Campaign India Team
Mar 10, 2014

Unilever forays into mainstream branded entertainment with MTV Films

An hour-long feature by an ace Bollywood director based on a brand’s philosophy to air each month

Unilever forays into mainstream branded entertainment with MTV Films

When a film directed by Anurag Basu goes on air on 23 March 2014 on MTV India, it would signal Indian brands’ foray into mainstream entertainment on TV. The film will be the first of six MTV Films, ‘inspired by’ Hindustan Unilever brands and brought to life by Mindshare and the youth entertainment channel. The directors roped in to create the six films are Anurag Basu, Anurag Kashyap, Rohan Sippy, Nikhil Advani, Abhinay Deo and Shoojit Sircar. The movies will be based on the philosophies of HUL’s brands such as Sunsilk, Tresemme, Ponds, Lakme and Close up (amongst others), informed a joint statement. Each director’s mandate is to portray the take of today’s youth on age-old topics of love, family, friendship, relationships and ambitions, in an hour-long story.

Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home and personal care, HUL, said, “We are finding that content and advertising are merging more and more. Lot of people nowadays are listening to music, seeing movies... and advertising, if it becomes integrated within, it becomes more powerful. And therefore with this initiative we are just taking the first step and understanding how we can be strongly linked to content and entertainment. This is just a beginning.”

The brands chosen are ones that have a purpose and a philosophy beyond their functional attributes, explained the spokesperson.

On growth of branded content, Bakshi added, “This will grow, this is the way the world is going. I think finding ways in which we become part of content rather just be intrusive to the content is going to be very important.”

Outlining that the idea owed its origins jointly to MTV and Mindshare, Ravi Rao, leader - South Asia, Mindshare, said, “I think the most important element is also the fact that brand managers, and the category and the marketing head at Levers, took a chance to say here is a brilliant idea and let’s back it up.”

Aditya Swamy, EVP and business head, MTV, said, “Everybody is looking out for new ways to connect with the audience. If all of us are batting and there are 20 balls coming at you, you need to know which ball to go after and aim for the six. Your gut has to tell you which ball to go after. Everybody has taken a risk with this and put their foot forward.”

He added, “The rules of broadcast are changing. Typically, you do six episodes. All the episodes kind of connect and story goes from one to the other. Here there are six films not connected to each other; they are airing once a month. So, everybody has taken a chance and thrown their hat in the ring. I think in today’s context, it’s the only way to win, given so much clutter, given that so many things are happening, the audience have so many options. Consumers also reward brands with personalities that actually go there and redefine what they stand for."

Director Abhinay Deo said, “I really hope as hell that this initiative goes ahead as much as possible. Internationally this is not new, it has been done before. BMW has done it; many other brands have done it. But in India I really feel that this should pick up. And with the advent of internet to such an extent, all the lines are blurring. Storytelling is getting to a new place altogether.”

Rao added, “In 2001, BMW created eight short 8 to 10-minute films produced by great directors like John woo and Ang Lee. The difference between that and this is the canvas - I think the scale is dramatically different. Here we are not talking of short format films, we are talking of larger format and that gives the freedom to manoeuvre and it brings the distilled effort to what the brands stands for. So it’s not a force fit, it is much more unique in its real storytelling capability.”

Rao explained the difference between what has been traditionally practised and the brand films format. He said, “The big difference is that marketers tend to control what the messaging needs to be (from a brand angle) towards consumers in any other format. This is one format where the control elements are at the lowest possible level. As long as you have credible people directing and building stuff, people who know what they are upto, then you are going to get a great product.”

Deo added, “Here the story has to entertain first and then somewhere subtly give you the brand philosophy. It is quite different in that way. But eventually, what are we doing? We are propagating the philosophy of the brand, which is a form of advertising. I am most excited about the fact that it’s a great experiment to break the boundaries of what has been set as advertising, and set as feature films, and combining them and blurring the line in between.”

On the future potential, Swamy surmised, “I don’t see why we can’t do 52 stories over 52 weeks for 52 brands.”

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