Padmaavat controversy forcing brands to rethink their Bollywood connections

Photo Twitter @deepikapadukone
As Padmaavat gears up for its much-delayed release, the buzz around the film may have created its own self-propelling marketing machine but, brands that are now a key element of film promotions, are missing in action. Quite uncharacteristically so, given that the movie produced by Viacom 18 was mounted on a massive Rs 1.3 billion budget and would have ideally recouped at least 18-20 per cent of its cost through brand tie-ups. And marketers fear, this could be a sign of the times to come, as politics over popular culture turns vicious and violent.

The film’s latest poster, with the revised name (it was earlier called Padmavati) has no brands displayed, save Amazon Prime Video, the online streaming partner for the film. Even jewellery brand Tanishq that has a special line designed around the film called Tanishq-Padmavati and had launched an aggressive campaign with lead actor Deepika Padukone in the run-up to the original release date of the film (December 1, 2017) has preferred to keep its association away from the limelight. It is not the only one, there are at least five brands that have decided to keep off the red carpet for Padmaavat says a marketing executive in the know. 

Quite clearly, the protests and threats that continue to pour in for the movie’s stars and all those that have played any role in its making have kept the brands away. They have all gone passive, preferring to sink their investments rather than risk a greater loss by making them public, says a brand consultant. Viacom 18 was not available for comment on whether any brands are actively associated with the film.

Over the years, Bollywood has served as a profitable platform for brands. A recent report by ESP, a GroupM company, indicates that annually, companies spend close to Rs 1 billion on co-branded marketing media spends for Hindi films. In 2017, 76 out of the 134 odd Hindi films that released had co-branded marketing tie-ups. It is a mutually beneficial relationship but, the flip side is that brands are dragged into any controversy that a film gets into.

Padmaavat is a classic example. While Tanishq refused to comment on the story, it is not talking up its association with the film although it still has the co-branded line of jewellery for sale. In fact, the brand has been quiet ever since the first protests broke out before the Gujarat election. Sandeep Goyal, founder Mogae Media, says it is understandable that brands would want to distance themselves. “It is not only about bad press. A lot of these brands have retail outlets and using the film’s posters (as they would be entitled to under their contract) could attract protestors who could get violent. In that sense, Padmaavat is bad news right now.”

Will the controversy impact future brand-Bollywood associations? Experts believe it will. “It’s a mess. It’s not so much about the money associated with the film. Exit clauses exist for such events and the money can be refunded. But the damage a brand suffers is different,” says a brand manager.

On the bright side, brands can cover some lost ground by playing up their associations in international markets. Goyal reveals that in markets like Dubai, Padmaavat’s posters are displaying the big brands and since the film was cleared for international distribution much before it got certification from the CBFC in India, the offshore publicity machines have been whirring for a while. 

Anirban Das-blah, founder KWAN, an entertainment firm that also facilitates brand associations says that the controversy is an ominous sign of the times to come. He like many others who requested anonymity believe that the government and the law and order infrastructure are to blame. “As long as the government continues to support such vandalism with its silence (over such matters), the industry will suffer,” Das-blah says.

There is another way to ride the news cycle though, even if it is negative. Online ticketing portal BookMyShow (BMS) is doing that with a dash of humour. It has a promotional video asking people not to miss the film or else they could find themselves out of all conversations on social media. 
  
Brands are not the only parties caught in the crossfire. Exhibitors and distributors feel that the fear of violence could keep people away from the theatre and thereby impact all films releasing over the weekend. “The good thing is that the film has been in the news since almost eight months and so it has visibility. If there is no vandalism and if the film is decent, not even great, it has good chances. Let’s see what the weekend holds,” says Shaaminder Malik, independent distributor and trade analyst for North India.

TAKING A HIT

  • Brand associations are a big part of Bollywood; in 2017, more than half the Hindi movies released had co-branded marketing tie-ups
  • Brand activations are at their peak just before a movie releases, but not for Padmaavat
  • Mounted at a budget of ~ 1.3 billion, the movie is produced by Viacom 18. It releases January 25



Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel