"We are particularly strong in the late night slot" : Laxmi Hariharan Hallmark's director marketing, Asia Pacific

The Hallmark Channel is planning a slew of programming and marketing initiatives in a bid to increase visibility in India. And coordinating these activities is Hallmark Entertainment Network‘s director marketing, Asia Pacific Laxmi Hariharan. As director-marketing (Asia), her responsibilities include communications, research, events and promotions, brand building, and brand management, besides contributing to programmes and production. She is also involved in distribution and ad sales for the channel in India.‘s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Hariharan last Thursday (12 September) to find out what Hallmark has planned for the months ahead.

Are you satisfied with the response your marketing initiatives for shows like ‘The Guardian‘, ‘Early Edition‘ have received?

Yes. Our Mother‘s day initiative in May was successful. Last month, we came out with 900,000 copies of ‘Early Edition‘ to promote the show. At traffic junctions, people who received a copy got the impression that a new tabloid had been launched.

How successful has the channel been in attracting new advertisers so far this year in India? Have any revenue targets been set for the financial year?

For major promotions like Mother‘s Day, we have been able to find sponsors like Whirlpool. Right now, we are pitching our programming initiatives to a whole new batch of advertisers. This week, Maruti commenced a campaign on the channel. We have also become aggressive in the trade marketing department. We offer the advertising community value added tailor made packages including at times a presence in Hallmark Cards. It is too early however, for us to talk about revenue targets.

"The channel is popular in the South in cities like Chennai and Bangalore."

Tell me about the brand awareness programme working across the metro cities?

During the first part of the year we concentrated on the metros of Mumbai and Delhi. Later on through research, we found that the channel is popular in the South in cities like Chennai and Bangalore. So our marketing mix will now target cities. This will include e-newsletters, advertising shows like The Guardian in cinemas in a big way. We also sponsor horoscopes in the local dailies. We are planning more innovative stunts. For instance, we will be coming out with two more editions of Early Edition Tomorrow (13 September) we are having a special screening in Delhi of the Hugh Jackman film ‘Paperback Hero‘ for the advertising community to create awareness about the product.

We have found that using three to four media outlets at the same time for a few days to hit the viewer is extremely effective in getting the message across. At the moment through radio spots we are promoting our late night movie specials. In this manner, people driving home from work late will have an instant reaction to the ad flash and will feel like tuning in.

" Through radio spots we are promoting our late night movie specials. In this manner, people driving home from work late will have an instant reaction to the ad flash and will feel like tuning in "

What is virtual product placement and how are you pushing it through?

This is a unique technology exclusively available from Princeton Video in the US. This allows Hallmark to insert products into the film or serial once it has been shot, edited. The advantage is that since Hallmark owns the television movies it airs it can make changes to a particular scene. For instance if the show is passing through a road in Europe an automobile marketed in the country can be inserted on the curb and then the viewer will think to himself that Europeans also drive it. Similarly at the breakfast table you can insert a packet of Kellogg‘s cornflakes which is popular in the country. The same scene will change from country to country. In England for instance the advertiser may want the Kelloggs packet to be removed from the scene.

This is a relationship that Princeton has exclusively with Hallmark. On the other hand Star and HBO, which rely on acquired content, cannot use the technology as the production company whether it is Columbia Tristar, Twentieth Century Fox or Miramax would raise instant objections if they were to alter the original content using technology in any manner.

We are at an advanced stage of discussions with an automobile, biscuit as well as a soft drink manufacturer to offer this value added service.

" Our value proposition to the cable operator is that we are a family channel and are not just targeting certain age groups "

Are you doing cross-promotions on other channels such as Discovery and MTV?

Yes. For Friendship Day we tied up with MTV. We promoted each other‘s programmes through snippets. We have tie-ups with the magazines Elle and Cosmopolitan.

What would you say is the USP of the Hallmark channel for the Indian audience and advertisers?

Viewers see us as a channel with emotions. If they are in a romantic mood, they will automatically come to the channel. We offer something, which one can watch with the entire family. The kid‘s block works well with mothers looking for a healthy alternative as well as those who want their children to be exposed to educational programmes.

For the ad community, we offer a clutter free environment, integrated marketing packages as well as an atmosphere where ads get noticed. Advertisers know that on Hallmark they are reaching a viewer who is loyal and has aspirations regarding attaining a certain lifestyle.

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