In 1991, Salman Khan starred in a film called Love, which contained the branded song We are made for each other. This was quarter of a century ago when branded songs were not at all common. What makes this song even more distinctive is the fact that it was not branded by one, but by 10 brands and gave out messages in a humorous way such as “Teray pyar mein pehnoon ga, suiting Bimal ki sanam” or “Hum mehektay phirein gey, Old Spice ki mehek se”. Brands such as Amul, Colgate, Nivea and Thumbs Up were a part of this song.
Imagine such a song today and how it may have gone viral in a world that gives millions of views to Taher Shah’s Angel. Astonishingly, this idea has not been replicated by anyone else since.
Content integration is no novelty for marketers. From the Omega watch in the Bond movies to the Mini Cooper in The Italian Job, we have seen all kinds of brand placements. The Cornetto Trilogy is a good example of how subtle brand placements are possible.
The Cornetto Trilogy was a series of British comedy films directed by Edgar Wright. Each film in the trilogy is connected to a specific Cornetto flavour. Shaun of the Dead featured a strawberry-flavoured Cornetto, Hot Fuzz, the blue original Cornetto (to signify the police element in the film) and The World’s End featured the green mint chocolate chip. Although subtlety was a hallmark of this brand placement, Shahrukh Khan’s recent film, Fan, has in-your-face branding of Western Union, illogically placed without any link to the content. However, let’s focus on branded songs, a marketing platform which has not been used to its full potential in Pakistan.
Branded songs are not new to Pakistan’s ad and music industry and such songs have been a little more subtle compared to the ones produced in India. A controversy took place in India when Salman Khan used the words zandu balm in his film Dabangg’s hit song Munni badnaam. This song was not branded and Emami, the manufacturers of Zandu Balm, sued Shri Astavinayak and Arbaaz Khan Films for using the name without their consent. Yet, the sales of Zandu Balm grew by 35% in the quarter that followed the release of Dabangg, going from 18% to 23% thus strengthening Emani’s market leadership. In this case, the brand benefitted without paying anything to the song makers and then made money out of the lawsuit as well. There is something called a free lunch, after all. The second time around, Arbaaz Khan was smarter when he used Fevicol in another song. This time the brand paid for the song and there was no court battle. (Piyush Pande, the mastermind behind Ogilvy’s award winning campaigns for Fevicol was behind this song placement.)
In Pakistan, no other company has been as active with branded songs as Unilever. Their best work, from a creative viewpoint, was a series of three songs they made for Brooke Bond Supreme between 2002 and 2007, starting with Bulleh Shah’s kalaam (translated as Supreme Ishq), followed by Supreme Ishq 2 (better known as Anarkali’s song). Both videos were directed by Shoaib Mansoor and Bull’s Eye was involved in the production. Both had artistry and high production values, although the films had no link to the brand or the category. Strategically, it makes sense on paper for a market leader to do this as it would have given them good top-of-mind awareness; however, whether that translated into ROI can be debated. The third video was Yehi toh hai woh apnapan by Jawad Ahmed. This time, the creative execution was more in line with the brand and category parameters – Supreme stands for family conflict resolution, calling itself a ‘social lubricant’ platform with tea eliminating friction between family members.
Supreme went through difficult times from 2005 onwards, struggling to maintain its leadership amid competition from Tapal and internal profitability pressures. As a result, such grand scale executions were put on hold and the focus was shifted to volume-building campaigns. Yet those three songs were pretty much pieces of art, although they may not be written up as among Supreme’s most successful campaigns.
Unilever’s fascination with branded songs went beyond Supreme. Cornetto, too, had its own series of three songs. Jhoom lay by Noori, Ho jane do by Call and Chalte chalte by Jal. This time, the creative execution was close to the brand positioning and the choice of performers resonated with a younger target audience. Although the quality of the music can be debated, there were several consumption moments in the videos that did not look contrived.
MullenLowe Rauf produced Lifebuoy’s Dil se main ne dekha Pakistan, based on patriotism. Although the video, directed by Asad ul Haq, was pleasant, it did nothing to connect the audience with the category or the brand. On the other hand, Lux produced Ali Zafar’s Dekha jo teri aankhon mein, which stayed true to the brand offering. Lux is a beauty soap brand long associated with beautiful faces and Reema, Meera and Aaminah Haq had been endorsing Lux before they were roped in for the song. Ali Zafar, on the other hand, was cleverly shown as a worker setting up the Lux billboard, thereby delivering on the connection with the brand.
Pepsi has always been associated with music and celebrities and the brand came out with Tu hai kahan, one of the best branded songs ever produced in Pakistan. Directed by the duo of Ahsan Rahim-Amena Khan for Pepsi Cricket Clinics, it was a grand film. Bringing together cricket stars and big names in music was not easy, and even less so was delivering an outstanding production. Relevance to a brand in a category which thrives on top-of-mind awareness was unparalleled. From Wasim Akram and Junaid Jamshed to the wickets made from Pepsi crates, from the iconic ‘wipe-sweat-with-chilled-Pepsi-bottle’ to the use of the tagline Dil maange aur, the song had everything. Pepsi followed this up with Junaid Jamshed’s Dil maange dil maange. Yet another successful campaign from the glory days of the Pepsi-Interflow combo.
Things have changed. All these campaigns were produced before social media and viral campaigns came on the scene. The only major example in the viral world in terms of branded songs is the film Jawani phir nahin aani which has two branded songs: Fair & Lovely ka jalwa and Lagan ki tarang.
Jalwa has horrendous choreography and an extremely manufactured usage of the brand name, Fair & Lovely, in the opening line. After that, nothing in the song comes close to making it relevant to the brand other than the pink outfit worn by the main lead. Lagan, on the other hand, delivers. Firstly because the Tarang brand has been built on a connection with filmi music, so it’s a natural fit; secondly, because the execution is better. There is, however, one common problem with both songs; they are unlikely to stand the test of time. After six years a Munni badnaam has much higher recall than these six month old songs. Even Tarang’s earlier campaigns will possibly have higher recall than this one. Both songs have very little to offer on a standalone basis, unlike Supreme Ishq or Tu hai kahaan which were good songs, irrespective of whether they were branded or not.
I often refer to creative executions from India and there is also no denying that they hit the nail on the head more often than we do. While we seem to have struggled to create songs that deliver the brand message and at the same time be good songs in their own right, India has done so with ease in songs such as Munni, Fevicol and My name is Ranvir Ching.
The future of branded songs still presents an exciting, unexplored territory as the entertainment business looks to overhaul their model and offset production costs. However, like all other branded content, a song will only work if it has the brand message entrenched in it.
Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few. email@example.com