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Soft Advertising

Soft Advertising

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Published by Varsha Agarwal

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Published by: Varsha Agarwal on Jun 08, 2011
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03/04/2013

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In the movie Don, Shah Rukh Khan is seen using a black MotoRazr, driving
Mercedes Benz and showing off the designer labels of his various attires. This is
an example of Product Placement. And, he is also seen smoking in the movie.
Now is this an example of hidden promotion or is it just a directorial strategy to
portray the character effectively is a big question.

Indian government has banned depiction of smoking in films and television
programs as part of its war against tobacco use. Obviously, the filmmakers are
up in arms against this decision. They consider this as "infringement of artistic
freedom". Are they really worried about the artistic values or the monetory values
derived from the smoking majors? Three major questions need to be answered in
this regard are:

oDoes on-screen smoking relate to Product Placement?
oIf popular stars smoke on screen, will it induce smoking habbit among the
audience?
oIs the ban justified?

Whether on-screen smoking can be traced back to product placement is difficult
to judge. The financing structure of a Bollywood movie is messy to say the least.
Even if one could, most tobacco majors are diversified. So they can always claim
the product to be 'placed' was a snack and not the cigarette. However,
considering the situation, advertising of tobacco products is severly restricted (if
not banned) in India. There is no way a tobacco company can put across its
product in the print, television or electronic media. So this is the way to work
around the restrictions.

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Another piece of logic given by the film fraternity is that people will not smoke
because a hero is shown smoking. If the audience were not to be impressed by
the lifestyle of and the products used by popular stars, there would not be any
celebrity brand ambassadors. If the sales of Cadbury can go up when Amitabh
Bachchan is hired as brand ambassador, if Hyundai reports positive sales growth
because of association with Shah Rukh, one needs to think that when these
people smoke on screen the impressionable audience (in particular the youth)
will conveniently neglect this particular habbit or not of their favourite stars.

Then comes the question is the ban justified? Not completely if the government
was so serious about the health of the Indians, it would have banned the
production of cigarettes itself. But it is not very simple. There are many vested
interests, legal battles and employment problems for taking such a bold step.
However, this is just one of the series of initiatives taken up by the Indian
Government to curb the smoking habbit. There is a sound reason behind it. A
World Health Organization report said smoking in Bollywood films was being
increasingly associated with fun, fashion, glamor and success - About artistic
liberty, if the person is a good director he does not need artifacts like cigarette to
portray a bad character.

Another concern of placement critics is the prevalence of alcohol and tobacco
brands in films. Known for product placement around the world, Philip Morris is
now positioning its popular Marlboro brand in Hindi movies. These movies are
watched in rural and urban areas alike, and Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh
Khan, and their movie characters and actions, have significant influence over
youngsters nationwide. Meanwhile, Godfrey Phillips India Ltd. associates its
tobacco brand with bravery, giving out awards for courage. Later, the company
dropped the logo and name of its cigarette from the awards, but then renamed
them the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Awards – a smooth move, since they are now
promoting their company name as the mother brand for their entire range of
tobacco products.

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Current broadcast regulations deny access to tobacco products; alcohol is
absent from broadcast TV due to self-regulation (beer and wine do appear in
commercial broadcast channels.) Films offer these marketers their only
opportunity to portray these brands in a full usage situation. Criticism focuses on
imagery portraying smoking and drinking activities as common, powerful or
seductive. Also, when films are broadcast on commercial television outlets, brand
placements allow tobacco marketers to avoid broadcasting regulations, thereby
exposing the brand and its use to millions of viewers.

From all these placements of alcohol and tobacco in movies, smoking is viewed
as a part of hidden product placement.

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