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Brand Placement in the Indian Film Industry

Churning out nearly 1,000 films a year, the Indian film industry is the largest in the world. Now, aided by technological advancements, the industry is set to take a further leap – across production, exhibition and marketing. In such a scenario, product placement in mainstream films deserves a renewed focus because as a marketing communication tool, it is fast emerging as the medium with maximum potential to capture and covert audiences to potential consumers. This is especially relevant in a world where traditional media vehicles are increasingly failing to reach the consumers for various reasons.

Brand/product placement is a promotional tactic used by marketers in which a real commercial product is used in fictional media, and the presence of the product is the result of an economic exchange, it is an advertising technique in which the companies pay a fee or provide service in exchange for a prominent display of their product. Product placement occurs in plays, films, television series, music videos, video-games and books. The objective of such brand communication is to expose the audience to a brand, whereby the effect can be maximized in terms of increased awareness and higher recall, so that the customer will buy the brand which has maximum recall; and to satisfy the customer to optimum level.

This research paper looks at the rationality of brand placement, the possible congruity that can be built in the story, as indicators of success of effective brand placement in films and if so, as variables in bringing desired change in consumer’s attitude. The paper highlights the basic reasons for placing products and brands in Mainstream Hindi films and the effectiveness of these placements as a tool for enhancing the recall value of brands in long run brands in the films. This paper also gives insight as to how audiences react to product placement, do they think it as an effective alternative media, if it has any impact on them and if they find it ethical.

The research incorporated case studies of four mainstream Hindi films, selected on basis of their box office fate and the amount of brand placement. These films are then anaysed in terms of effectiveness of the variety of placements in bringing the desired recall and recognition values. The four films selected include – Om Shanti Om, Goal, Chak De! India, and Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The research concludes with suggestions regarding areas for future research.

Product placement has come as a blessing in disguise for both, the brand and the filmmaker. Through it, the brand managers get the clutter breaking opportunity to look beyond the 30 sec TV commercial and the filmmaker gets to earn huge revenues by just showing the brand being used by protagonist or let it exist in the background. The deal is just perfect for both of them. But the most important person in the deal is the consumer who is vigilant and smart enough to notice what’s served to him and has reservations against in your face placements. Surely he does not want more intrusion in his life.

Hence, product placement has arrived and here to stay. But a word of caution is to be always kept in mind, by both the brand and the filmmaker- if as communication purveyors they are looking for better and innovative means of reaching the consumer, the consumer himself is already bombarded with marketing tactics from all over and in the three hours of movie, he would want to forget about all these intrusions, including advertising. Thus overdose of brand placement will only drive away the consumers from the cinema halls, resulting in a flop film and a failed marketing endeavor.


The Concept of Product Placement

Product Placement in Movies

Types of Product Placement

Brand Placement is Different from Celebrity Endorsement

The Opportunity of Brand placement, Consumer Information processing and Issue of Brand Congruity


A product placement is the inclusion of a product, package, signage, a brand name or the name of the firm in a movie or in a television programme for increasing memorability of the brand and instant recognition at the point of purchase. Placements can be in form of verbal mentions in dialogue, actual use by character, visual displays such as corporate logo on a vehicle or billboard, brands used as set decorations, or even snatches of actual radio or television commercials.

The objective of this communication strategy is to expose audience to a brand, whereby the effect can be maximized in terms of increased brand awareness and higher recall, so that the customer will buy the brand which has the highest recall; and to satisfy the customer to optimal level. Because of proliferation of advertisements and the consequent difficulty in getting commercial messages to reach and influence potential customers, product placement appears as an interesting alternative to traditional marketing communication tools.

Basically, there are three ways product placement can occur:

It simply happens.

It’s arranged, and a certain amount of the product serves as compensation.

It’s arranged, and there is financial compensation.

