Is your soap selling you soap?

...Probably. As brands look for innovative ways to showcase themselves, TV shows are flooded with subtle advertisements, even as you, the viewer, laugh and weep along with the plot and cast

In the 2009 film Up In The Air, George Clooney and Vera Farmiga's characters spend substantial screen time sexting and flirting with each other on their Blackberrys. And as the camera zooms in and out of the smileys and instant messages, you find yourself smiling along, hardly realising that this is a well-done product

Illustration/Satish Acharya

Cut to 2011, and Hindi film actress Deepika Padukone is flashing her pearlies at host Simi Garewal on a talk show on Star World. In conversation about her disciplined approach to life -- whether it's fitness or taking care of her honeyed skin, comes a seemingly innocuous question from Garewal -- 'what do you use for your skin?' "Neutrogena suits my skin, so I use that," comes the answer from the skincare brand's ambassador, even as a small band flashing the brand name appears at the bottom of your TV screen.

Job done, product placed, Padukone and Garewal get on with juicier tidbits about a certain Kapoor boy. Did you notice? If you didn't, maybe it's time you started paying attention to your favourite shows across television channels. Because behind the tears and juicy scoops, lies the subtle insertion of a product mention or two, powered by the realisation that done well, in-show promotion can benefit both, the brand and the show, in ways that an advertisement in a commercial break cannot.

More than ads
While product placement and promotion in films is hardly new (remember Bournvita in Koi Mil Gaya and Krrish, and Coke in Taal?), its increasing inroads into Indian television, is. What's also new is the creation of teams that manage the crossover between content and promotion.

At music channel MTV, for instance, an innovations team works closely with brands that come in with specific briefs. "These solutions are based on our extensive youth insight studies, and the creative team makes sure that what we have is one pathbreaking idea that we go ahead with," explains a spokesperson.

These include a Reliance 3G advertisement on Gone in 60 Seconds, where in a 60-second vignette, VJ Jose and VJ Gaelyn hold forth on a list of things not to do, with regard to a current issue, while standing side-by-side.

Recent episodes have featured a promotion where the audio and video of one VJ starts to stutter and pixelate, while the other continues to talk smoothly, looking over at the other from time to time, wondering what's wrong. You know in a second, because sure enough, the rotating disc that depicts a buffering video appears on the pixelating side of the video, with bands underneath each VJ saying, 'Just 3G' and 'Reliance 3G'.

It doesn't take a genius to deduce that the title sponsor is promoting the superior quality of its 3G services via the video of the VJ that doesn't take time to buffer.

Sasuma ka sabun
"It has been active in fiction programming on television for about a year," admits Sukesh Motwani, Head, Fiction Programming, Zee TV. Reasons range from fatigue with traditional advertising to a rising "scepticism about advertising, and the lack of credibility of advertising messages," feels Akshay Kapnadak, Executive Creative Director, McCann Erickson.

"Such placements are a far more subtle way of selling brands and products. They work because they are associated with the character (within the show)," he continues, adding that in the West, the trend began about 15 years ago, with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon starrer Goodwill Hunting being an early example. The protagonists often hang out at a Dunkin' Donuts branch in their neighbourhood.

Today, the trend has made its way into Indian soaps as well. The lead character from a TV show may dress and act like she belongs to the previous generation, but she's anything but regressive when she sells you soap, talcum powder and skin cream in short dialogues and scenes that you devour happily.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, on Pavitra Rishta on Zee TV, lead actress Ankita Lokhande, who plays Archana and has been cast in the latest Lux advertisement with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, is asked by her on-screen sister about why her skin is glowing. Lux is doing the trick, she says.

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