The merchandising of cinema
What happens when clever filmmakers and cleverer product-peddlers team up? ROSHNI MENON checks out the results on screen and in the cash registers
Don't miss what's on Angelina Jolie's wrist. The company paid millions to sneak it into the frame
The camera focusses on the watch on a slender wrist, but barely enough for you to read T I S S O and figure out the last letter (T) from memory of the watch manufacturer. The company spent millions of dollars on getting just the right exposure for their new range of watches in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, albeit for a fleeting moment.
The importance of product placement and merchandising in films has never been more felt.
When the first Star Wars movie opened in 1977, the movie licensing industry barely existed. But by the time the final episode in the series Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith was released, Star Wars creator George Lucas had signed deals with around 400 licensees in more than 30 countries.
Lucas sets the trend
Lucas created the paradigm that we know today as entertainment licensing, and his heroic epic turned licensing into a merchandising powerhouse and a model that many studios chose to emulate.
Merchandising, in fact, has gone far beyond being an ancillary income in planning a movie.
Even Disney, which launched its first licensed product, a Mickey Mouse writing tablet, in 1949, didn't fully jump on the bandwagon until the resurgence of its animated films in the early 1990s.
For The Lion King, it had licensed the manufacture of more than 1,000 products, from toys to
underwear, and even an interactive game for Sega and Nintendo. But it is a gamble, for if the movie flops, merchandise worth millions of dollars ends up unsold.
Ranjeet, a marketing professional, says he would buy film merchandise, particularly if it were associated with a cult figure like James Bond.
"Who knows, some day, the merchandise may become a collector's item like Elvis' guitar or a bat signed by Sachin Tendulkar!"
The concept of film merchandising is catching on in the Indian film industry too. While it has always been available in Indian markets, most of it has been pirated.
In fact, the total Indian retail market is estimated to be worth $180 million, of which the organised retail sector is a mere two per cent. The purple sari that Madhuri Dixit wore in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun reportedly sold in excess of a million pieces in the grey market.
And considering the cult status Indian film actors enjoy, it will not be long before this turns out to be a big revenue earner.
Amit Jain, who's with an advertising company, says Hum Tum took embedded advertising to a new level by running an entire comic strip series, which is an integral part of the film, in a newspaper.
"It was good advertising strategy, for after reading the strip for a few weeks, I was keen to see the film."
More recently, Bunty Aur Babli, last year's top grosser, showed how innovative promotions work to enhance the saleability of a movie.
A string of publicity gimmicks supported the film the lead pair, Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherji, were allowed a news anchoring stint on prime time, and a special MTV Bakra episode was scripted for the duo. And as part of the promotional campaign for Salaam Namaste, Preity Zinta (who is a radio jockey in the film) took to the airwaves.
Films have also afforded advertising potential to products, brands and even services. Tourism from India to New Zealand almost doubled after the release of Kaho Na Pyar Hai. The British Tourist Authority is attempting to capitalise on India's wealthy middle-class and young business travellers by taking tourists around the locations of Bollywood films.
Movie studios in the West, however, are now doing more than just licensing products to sell T-shirts and action figures.
The new business model is to branch the official story into other mediums, like what the writing-directing team behind The Matrix is attempting.
"The Matrix Online" aspires to involve millions of fans in an interactive online video game.
Sarkar and after
New technology is also spurring the trend in India. For Sarkar, mobile gaming was used as part of the strategy.
Producers are trying to use new vehicles such as ringtones, SMSes and websites to impress the moviegoer even before he walks into the theatre.
There's also the odd case, where products like Fevicol become so much a part of daily parlance that they gain visibility in films without having to pay hefty amounts.
So dialogues like: "Ye to Fevicol ke tarah chipakta hai" are not uncommon.
Now advertising is in the face. Remember Amitabh Bachchan and the film Virudhdh? They paint their house with Nerolac, Sanju baba as a mechanic insists you use a particular engine oil; you even have chyawanprash and life insurance brands, and branded jogging suits being pushed... The list goes on.
Send this article to Friends by