Sometimes product placement just happens. A set dresser, producer, director, or even an actor might come across something he thinks will enhance the project. Usually this has to do with boosting the level of credibility or realism of the story being told. Example can be use of ‘Tata Indigo’ car in movie Aaja NachleThe car has been used to as mode of transport for the lead actress both when she arrives from abroad and when she goes back. Interestingly the vehicle is widely used as commercial luxury vehicle in many Indian towns. So use of this car added a touch of realism in the movie. However, when contacted, the representatives of the car company denied being approached about the use of their product.

Arranged product placement deals fall into two categories:

Trade-off of integration or placement for a supply of product

Financial compensation for placement or integration

The most common type of deal is a simple exchange of the product for the placement. Example, let’s say the production team wants lead actor to display a quirky affinity for a particular type of beverage. This will come across rather strongly over the course of the program — which means the chosen product could get a lot of air time. It turns out that someone on the crew knows someone who works for that beverage. The production people approach the beverage company folks with a proposal and a deal is made; in exchange for the airtime, the cast and crew are provided with an ample supply of the beverage at work. Example: the movie Krish where the lead actor drinks a lot of Bournvita.

Sometimes, a gift of the product isn’t an appropriate form of compensation, so money powers the deal. Imagine that the marketing team at Tag Heuer has heard about this project and feels that, given the star power of the actor playing lead, this project would be a great vehicle for showcasing its product. Someone from Tag Heuer approaches the set dresser with a financially lucrative proposal. Eventually, they come to an agreement and the wristwatch casually appears in several scenes.

Before product placement really saw a surge in the mid 1990s, it was pretty much a do it yourself effort. Now there are specific corporate positions and entire agencies that can handle the job. Some larger corporations will dedicate personnel to scout out opportunities for product integration or placement within films, television shows and even games and music. Good example would be Madison’s specialized division for in-film branding, MATES.


Every frame in a movie has an opportunity for branding. With that intent, a number of marketers are now using movies to project the core values of their brands. In-film advertising, in its most effective form, is about a brand being a part of cinema’s content. Many global brands are now turning to this medium for the sheer impact that a movie can make on its audiences.

Product placement in movies has gained momentum all over the world. The practice of using branded products in Hollywood movies started as casual process since 1940’s. The earliest example would be 1945 movie Mildred Pierce with film star Joan Crawford drinking Jack Daniels bourbon whiskey. The current Hollywood movies feature a plethora of products ranging from telecommunications (Motorola, Nokia), automobile (Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Jeep, Lada and Mercedes) to other products like FMCG goods, Tobacco etc. Good examples are James Bond movies.

Indian mainstream Hindi films, popularly known as Bollywood the world over, caught up with the trend in 1970’s with Rajkapoor using ‘Rajdoot’ in his movie Bobby. Popularity of movies as medium for product placement grew because of the increasing difficulty of using television as an effective medium to target audiences. The film medium provides an excellent message reach and message life and an effective method of popularizing and immortalizing brands.

One of the key drivers for movies becoming a popular medium for product placement has been the increasing difficulty of using television as an effective medium to target audiences. The advent of cable and satellite television has meant that audiences have become more fragmented and tend to demonstrate a greater level of ad avoidance. By contrast, the film medium provides an excellent message reach and message life and an effective method of popularizing and immortalizing brands. The movie-goers vicariously experience the brand as they make a connection between the film, the actor, the product and its consumption, and argue that product placement acts as a perceptual clue which directs behavior to purchase a product to satisfy a need or reinforce a social status. Movie product placement is viewed as a cheaper and more effective alternative to traditional marketing communications, despite its inflexibility, but as a result of the establishment of specialist placement agencies, and through increased brand exposure through cable, satellite, video and DVD, a typical movie with international distribution can reach over one hundred million consumers from box office to TV.

There seem to be three reasons why marketers consider product placement in movies as interesting communication strategy. First watching a movie is high attention and involving activity. The particular exposure context associated with movies in theatres (lights off, minimal noise and distraction possibilities, large screen, difficulty in moving around, no zapping) is bound to lead to a high level of consumer attention as opposed to, say, listening to television. In addition, movie goers expend some significant effort (choosing a movie, driving to the theatre, finding a parking space, staying in line, finding a seat) and money (transportation, parking, tickets) in order to go to a movie and therefore quite involved during the show.

