Shailesh Kapoor: What’s in a Name? The Art of Choosing a Show Title

12 Sep,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

SAB TV launched a show called Chandrakant Chiplunkar Seedi Bambawala last month. The long, tongue-twister of a name is now the longest show title for an Indian TV programme in my memory (I have discounted inconsequential taglines while considering titles). Star Plus broke its mould by titling their new show Nisha Aur Uske Cousins. At the box-office two weeks ago, a film released with a title that made it virtually impossible for the film to be taken seriously – Raja Natwarlal.

 

As the environment gets more distractive and options increase, the impact of content titling on its success has started to increase too. A title may not be the most important determinant of a show’s success. That comes from characters, plot and treatment, of course. But a title can be an entry ticket or an entry barrier, depending on how it is perceived.

 

Very little understanding of what’s a good title is available. It’s one of the least-researched areas in content. Which is odd, given that it’s the first introduction of the content to its target audience. Titling is still seen as a vague creative exercise. It is nothing but that. It is a marketing variable, but one that marketing departments in channels have very little say in.

 

It’s easy to justify a ‘bad’ title, because there will always be enough examples of shows that worked with a certain kind of title and vice versa. That they worked despite the title and not because of it is a point that’s rarely understood.

 

There may not be any tenets cast in stone, but there certainly are guidelines for good show titles, that we sense over many years of content and communication research in the Indian market. Here are five of them. Unfortunately, work ethic demands that I stay away from giving examples for them. But you should get the drift.

 

1. The marriage of simple and catchy: Keep it simple and stupid? In the entertainment business, that won’t necessarily be a recommendation. There needs to be a sense of attractiveness (commonly can “catchy”). But, the catchiness should not come at the cost of simplicity.

 

2. Avoid homilies and random musings: It’s amazing how some titles can be so “creative” that they communicate nothing. Innumerable TV and film titles fit this category.

 

3. Enough of song names, please: It may have worked for some shows, more memorably for Bade Achhe Lagte Hain. But the excuse to use a song name for a TV show title is now simply an excuse of being lazy. Songs that were never even popular in their own time are now being used as titles. And in some cases, this “own time” happens to be the 50s and the 60s!

 

4. Communicate the genre: The biggest marketing task a title can do is to communicate its show’s genre effectively. Choice of words in a title can be critical to communicate the heaviness or light-heartedness of treatment, the emotional tenor and the content bucket the show broadly falls in. I’ve often seen misleading titles being justified by that very standard and very lame explanation: It will be taken care in the treatment of the promos.

 

5. When in doubt, use character names: In fact, you can make that: Unless in doubt, use character names. Over five years of show tracking (Ormax Showbuzz), we’ve seen that shows with character names (lead or the lead pair) generate 35% higher unaided recall in their pre-launch week on an average, compared to those without one. Importantly, such titles force the promo writer to write character-building promos. For fiction content, that’s pure gold.

 

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