, UTV’s Goal and Adlabs’ animated feature, which will use kids apparel label Gini and Jony’s mascots as characters, are moving from the ad-hoc background insertions to a more sophisticated approach. Reebok and Gini and Jony will reportedly advertise the film and hightlight its association with the film (Walunjkar:2007). On the one hand, this is proof of the processes by which industrially manufacturered commodities are becoming mainstream. This is pursuance of progress that will create the “other”, which will be shoved aside, exploited, or destroyed.

It appears the Indian scriptwriter has no say in the matter. The only known organisation The Film Writers’ Association has not been reported to have raised any concerns or issues.

Clearly, the distinction between reality and fantasy, content and advertising, commodity and culture is indeed blurred.

Reverse product placement refers to the release of products from a fictional environment to the real world (‘Forward thinkers push reverse product placement’, Brandweek, Jan 29, 2007 Pg 5).

For listings of product placements in Hollywood films, visit this Interbrand site

Read this interesting article on product placements (hope you can spot the irony).

Walunjkar, Somashukla (2007) ‘Cashing in on brand Bollywood’ Screen Feb 06 [Online] Accessed 06 February 2007 Link

1 comment

1 DNS { 03.01.07 at 6:54 am }

I am a scriptwriter. i want to chance in bollywood.

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