Second, successful movie attract large audiences. A blockbuster movie like Om Shanti Om for instance has been seen by millions of people, and this does not include video purchases and rentals, and eventual television broadcast. Therefore from a strict cost per viewer point of view, a product placement in a movie is a real bargain.

Finally product placement represents a natural, non aggressive, non persuasive way of promoting brand or a firm. Hence it may lead to less counter arguing and ‘internal’ zapping from consumers.

The most famous instance of product placement till date is appearance of Reese’s Pieces in Hollywood movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The film, released in 1982, prominently featured Reese’s Pieces candy.  While the brand was available prior to the film’s release, appearance in the film is credited with stimulating a 65% sales increase. M&M/Mars had been approached first about a scene in which E.T. is coaxed out of hiding by a trail of candy. In a major blunder M&M/Mars declined the opportunity.

Such success stories firmly establish the importance of product placement.

The use of feature films as a strategy for introducing new products has grown increasingly sophisticated. Savvy marketers now build elaborate marketing communication plans cross-promoting films and brands. For example, Audi used 2004’s Babul, a film by Ravi Chopra, as an integrated element for introducing a new model, the Audi A6. It was judged the most successful promotion of 2004.

Subhash Ghai was one of the early filmmakers to do product placement on a real large scale. Bollywood insiders say Ghai recovered production cost from Coke and other products even before the release of films like Yaadein and Taal. In future 40% of a film’s revenue will accrue from streams like TV, online rights, product placements and digital downloads. Video-on-demand, IPTV and DTH are already fetching handsome returns. Then, of course, there is the overseas market, which is expanding fast. In 2007 alone, at least a dozen Hindi Mainstream films have crossed a US $ 1 million mark in the UK an US.

As successful marketing efforts incorporating motion pictures continue to mount, the casual use of brands as props will diminish. While current practice does not require filmmakers to identify brands placed in films, viewers can reasonably assume that prominently featured brands have offered some compensation or other consideration in exchange for the appearance.


In films, product placement can be divided into three broad categories:

Implicit Mode: in this the star appears in a situation and is seen openly stating that he is using the product/brand. For example, in the movie Chalte Chalte, Shahrukh Khan is seen asking his worker to fill Castrol in his truck.

Imperative Mode: In this the star would ask his friend/co-worker/peer to use the product. For example, in the movie Koi Mil Gaya, Hritik Roshan is seen recommending Bournvita to Priety Zinta and her mother in the film.

Co-present Mode: in this, the star appears in some kind of setting with the product or he or she could be seen consuming or using the product. In the movie Diljale, love is the ulterior theme, and Sonali Bendre, the lead actress is shown expressing her love through Archies cards, thus revolving around the ‘social expression’ feel of the Card makers.


The celebrities endorse product and brands with commercial reasons, which normally come in the breaks in television programmes or in cinema halls. The phenomenon of zipping and change in television usage behavior due to surfing during the commercial breaks has reduced effectiveness of television commercials. Similarly commercials of cinema hall are found to be of low involvement as audience takes them as blocks between the reasons of visiting the cinema hall and the time available to them for entertainment. So the brand communication and the entertainment product are viewed differently from the audience of both media. Brand placement provides an opportunity where the involved audience gets exposure to the brands and products during the natural process of narration of movie or television commercial.


Of late there have been attempts by Indian producers and brand managers to come together and place the brand in a situation where the audience is captive and more prone to show high level of retention. Many consumers and researchers are of the view that this method is excessive commercialization of media and intrusion in life of viewer.

The viewer does not necessarily go there to see the brands; rather he is going to the cinema hall to escape from the realities of life. Brand managers are using different type of placements to make the brand look obvious at the point of emergence. They are also integrating the brand presence with the plot of the cinema, so that the audience does not feel the brand to be out of context. The brand should also be reflective of the class of user of character in the film. If the plot connection is missing and the brand is not reflective of the character’s class of usage, then probably the whole brand placement exercise will be futile. The success of Indian movies is not based on sound fundamentals which is evident from the number of feature films flopping every year. So if the vehicle in which the brand is placed does not have the required viewership, then the tariff charged to bring brand at some point of the story will also go in drain.

