'Branded entertainment challenge is not about saliency, it is about strategic & seamless integration' : Rajeev Berry - GroupM GM - content and entertainment

Branded entertainment is slowly gaining pace in India and one of the active players in the space is WPP's Group M. The company has inked a joint venture with Raveena Raj Kohlli's Sundial called Show M. While until now the strategies were being put in place, the action is all set to hot up in the next few months when the programming on advertiser funded content will hit television screens in India.

Group M general manager - content and entertainment Rajeev Berry spoke at length to's Hetal Adesara and Renelle Snelleksz about the concept of branded entertainment, advertiser funded content and the way the space is shaping up in India.


Branded Entertainment is slowly gaining pace in India. Group M has got into a JV with Raveena Raj Kohlli for the same. How effective do you think this is and what kind of potential do you think it has in India?

I think everyone is aware of the fact that there is immense fragmentation in the television space with so many new channels coming in. With this, new media platforms have also emerged. As a result, clients are also looking at new engagement strategies with the consumer. Increasingly, brands want to create new touch points with the consumer and move away from interruption to engagement.

With new technologies like DVRs (digital video recorders) and PVRs (personal video recorders) coming in place, obviously one has to look at new avenues to reach the consumer. Hindustan Lever has been active on the branded entertainment front for some years now and has also been successful, so it's not something new that India has woken up to.

At Group M, we were actively looking at non traditional ways of engaging the consumer and as a result I have been working in this area for the last three years in different forms.

As far as branded content is concerned, we have our JV with Sundial, which is headed by Raveena Raj Kohlli. As a result we are looking at more and more engagement strategies and ways of reaching the consumer effectively. The aim is to see how we can bring in the vision and science into this space.

What kind of potential does this area have? This seems to be just the beginning wherein a lot of vigour is being put in by channels, agencies and brands in the branded entertainment and/or advertiser funded content space.

That's right; it has not even taken off right now and is at a very nascent stage here in India. Many players, including both channels and agencies, are planning to get into this area now. The space is just raring to go. There are no set benchmarks as such because it is a new field in India that has a huge potential.

This is nothing dramatically new as such because product placements in programmes have been there for a long time, but the more important fact is that now it is not just about the placement of products inside the content. It is about strategic and seamless integration of the brand with the content. It is not just about placement of the brand logo in the background. It is about making the consumer feel through the root of content how the product is consumed.

What are the challenges that one might face while developing branded entertainment and what are the things to be kept in mind to do it the right way?

The challenge is to make sure that the brand message is conveyed without interruption and without irritating the consumer while at the same time, keeping the entertainment value. The challenge is not just about saliency, it is about strategic and seamless integration.

Essentially, the challenge is to establish the fact through the film or television content, as to how the brand is consumed in real life. The brand proposition has to be established.

While brand fit and engagement are terms often bandied about in the context of branded entertainment, the thumb rule, like you said, is to position brands "emphasizing the way they are consumed in real life". While all this sounds great, how much can you really do in an environment of fast multiplying brands and multiplying media touch points?

We have just started looking at this space now. So we will have to learn along the way. But if you have seen our first branded show called Wheel Smart Sreemati, which airs on Doordarshan. It is all about finding one smart housewife through the game of 'chausar' as smartness is also a proposition of the brand. In fact, there is very little branding in the programme, through the show we have tried to convey what the brand is all about.

There are various ways of integrating the brand or creating branded content. As long as there is creativity, we can always find more and more ways of reaching the consumer.

'The Bournvita Quiz Contest is a fabulous example of branded entertainment. It is not in your face and is a property that has been nurtured over many years now'

The primary concern among clients today seems to be that one should be able to qualify and quantify performance of media activity. There are no metrics in place as yet, so how does it work?

We are getting into those measurement metrics wherein to measure the impact not only in terms of how many seconds/minutes the brand appeared or was mentioned in the programme, but also in terms of where the brand was positioned.

This metrics model is ready in the international market and we are planning to bring it to India very soon.

This will enable us to measure the effect of brand presence in a programme.

Can you explain that a bit further?

There is a model, which is developed by a foreign company, which measures not only the exposure secondage in terms of verbal or visual but also the placement which will help you measure and give adequate weightage to each of these. It is a complex formula whereby you arrive at benchmarks to determine what is good and bad and what is working and not working.

Can this tool be applied to films too?

Yes it can. Until now we haven't been able to measure all the work that we have done in the films space with regard to product placement. Therefore there was a need to bring in some measurement such as this to create benchmarks in the space.

Branded entertainment is about the partnership of commerce and entertainment. As we realise that the entertainment industry is getting more organised and professional, more and more brands are ready to engage with the industry now. Moreover, the government has also recognised the entertainment space as an industry.

When is it likely to be unveiled in India? Is it a Group M proprietary tool?

We are looking at bringing it to India towards the end of this month. It hasn't been developed by us.

At what stage do you think that you have been able to convey the brand value and proposition through an entertainment property - is it just based on the fact that your brand has been noticed or would you measure it in terms of sales going up?

It depends on the parameters that we have set for the brand along with the client. One could be the viewership of the programme, the second can be awareness levels of the brand after the show has been launched and the third could be sales. Different brands use different parameters for evaluation.

What are the pros and cons of branded entertainment for the brand and for the entertainment content?

As far as cons are concerned, the first thing is that if it is not entertaining then it's not going to work. One has to understand that it is not an ad. It has to be entertaining and if the brand is in your face then there is no future in it.

