Chitti, the Robot created by its scientist Dr. Vaseegaran (both characters portrayed by the Superstar of Indian Cinema Rajnikanth) in the tamil film Enthiran (Robot in Hindi) that is directed by Shankar wears Ray Ban, Police and other designer sun glasses all through. There is a particular scene where the two of them shop diamond necklaces for their common girlfriend at Joy Alukkas, a leading name in ornamental jewellery in the southern markets in India. And the villainy Robot drives a Bentley, ransacks a Lifestyle Department Store only to stock up everything that’s needed for its lover. The scientist and his robot travel in a Mercedes CLK while the scientist’s home is shown as an exquisitely designed villa. All through the film, the leading characters including Aishwarya Rai wear designer stuff, exclusively crafted by ace designer Manish Malhotra who shot to fame since the late 90’s when he designed outfits for the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and his contemporaries of the Hindi film industry. This is Manish’s second outing in the South after the previous hugely successful Sivaji (2007) which had the super-hit combo of Rajnikanth & Shankar. Meanwhile, Salman Khan’s recent Dabangg portrayed him as a Police officer whose moustache and Ray Ban became more popular at some stage than the plot of the movie itself.
So, what’s with film actors and Brands? What is the underlining message? Well, there are two, in my opinion. One, that the film shows the characters as having been “evolved” using the latest – be it gadgets or cars, clothes or accessories. Second, “brand placement” or “product placement” is seen as a great opportunity by many brands (including retailers) to create aspirational value. While the trend has been popular in English and European movies for many decades (James Bond and his love for cars and gadgets, for example), the trend has been on and off in Indian movies. I remember another Tamil movie “Tenali” (2001) which featured Kamal Hassan as a “hyper” patient who is scared of almost everything in life, portraying Toyota Qualis as a very reliable car when it hits the edge of a mountain wall and nothing happens to its occupants. Shah Rukh Khan in the movie “Don” (2006) sported Tag Heuer watches which became hugely popular among the relevant target groups. Most recently, Sonam Kapoor in the film Aisha (2010) sported trendy bags and sun glasses while also shopping at Delhi’s DLF Emporio, the most upmarket Mall that houses Dior, CK, etc.
But the big question is do these product placements have any impact on “consumers”? Yes and No. While there is certainly an impact on the consumers about the awareness of the brands and products, the aspiration to own them is limited, given the fact that most of these brands appeal to the top-end of the society. As much as a Rajnikanth or Salman fan who pays over Rs. 300 for a movie ticket during the first week of release would love to own one of those sun glasses, he just can’t afford it. And it applies to clothes, accessories, and even cars. So, do these placements atleast bring walk-ins into the Retail stores? Ace designer Deepika Govind feels not necessarily as those who wear designer stuff may not want to wear something that’s very common. “Such clients follow global fashion and hence do not pick up something off the shelf worn by actors and actresses that are available off the shelf”, she says. It could be a bit different for street wear as promoted by the likes of Hrithik Roshan or Ranbir Kapoor but the following is limited and appeals mostly to the urban audience. Budding designer Aarti Tibrewal opines that the characters portrayed by films stars have indeed impacted what the audience what to wear. “At the same time, the commercial success of the movie has much to do with the brand recall,” she says. For example, the Anarkali dresses worn in them movie “Devdas” (2002) were popular also because the movie was a box-office hit, while Aisha didn’t fare as well as it was expected to be and hence the follow-up was also mute.
Retailers like Cafe Coffee Day and many other restaurants and bars allow a lot of movie shootings at their outlets so the audience are able to connect easily with their favourite hang-outs. While some charge the producers for letting their “space on hire” a few exchange it for the publicity they would derive. Brands, on the other hand use this primarily as a promotional tool, taking their product range to a wider audience. While the topic of “success on product placements” can be debated a lot, immediate results vouch for its success. A quick check at the eyewear counters of Department Stores in Mumbai and Chennai / Bangalore confirmed that there were a number of enquiries for sunglasses after shoppers saw Dabangg & Enthiran respectively. May not be the same for the Mercedes and Bentley though. Anyway, I am planning to increase my Ray-Ban collection, so what about you?