Preeti Hoon
Apr 02, 2024

Why OTT is influencing the next big trends in advertising

SOUNDING BOARD: Characters from well-known OTT web series and mainstream films are quickly becoming staples in advertising storyboards. We ask industry experts why this trend is not just shifting entertainment consumption habits, but also reshaping how advertisements are conceived.

Why OTT is influencing the next big trends in advertising

With Artificial Intelligence (AI) dominating debates on the survival of creativity worldwide, an interesting trend is emerging in India’s advertising scene. This trend has placed the originality and ideation of certain campaigns under the scrutiny of old-school ethics, aiming to create distinctive work with long-lasting memorability.

Protagonists from popular Over The Top (OTT) web series and mainstream movies are increasingly finding their way into storyboards. This indicates that OTT platforms have not only disrupted the way we consume entertainment but have also influenced the conceptualisation of advertisements.

Whether it's Shah Rukh Khan as ‘Raees’, Alia Bhatt as ‘Gangubai’, Ranbir Kapoor as ‘Jordan’ in a Rungta Steel ad, Pratik Gandhi as ‘Harshad’ of ‘Scam’ web series fame in a CenturyPly ad, Upendra Limaye as ‘Freddy’ of Animal in an Emotorad’s ad, or the popular ‘Munnabhai-Circuit’ duo of Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi in an Acko insurance ad, they all share one thing in common. The original source of inspiration for the protagonists in the brand campaigns has been maintained. The look and feel, body language, and dialogue delivery have been kept unchanged, exactly replicating the original characters from their respective OTT series or movies.

This leads to a natural curiosity: Why has this trend made its way to the advertising world? Are such collaborations part of a brand partnership, or do they represent a new form of creativity that includes legal adherence to the original creators? Campaign India reached out to leading industry experts across the marketing and communications community to answer these questions and more.

Josy Paul
Chairman and creative officer
BBDO India

In an attention deficit world, brands are looking for new and instant ways to connect with their audience. Casting popular OTT, movie, and TV characters in ads is a shortcut to engage with the audience. It offers the ready combination of nostalgia and recognition, and also leverages the connection that viewers already have with these characters.

Familiarity breeds trust. Viewers have spent hours relating to these characters. The brand can tap into this memory structure and context. You don’t have to spend time establishing the character. Get straight to the message. So it’s efficient and effective. And if the brand fit is right and the message relevant, it can be rewarding to the viewer as well as the brand.

Great OTT, movie, and TV characters become cultural icons. With their endorsement, brands become a part of the cultural conversation, making their message more relatable and shareable. There’s a favorable disposition towards the brand.

Naresh Gupta
Co-Founder and chief strategy officer
Bang In The Middle  

Most of these ads are actually not aimed at the final consumer but aimed at the trade. The brand wants to establish its muscle with the trade to get better traction from them. By having a 'star-studded' cast, the brand wants to tell the trade that they are doing well and that the trade should give them greater patronage.

When the trade becomes the primary audience, the brand’s impact on end consumers takes a back seat. Most of these ads will have average impact on brand recognition, poor creative cut-through, and will not have long-term memorability.

The other challenge brands like construction bars, plywood, etc., face is that the consumer isn’t very involved in the brand choice, and this becomes a massive challenge for brands. However, a brand like Emotorad needs far greater creative cut-through, and by leaning a lot on a 'character,' it makes recall a very tough thing. Is the character so well recognized that it will carry the brand with it? Will the brand be recalled, or will the OTT show be recalled?

Legally, this can be a nightmare. The studio that owns the series needs to give permission for the brand to use the characters. I would think that the brands have sought and got the permissions. With studios now being corporates, you cannot get away with copyright violations.

Personally, I would not want to do something like this. All advertising should be created with the strategic intent of creating a long-term advantage for the brand. By piggybacking on characters, the brand adds to the appeal of the original content and not to itself. In an age where memorability is tough and making people watch ads is tougher, this is not an optimum way to create brand advantage.

Nitin Malhotra
Chief marketing officer
Livpure India

In the era of clutter, where every brand is fighting for its share of voice, this approach is very interesting. It creates relevance and impactfully delivers the core message linked to the key product offering. Coupled with effective and relevant storytelling, it can be a fun way of delivering the message in a more personalized and targeted manner. This trend rides on the phenomenon of Bollywood and OTT becoming an integral part of the Indian consumer's lives, offering a high degree of relatability to the content. With the emergence of a meme culture, many of these scenes tend to become part of pop culture, enhancing their relatability for consumers.

It offers an instant connection, relatability, and lends credibility to your storyline, helping you break through the clutter and grab the consumer's attention.

It is important for the brand to be very careful in its choice of characters and properties. These should overlap with the brand's persona and the category it plays in. Additionally, the storyline has to be relevant and carefully scripted to avoid a forced fit. The story should also be comprehensible to audiences who may not have viewed these specific properties, making the story self-sufficient to deliver the message. It is crucial for the brand to ensure that this approach is both emotionally congruent and culturally relevant to their audience.

With the emergence of OTT as a preferred and more personalized medium, this trend is bound to increase, with many brands partnering with OTT stars, which may lend more relatability in a much more cost-effective manner. However, brands need to be cautious of overused celebrities who may be associated with too many brands, as overuse may lead to confusion and diluted consumer loyalties. The celebrity needs to be in congruence with the core values of the brand.

Arpan Bhattacharya
Head of creative
Lowe Lintas (Bengaluru)

Using existing characters to feature in ads isn’t really a new trend—one still remembers ads such as the one where ‘Gabbar Singh’ from Sholay endorsed Britannia Glucose biscuits as his “asli pasand”. Even the ‘Munna Bhai’ characters featured in a Flipkart campaign a few years ago, albeit in their kidult forms. So, it isn’t something unique, but it’s just that with the avalanche of content, OTT and otherwise, that we’re exposed to these days, there are more memorable and hence ad-friendly characters out there than ever before.

Advertising is all about getting a message across to an audience within a certain duration. It also usually exists in a very cluttered space – on TV and digital, or otherwise. Using existing characters who are already popular with the masses saves time and energy as far as establishment goes – not only do you already know about ‘Munna Bhai’ and his connection to the medical world, but you also like him from the outset. It makes the rest of the journey as far as the brand communication goes much more palatable.

Sadly, most people these days aren’t patient enough to let brands create themes, characters, and storylines! Done smartly, this kind of advertising can actually help the brand stand out from the clutter. It’s a step above using celebrities—it’s about using characters who are already popular among the masses.

I would think brands and OTT series/movies ink an official deal on it. With the IP rules and regulations, I wouldn’t think that you could just randomly pick up a well-known character and use them in the same avatar without getting permissions. With certain celebrities, it may be part of their contracts while signing on for these shows as well. There wouldn’t be any legal implications if permissions and licenses weren’t secured in advance.

This trend is just like using celebrities. And, with the amount of content out there right now, I do see more and more brands adopting it.

Campaign India

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