Films are selected as context of research for various reasons as explained below.  Compared to television, movie viewing has higher involvement. While watching a television programme, the viewer can do multifarious work at home setting, which may affect the attention degree span of the audience and hence, reduce the overall effectiveness of the medium for enhancing brand retention. In opposition to this argument, is the movie going behavior where the viewer makes a voluntary choice for viewing (exposure) a specific film (product) at a cost (time, financial, opportunity cost) for the purpose of wholesome entertainment. So he is more receptive to brand communication provided to him in the movie hall while watching the movie of his choice.

It has been observed from research that brand recall for commercials shown during the television programmes with higher level of TRPs are very poor due to the channel switching behavior. High level of media clutter, similarity of programming across channels, channel switching behavior are the factors responsible to generate sufficient level of research interest in researchers at the practice of brand placement in movies.

Brand placements are used to increase the level of brand knowledge among consumers as in every advertising medium. The uniqueness of the medium is found in the process of exposure and congruity of brand in the story. There is no competitive exposure in the same medium at the same time, unlike television of newspapers. This is significant as it may increase the level of brand knowledge. Brand knowledge is conceptualized as brand node in memory to which a variety of associations are linked. So it is important to identify the properties of the brand node and brand association.

The factors important for product placement include the level of abstraction and qualitative nature of the brand memory effect and the congruity among brand associations affects the favorability, strength and uniqueness of the brand associations.

The factors being:

Brand awareness: It is the strength of brand node or trace in the memory as reflected by consumer’s ability to identify the brand under different conditions.

Brand image: It is the set of perceptions, held in the consumer’s memory, as reflected by brand associations. Are the other informational nodes linked to the brand node in memory and contain the meaning of the brand for the consumers?

Brand Attitudes: they are the overall evaluation of the brand by the consumers. They often form the basis of consumer’s choice.

Other variables affecting Brand placement are-

Favorability of Brand Associations: Associations differ according to how favorably they are evaluated. The success of a marketing program largely depends on the ability of the marketing program in creating the trust among consumers that the attributes and associations benefits are there in the brand talked about in communications.

The Strength of Brand Association: It depends on how the information enters consumer’s memory (encoding) and how it is retained as part of brand image (storage). Strength is a function of both the amount or quality of processing information received at encoding (how much the person thinks about the information) and the nature or quality of the information at the encoding end (the manner in which the person thinks about the information).

Congruence of a Brand: the congruence of the brand with the story of the film and presentation in the film is another measure. Congruence is defined as the extent to which the brand association shares the content and meaning with other brand associations. This explains how easily one existing brand association can be recalled and how additional associations can be linked to the brand node in memory.

Brand Leverage: Compares the characteristics of the secondary associations with those of primary brand associations. The secondary associations are derived out of the usage of the brand by the character in the film. Example in the film Taal, the hero uses the bottle of Coke as a symbol of exchange of love and this contextual placement increases the strength of association of the brand.

Earlier researches have shown the importance of a strong link between the brand and the film. The stronger the link, the greater is the impact between the brand’s image and the attitude towards the brand sponsor.

Increase in product placements and institutionalization of the industry indicate that advertisers are using the technique to sway consumer’s brand attitudes. The type of placements should look natural to the narration, as consumption symbols are often used to enrich the plot, theme and characters of popular culture texts.

Some consumers may feel that the use of brand names in popular culture simply reflects the increased commercial content of a culture or the producer’s efforts to enhance the realism of their film. However, in case where the brand takes a major role in the story of the film as in the movie Friends, or where its presence in the movie might look suspect as in the movie Yaadein, the audience may realize that it was placed there to affect their judgments and they may counter argue them just as they do to the traditional advertising messages.

