“You can not undignify a film to communicate a brand message because then the brand will suffer.” – Dharsana Bhalla


As time has progressed newer platforms for communication of brands have evolved. From press to TV to radio to outdoor and now films. In 2003, Darshana Bhalla, Sony Entertainment Television, Sales and Marketing Head and her friend Sooraj Bhalla, Chief Asst. Director to Raj Santoshi got together and thought of Branded Entertainment as a profitable business. This venture was started under the name Teamworks, which was actually Sooraj’s existing production house. Together, the duo has taken Indian brands to another platform of advertising.

In an exclusive interview with Businessofcinema.com’s Rohini Bhandari, Darshana Bhalla CEO, Mates talks about her baby – Mates, and how it is benefiting Bollywood producers as well as the brands alike.

When and why did your company venture into the field of in film advertising?
Mates is Madison And Teamworks Entertainment Services. Three years back Sooraj and I started working under the name Teamworks and for two years we garnered substantial amount of business. We then realized that we will have to institutionalize ourselves because by then there was Leo Entertainment and Broadmind entering the market. We realized that if we don’t institutionalize ourselves, expansion might be a reason for disintegration. Then we evaluated and realized that Madison is the best because Sam Balsara is very progressive. He has done work way before time in a lot of spheres. So we sold Teamworks to Madison and formed Mates in 2004.

What is the procedure of zeroing in on a film project for a brand?
When a project comes to us we assess it on the basis of its storyline, its potential to render naturally to brands, is it going to be a box office success. Then they identity opportunities for in- film and tell us or we tell them. So there are two basic ways for doing it. One is the brands approach. For instance, when Krrish came to us we got to know that it’s a story of a superhero targeted at kids so it easy to have a children’s beverage drink like Bournvita to be in it. If it has someone as youthful as Priyanka then it becomes easy to put Lays. So then you suggest to the producer that these brands can be used. Or alternatively we have the content approach. For instance when we did Zoom for Waqt, Vipul Shah told us that there is a talent hunt in the movie so channel in the film. So this is the content approach.

Which approach works in our industry as of now?
Now we are operating more from the brands perspective rather than the content provider’s perspective. Only then will we do justice to advertising. Otherwise we will become revenue generators for producers, which is not an expansive thought as of now.

Are brands incorporated at the scripting level of the film or at a later stage?
Right now both are being done. Films like Main Hoon Na, Chalte Chalte, Kyon…! Ho Gaya Na, Krrish came to us at the scripting level. But we also had Jaan – E – Mann that came at a later stage when the shooting had already started. But ideally it should be done at the scripting level. We should also understand that it is just a 3 year old phenomenon in our country. Somewhere people are realizing that it is business and not just art. So while you are trading an art it is business.

What are the factors to decide whether a particular brand fits into a particular film?
First is relevance. Relevance takes away 60% of importance. Is it relevant to the brand, the target group, the script, the situationApart from that, the scale of the film, its potential, its cast also matters. In today’s time with the help of trend analysis and track records, it is possible to say whether a film is going to be successful or not

Is it that in-film advertising works only with A grade film makers?
Right now it is these film makers who understand the importance of getting a brand in their films and most of these actors who work in A grade films are already brand ambassadors. But, if tomorrow a film is being made for east UP and my brand has to address east UP then I will do an in-film for it.According to me, in today’s time any film that is successful at the box office is an A grade film.

Which brands have benefited from in-film advertising?
Tanishq benefited a great deal from Paheli. It was done with an idea of generating sales for Tanishq. So we had Tanishq getting a 2 ½ hour showcase in Paheli because Rani, Shah Rukh and all were wearing the jewelry.

Tanshiq set out with 130 designs and a collection of 1000 pieces, with pieces costing from 80,000 to 2, 00,000 and they sold them in less than half the time and. They subsequently made more pieces to sustain the demand and these designs have become a fixed part of their collection now. So this is the extent to which a brand can benefit.

How do the producers benefit from in film advertising?
Of course one can’t deny the fact that there is revenue coming in. Secondly there is natural rendition. For instance, if it is jewelry it is Tanishq, if its children’s beverage it’s Bournvita.

