Madison+Vine: Whiskey stars in Bollywood flick

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One of India's largest liquor marketers is incorporating its whiskey brand into a Bollywood feature film, part of wide-ranging integrated effort including co-branded marketing in a country where liquor ads are illegal.

"Plan," due out this December from White Feather Films, stars Indian film legend Sunjay Dutt and revolves around the struggles and aspirations of four men who move to Mumbai, India's largest city, after college graduation. They frequently meet in bars or other events where Radico Khaitan's 8PM whiskey brand is featured to share experiences.

The company paid for the film's production and marketing costs, an undisclosed but "significant" sum, according to Sanjay Bhutiani, managing director of Leo Burnett Worldwide's Leo Entertainment in Mumbai, which handled the effort. In addition to brand placement in group scenes and songs-a prominent feature of Bollywood films-the deal includes co-branded TV spots, print and online marketing, events, contests, road shows and point-of-sale merchandising at 40,000 retail outlets.

staying on message

The agency also approved the film's script to make sure it matched the brand's marketing message, "A time for friends."

Mr. Bhutiani stressed the importance of liquor companies using "different means and ways to promote their brands" considering the legal prohibition against advertising alcohol in the mass media, including print, TV, radio and billboards.

Point-of-purchase advertising is allowed.

To work around the ban, marketers have resorted to surrogate products to promote liquor, such as club soda, playing cards and dart boards, giving them similar imagery to the flagship liquor brand.

In the case of 8PM, the product used for advertising the brand is apple juice; even the brand's Web address is

Locally, consumers understand that although the co-branded TV spots purport to be for apple juice, the product being promoted is actually whiskey.

The marketing campaign picked up speed over the summer with a "You can act with Sunjay Dutt in `Plan"' promotion, in which consumers answered questions on an 8PM branded Web site.

Fourteen winners will be brought to Mumbai late this month for a screen test; four of those will shoot a scene to be inserted into the film, plus win a three-month acting course in New Delhi.

lucrative biz

Such deals have become a lucrative business for Burnett, which became the first multinational ad agency to work in the Hindi film industry with its January 2001 launch of Leo Entertainment.

For the past three years, the unit's revenues have doubled year-on-year.

Although India is the only market in which the Publicis Groupe agency has established a Leo Entertainment division, Mr. Bhutiani has global aspirations.

He won't give specifics, but said his agency has joined forces with "an overseas film house and an Indian film company" to create an English-language film, with an international and Indian cast, to be launched next summer worldwide.

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