Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Doling out reel advice

Published Apr 30, 2018 06:09pm
Pakistan's cinematic revival poses new opportunities for brands to exploit effectively.
The Nasheman Cinema is located on Waheed Murad Road in Saddar, Karachi. Nasheman Cinema was inaugurated on August 1, 1975. Most of the cinemas located nearby began to close down as the quality of local movies deteriorated. The Nasheman, however, survived, although by showing Pashto films to a rather dodgy clientele. Pakistani cinemas may have experienced a revival since 2015; however audiences these days prefer to flock to slick multiplexes, equipped with plush seats and modern technology. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)
The Nasheman Cinema is located on Waheed Murad Road in Saddar, Karachi. Nasheman Cinema was inaugurated on August 1, 1975. Most of the cinemas located nearby began to close down as the quality of local movies deteriorated. The Nasheman, however, survived, although by showing Pashto films to a rather dodgy clientele. Pakistani cinemas may have experienced a revival since 2015; however audiences these days prefer to flock to slick multiplexes, equipped with plush seats and modern technology. (photo: Arif Mahmood/ Dawn White Star)

The hippest, trendiest statement on today’s media landscape has become: “I’m working on a film!” Leaving many ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ in their wake, dizzy with the idea of cashing in. And for the most part, it is true. We are experiencing a new wave of cinematic revival. This trend is fuelled by a generation with a passion for creating stories that relate to the modern Pakistani cinema-goer, hungry for localised content, at the swanky new multiplexes mushrooming across the urban centres.

So if everyone who is anyone is currently yearning to make a film, where are the big bucks coming from to fuel this new-found passion? Without any real infrastructure in place for the development of the cinematic arts and box office sales, and private funding only partly contributing to the bottom-line, it falls to the filmmaker to find alternative sources of funding.

Pakistani filmmakers come from a diversity of backgrounds and industries: advertising, film-school graduates, documentarians, writers and storytellers. Their artistic vision and integrity to storytelling comes from different spaces and hence, their approach to ‘where is the money coming from?’ will lead to different internal conflicts. What comes next may seem like it may involve selling a little bit of your artistic soul, but if used intelligently, can spell success for all involved. The big bad world of brands!


"Our current times allow us to up the ante to a different level and move towards integrating content and making it part of the storytelling narrative."


Already opening up as one of the major sources of revenue generation to bring the vision of young filmmakers to life, brands are beginning to see films as a space through which to connect with audiences; something that goes beyond simply ‘sponsoring’ the screening of the latest Bollywood/Hollywood summer flick, but which will actually allow them to engage with audiences in a real and captivating way; in fact, an opportunity to align their brand’s values within a larger context. In short, this becomes a case not of what you say, but how you say it!

So, how to intelligently and seamlessly weave a brand into your story, getting the best for both, yet not grabbing the attention of savvy consumers in a way that interrupts the narrative? We must remember that when a brand’s consumer becomes part of an audience for a film, their receptiveness to branded content decreases; the thought of brands interrupting the sacred space of film has long been eyed with disdain by filmmakers and audiences. It is for this reason that the days of blatant product placement are over... whether you look at it globally or locally. We are dealing with smarter audiences.


In Pakistan, often the first port of call for filmmakers and clients is the agency, because as partners of both filmmakers and brands, they seem best positioned to discuss the bringing together of both worlds.


A much quoted and well-loved example of product placement comes from the Spielberg classic; E.T., a film that gave me one of my earlier cinematic experiences and a fondness for Reese’s Pieces (candy product) that am yet to outgrow! The intelligent use of the brand that became famous as ‘alien candy’, both through the film and the tie up with the brand’s advertising campaign, allowed the brand to catapult to success, leaving M&Ms, the brand which was originally approached (but declined), in tears! Whilst this was fantastic at the time, and may still work well today, it is the very least level of sophistication we need to be aiming for locally. Our current times allow us to up the ante to a different level and move towards integrating content and making it part of the storytelling narrative.

The fact is that films often, and to varying degrees, imitate life. If we are surrounded by brands in the real world, it would be silly to assume that characters would not be. It is natural to see brands appear on screen; a Starbucks logo, a FedEx van or even a can of Coke – what is disruptive is when you hear the voice of the brand rather than the voice of the filmmaker. A classic example of how to nauseate an audience comes from the film Mac and Me... panned by critics and audiences alike as, “a thinly-veiled feature length commercial for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola” (Rotten Tomatoes). This is clearly an example of the brand telling the story rather than the filmmaker. Whether this was intentional or not, is a different story.

So then, how does one strike gold? By making your product central to the story; the instrument that moves the narrative forward. And here begins the true challenge: the magic, art and science of seamlessly meshing branded content into films. You’ve Got Mail and its partnership with AOL is a great example of how the brand integrated its offering directly into the script. The brand’s service and the novelty of the technology was so inspiring to the writer, Nora Ephron, that she wanted to leverage this new high-tech way of meeting people into her storyline, turning AOL into almost a ‘character’ that became a tri-tagonist, essential to driving the narrative forward. She even agreed to modify the film’s title from You Have Mail to AOL’s signature You’ve Got Mail.


Integrating a brand’s content into a film can be hugely rewarding, but must be fair to the brand, the artistic vision of the filmmaker, and the larger art of filmmaking.


Sometimes examples like these happen purely by luck and sometimes by design. In Pakistan, often the first port of call for filmmakers and clients is the agency, because as partners of both filmmakers and brands, they seem best positioned to discuss the bringing together of both worlds. However, for agencies to contribute to this endeavour, they need to be brought on-board as early as possible. We often get requests to ‘sponsor’ a film after it has been made or find brands that would be interested in sponsoring a film when it is about to go into production. Not many filmmakers have these conversations at the outset of the process. The reality of the big bad world of brands is often that the subject matter of the film will play a major part in deciding which brands will be interested or even should be approached.

Whether you enter into such an endeavour as a filmmaker looking to bring your creation to life, or as a brand wanting to support a promising initiative, there is an art and science to the process. Make the inclusion of a brand as natural to the storytelling as possible, and the language as colloquial. If it is used as in ‘real-life’ conversation, it will stick out less; it should never be a force fit; the objective is to immerse the brand into a storytelling context.

An authentic partnership is not always just about the brand being present in the film, but the film being present in the brand’s communication, as Spielberg did with E.T. and Reese’s Pieces.

Integrating a brand’s content into a film can be hugely rewarding, but must be fair to the brand, the artistic vision of the filmmaker, and the larger art of filmmaking.

However, no matter how you look at it, or how brands and filmmakers work or don’t work together, the revival of the film and silver-screen culture is as promising as it is exciting.

Article excerpted from ‘Reel advice’, published in the July-August 2016 edition of Aurora. Amber Rauf is Director Strategic Planning & Corporate Communication, MullenLowe Rauf. amber.rauf@mullenlowerauf.com*

First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.