At what stage does the producer get his money?
The producers get their money i.e. cash in hand before the film goes on floor or while the shooting is on and there are no strings attached i.e. no percentage of interest attached to it.

On an average how much does a brand have to shell out for appearing in a film?
It ranges from 2 million to 15 million. For a single product shot a brand may pay lesser than 2 million also. But if it is woven into the script like Bournvita in Krrish then it costs more, because Krrish is endorsing it. Right now like newspapers have column centimeter, TV has 30 seconds spots, there is no currency to formulate in film. But we base it on some figures and statistics. It is not assumed value.

What is the commission basis?
(Laughs) No comments. The day we become a public limited company I’ll tell you in the annual reports. But let me tell you that it depends on the brand, the amount of work they are doing with us, the amount of work the film is doing with us. It is a correlated pattern.

Have there been instances where in film advertising has not been of help to a brand?
Oh yes, Pass Pass. It has done disastrously, for the film Yaadein and the brand as well. I think it was way over the top, cluttered, irrelevant, non required so that didn’t help anybody according to me. The dignity of the film has to be maintained, you can not undignify a film to communicate a brand message because then the brand will suffer.

Why have in film advertising and films promotions become so aggressive in recent times?
There is demand and supply even in this market. Demand from clients and supply from producers.

Don’t you think too many ads in one film lead to clutter?
No. It’s a 3 hour film and it has attentive viewing. There is no switching of chance. It not only appears on cinema but it translates itself into DVD, VCD, television viewing so it works or the brand also. One has to marry them right. So what is too much?

No. In fact Viruddh is not too much. The way each of them has been implemented is too much. There is Reebok, Nerolac, Calcium Sandoz, and Western Union Money Transfer. It could have easily flown with these brands. The brands have to be in the context of the film. So painting your house before your son comes is excellent, but putting 500 boxes of paint is a bad idea.As a matter of fact Krrish has 5 brands in the film and it was carried out so well. In Hollywood there are close to 15 brands in just one film. So, it is how you did it that matters.

So does it have to be subtle?
No. I hate the word subtle. If it is subtle then how can you call it advertising? I contest the word subtle. It has to be seamless, it has to flow and it has to be loud enough for everyone to know that the brand is saying something. It is like a new character in the film.

Which film would you choose as a best example of in film advertising?
Kyon…! Ho Gaya Na. Although the film didn’t do well I think the in- film in the rally sequence was excellently done. We had also used graphics for that. My clients were also happy. In Krrish my Bournvita became to Krrish was spinach is to Popeye. Even Dominos was very well done in PHP.

Any film that Mates would want to do an in-film for?
Iqbal. I would have loved to an in-film in Iqbal. I think we missed an opportunity. Iqbal could have got his first assignment from our brand which could have helped him become a cricketer.

What is the future of branded entertainment in India?
It will evolve huge, large, and it will become essential.

Do you see someone like Yash Raj Films coming to you for in-film advertising in the future?
Today Yash Raj Films is a very self sufficient production house. But yes I do see them coming to me in the future because we will be transforming ourselves into a specialized service.

Compared to Hollywood films, don’t you think in India in film advertising is too much in the face?
I wouldn’t call it in the face. I would call it recent. If you see how Hollywood films did their in -film 10 years back, I think we are doing a much better job and going at a much faster pace. In Hollywood, in- film is being done for so long, hence, they have mastered the art. For academic interest we should look at how they are doing it. But given our context and storyline I think we are doing very well. What they did then is worse than what we did 1 or 2 years back. The pace at which we are doing it is, is outstanding.

Can you please highlight the deal that Madison has with Akshay Kumar?
Yes, it’s a Rs 100 million deal that we have signed with Akshay Kumar. This new treaty will handle everything, right from the film promotions, advertising for products and his exposure with corporates.

What are latest films that Mates is handling?
There is Lage Raho Munnabhai which is around the film and not in-film advertising. Then we have Don, Babul, Salaam e Ishq, Cheeni Kum. I can’t name the brands but let me tell you that we are using relevant brands.