Advertising gurus claim that in-film advertising is a very shaky business and most marketers have a tendency and temptation to go overboard with the result that the film would end up becoming a long advertising commercial. Others say that since marketers always tried to stretch their advertising rupee in order to obtain the maximum bang for their buck with the result that brand suffered. However, most advertising professionals vouch for the fact that films, by virtue of being quite engaging, are one of the cost-effective and effective mediums for advertising. ‘If a consumer watches a particular scene and the advertisement is well embedded into that, it will remain,’ they say. This can be referred to the fact that the girls beating the boys fighting sequence in ‘Chak De’ has been referred to as the McDonald’s fight scene merely because it takes place in one of the outlets. Again, there is no mention of McDonald’s in the entire film as it has been seamlessly embedded.

Film content of any kind can be used to build brands. The last one year has been rather active in terms of in-film placements and branding through films. However, the placement of brands such as Ultra Tech poses a big challenge especially considering that there is no obvious benefit in sticking to stereo-types and force-fitting the Brand in film’s theme or storyline,’ he said

Literature survey in the Indian context was more disheartening despite the fact that brand placement is used more and more in Indian films these days. There are hardly any evidences of work carried out on brand placement in Indian Movies.  The Indian Hindi film industry id the largest in the world in terms of number of movie produced. Yet the success rate of the movies in Indian film industry is very less. If a proper research on brand placement can be done, it can guide the producers, brand managers and academicians to develop and effective brand placement strategy in which the risk of the film making and failure will come down substantially in the Indian market. The producers can charge a price for the brand placement and cover a production cost; the brand managers will find a platform to communicate with the audience about their brands in more effective manner than conventional television advertising.


(In Recent Times)




Bollywood has finally discovered branding. In 2007, according to industry estimates, brand cameos earned around Rs 200 crore, and as a result, even small-and medium-budget movies as well as animated films are hoping to cash in on this new and lucrative revenue stream. Indeed, media analysts and industry watchers expect that figure to climb to Rs 800 crore by 2010.

Some of the select successful instances of brand placement in recent times are cited below:

Rang De Basanti: Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti was probably the most successful Bollywood branding in 2006 with its limited edition RDB Coca-Cola bottle, and cameos of Airtel, LG, Berger and Provogue in the film. Coke, in a first of its kind attempt, launched Coca-Cola bottles branded with the RDB title and Amir’s picture and produced a movie trailer that was a montage of shots from the film and Coke’s ‘Piyo Sar Uthake’ campaign. Just the right kind of media partners, the film’s marketing ensured good and effective publicity and both the brands and the movie generated a lot of mileage from each other.

Krrish: Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish, now a case study of Indian Institute of Management, Indore, prominently featured Singapore Tourism Board, Sony, John Players, Bournvita, Tide, Hero Honda, Boro Plus, Lifebuoy, HP Power, Acron Rangeela, Hansaplast and Lays chips, followed by merchandising of Krrish masks, lunch boxes, water bottles. Its merchandising sold like hot cakes among children. Krrish made 12 crores out of product placement.

Don: Farhan Akhtar’s Don promoted Tag Heuer watches, Motorola, Garnier, Citibank and, of course, Oakley sunglasses as well as Louis Philippe outfits. The placement ensured that the viewer noticed don’s phone, his laptop, his watch, hia sunglasses and the brand names were the focus of the camera work. But it was still done in a subtle way and did not come across as being imposed on viewer.

Dhoom 2: Sanjay Gandavi’s Dhoom 2 promoted Coke, Pennzoil, Pepe, Sony, Disney channel, Sugar Free, McDonald’s, Speed, and Suzuki Zeus. The movie was quite an opportunity for Coke, for both the brand ambassadors of Coke were starring in the movie together for the first time. The cool couple drinking the always coolest drink, perfect for Coke! The cola company had a special campaign for Dhoom 2 where Hrithik Roshan encouraged youngsters to take a swig and “go dhoom”.