If it is only for saliency, then you have a typical sponsorship model, wherein you sponsor a particular show and you can get saliency out of it. Branded entertainment has to be strategic and more importantly entertaining.

The end result is viewership. One has to find ways to engage the consumer and to demonstrate the brand proposition and usage.

One of the drawbacks is that many people are looking at short term saliency routes but they have to develop the property as a long term one around the brand proposition and effectively communicate it. One has to be very clear that branded entertainment content is not an ad.

To my mind the Bournvita Quiz Contest is a fabulous example. It is not in your face and is a property that has been nurtured over many years now.

Another art in the branded entertainment content space is to take it across various media and not just television or films. There has to be a 360 degree approach and activation around the property.

'As compared to Hollywood where they spend about 40 - 50 per cent of the film budget on marketing, the top 200 Indian films spend only about six per cent on it'

What are the parameters that differentiate title sponsorship from branded content?

There are lots of examples of title sponsorship in which there is only saliency and absolutely no strategic fit.

For example, Close Up Antakshari is still remembered by that name, when the fact is that a couple of other brands have also come after that as title sponsors, but how many of us remember those?

So the question to ask is - are brands looking at only saliency for that period or are they looking at conveying that brand proposition in a strategic manner in a long term investment?

As far as sponsorship is concerned - whether title or associate - there are some good examples and some bad ones. But title sponsorship is not branded content.

Can you name some of the recent in-film placements that Group M has done for its clients?

As compared to Hollywood where they spend about 40 - 50 per cent of the film budget on marketing, the top 200 Indian films spend only about six per cent on it. So there is a huge scope for marketing their product and that is where brands can bring in that liquidity, partnerships and their activation platforms to co-create the marketing activities.

Some of the recent in-film placements that we have done are ICICI in Baghban, Kodak in Hum Tum, Lenovo in Corporate and Nike in Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna.

All these have strategic fits and are not in your face. Most of the time, the brand name is not even mentioned by the actors.

We have also done close to 60 - 70 marketing tie-ups with films in the last two years. For example: LG with Rang De Basantiand Fanaa and Horlicks with Ice Age.

Since branded entertainment is a new concept in India, are clients more involved than they would be in traditional campaigns?

Clients' interest levels are very high as most of them are looking at new avenues to reach the consumer today. Branded entertainment is a long term strategic investment and a property that is being created for the brand. It is not a short term practical campaign.

Clients are pretty much involved from the concept stage to the final airing stage as it talks about the brand proposition. If something goes wrong and you convey the wrong message, then all is wasted. This is a new field for marketers as well as it is all about being the creative partners and creating entertainment content.

Can this sometimes act as a hindrance as a client may want a particular thing in a certain way and it may not suit the sensibilities of the producer? In short, is creativity affected when there is a third party involved (the client) apart from the broadcaster and the production house?

Nothing is done at the expense of creativity or entertainment or for that matter even at the expense of the brand. It has to be a win-win situation and we have to keep in mind what will look good for the brand and the content in a strategic way.

So when the branded content is conceived around the brand brief, creativity will automatically be affected. But the end result has to be successful, it has to draw those eyeballs and convey the brand message. I don't see any kind of conflict in the creative and brand integration. It can even happen between ad agencies and clients when an ad campaign is being made.

What are the costs involved in making an advertiser funded programme? Would it be more than a regular television programme?

Not really. Branded entertainment can be produced in different budgets depending on the format and the platform of the show. There is no premium on it. It could range from Rs 100,000 to Rs 8 million per episode depending on what you want to show. It can be a reality show, fiction, non-fiction or game show.

It is about creating a show around the brand proposition.

What are the budgets that clients are setting aside for advertiser funded programming?

Like I said, it depends on the format and also the duration of the show. Right now there are no set benchmarks for the kind of budgets that are set aside because there are very few properties in the branded entertainment space. It depends on the platform too, whether it is a national or a regional platform. If you go down south, then the economies will be much cheaper and on a national platform it will be expensive.

The budget is usually finite for brands and within that they work out how much they would want to set aside for TV, print, radio or any other media, which may include branded entertainment.

Can you name the brands that you are working with and the projects you have on hand?

It's a bit premature to talk about it and I can't give too many details. But we are in talks with a whole lot of clients who are interested in this space and are looking at it as a long term strategic investment.

We are working with a set of Unilever brands and also with the likes of Hero Honda, Seagrams, Perfitti, Hutch, ICICI and Frito Lay.

What are the genres that you are tapping in the space?

The one genre that we are actively working on is that of nonfiction

Is nonfiction better to deal with than fiction in the branded entertainment space?

I would not say better as such, it all depends on the brand brief and what they want to do. Soaps are slightly difficult to integrate the brand with.

Whatever gels better with the brand brief is what we do. At present we are working on talk shows, game shows and reality shows.

So how does it work - do you take a property to a client or does the client come to you and ask you to weave something around his brand?

It could work either ways. At Group M we handle more than 200 clients and we understand what the brand stands for, its propositions, what the clients are looking for and their strategies. So at this stage itself, we identify and work along with the client, whether a branded entertainment property is a strategic investment or not. Therefore, if we have a format in hand and there is a brand proposition, we could go to the client and pitch it to them.

Similarly, they can also give us a brief as to what they want and we develop a format around it.

In today's fragmented and cluttered environment, will branded entertainment overtake the traditional 30-second TV spot?

No it won't. Not every brand can afford a media property and not every brand needs a branded property.

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