Baabul: Ravi Chopra’s Baabul featured brands like Audi, Kotak Insurance, Eros Jewellery, Nerolac and Taj Mahal Tea. The spirit of Baabul is celebrated with ‘Kotak Life Insurance’. The high profile in-film ad in Babul featured the Audi A6. Chivas Regal, Eros Jewelry and Audi together contributed 40 lakhs in cash and kind for the music release and fashion show of Baabul.

Main Hoon Naa: Farah Khan’s first movie Main Hoon Naa featured the following brands- Reebok, Café coffee day, Frito Lays, Levis, LML. MHN was an example of optimum utilization of branding in a film. The story of the film revolved around youth hence it gave us the scope of using lifestyle and youth centric brands. The brands that were involved were the ones keeping the modern day college goers in mind, for which using brands is just a way of life. The brands were woven into the screenplay in a manner where it looked like a modern day college going youth was using the product – natural yet conspicuous.

Baghban: One of the clear cases of effective placement in recent times was BR film’s family drama Baghban. The movie creatively integrated five brands in it. The brands included were ICICI Bank, Tata Tea, Archies, Ford and Tide. Baghban truly depicted the craft of product placement.

And these are not mere stating of the brands featured. These placements result in stupendous impact in consumers as delineated by the sales figures of the featured brands, before and after product placement. After Bournvita featured in Krrish, it reported a increase in sales by 15% and intention to use brand by 9%*.

Domios registered greater footfall in its outlets after its placement in Phir Hera Pheri. Garnier recorded a product recall of 46% after it got featured in the movie Chup Chup Ke. Lays got an additional endorsement from Priyanka Chopra after she was shown munching on the snack in Krrish, thus re-establishing Lays as ‘cool snack’.  After Reebok featured in key scenes in Viruddh, the brand boasted of having got verbal endorsement of Amitabh Bacchan, and extensive reach through multiple showcasing of the film on multiple vehicles. Tanishq recorded a average minimum revenue of 1.45 crore from its Paheli collection. And as if that was not all, they recorded a increase in purchase intent by 13% and favorability of the brand by 10%!!!

That says a lot about the success of brand placements.


There is always the other side of the coin!

Academicians from Universities say that currently, embedded advertising still needs to grow in India. ‘It is like a deranged marriage, the brand most often does not fit into the film the way in which it should. The reason is that most filmmakers still do not think of it as a revenue stream,’ they say.

So apart from the huge successes, there were some bad failures as well. Few of them are:

Ta Ra Rum Pum: After you see drivers and cars layered by brands of their sponsors, Ta Ra Rum Pum a film on racing cars would seem like the perfect avenue to showcase such similar branding. After all seeing these brands is what we’ve come to expect, but corporate honchos didn’t seem happy just with ‘being there’. So they must’ve insisted on special close-ups and zooms for their brands. As a result we get a good dose of Castrol, Goodyear and Chevrolet periodically through this film.

Salaam E Ishq: Salaam E Ishq was another product-friendly movie. With such an extensive star cast and lavish set designs the director must’ve felt the need for corporations to cover up costs. Of the many placements there was one that stood there screaming for attention. John Abraham and Vidya Balan play a couple in love so on the day of their anniversary John decides to gift his lady love with a diamond set. For those curious about the brand, it was Ira Jewellery and the makers give more than a glimmer to those who wonder. To make things worse, the camera decides to zoom more on the brand than the jewels.

Victoria 203:  If you’re one of the few people that watched the remake of Victoria 203, you’d probably be gripped by the urge to buy diamonds, more specifically Gitanjali Diamonds. That’s because Gitanjali has been constantly mentioned throughout the first half an hour. The makers go to the extent of giving the viewers an unwanted history lesson about the Choksi family that owns the company and their legacy.

Virruddh…Family Comes First: In terms of product placements, Viruddh went to the extent of shoving their branded products down audiences’ throats. What made this blatant promotion unbearable was that Virruddh was made as a serious film about a grieving family and their dead son. Obvious instances were where Sanjay Dutt posed with a can of Elf Oil in his garage and John Abraham praised how great ‘the services of Western Union

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