Brand Saga: Kaun Banega Crorepati Marketing Strategy that made reality shows a trend

Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy

In this edition of Brand Saga, Social Samosa explores Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy through the years and how it popularized reality shows

It was the year 1999; Star India was struggling to keep up with its counterparts, especially in the 9 PM – 10 PM primetime zone. While Amanat and Hasratein on Zee TV and Dastaan and Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka on Sony TV lead the charts with exceptional ratings, Star India had shows that were “much appreciated” but didn’t get them ratings. This chapter of Brand Saga explores how Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy changed this.

In the hopes of turning around Star TV’s brand image and positioning, Peter Mukherjea, the then CEO of Star India roped in Samir Nair as he had experience in both – creation & production. Under Nair’s leadership, the channel brought to India, a reality show that would become a sensation from the very first season – Kaun Banega Crorepati – a show that single-handedly turned around the destiny of three brands – Star TV, Brand Bachchan, and Samir Nair (who went on to change the face of Indian GECs). 

Brand Saga this week explores the marketing strategy of Kaun Banega Crorepati, a show that became a not only a successful series but also a part of the Indian household routine, so much so that an Oscar winning film was based on it. 

The Making

In a chance encounter, Steve Askew a member of Star’s international team came across UK’s successfully running show – Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Askew – Nair duo saw promise in the format and decided to acquire rights. In spite of delivering a series of box office failures, Amitabh Bachchan was zeroed in as the host – he was after all the most widely known actor. This strategic step in the marketing strategy of Kaun Banega Crorepati paid off well.

With industry critiques having written him off, Bachchan was on the edge when it came to making a commitment to the silver screen. After much persuasion, it happened and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The team worked day in and day out and opened to over 1.2 participants million calls per day (my family made 20 calls a day; that should give you a perspective). Kaun Banega Crorepati went Live on July 03, 9 PM and hit a rating of 10 during the first week itself, surpassing the soap operas aired at the same time on its rival channels. 

Kaun Banega Crorepati Marketing Strategy

Season 1 – Nau Baj Gaye Kya? 

From its very first season, Kaun Banega Crorepati emitted an aspirational value, targeting the Indian psyche of achieving goals & dreams. Bachchan’s voice and enigma added to it. Though the channel had to make substantial changes in making our beloved KBC the heartthrob it is today. For instance, the gratification money was increased as compared to other markets & the show ran for a duration of one hour as opposed to 30-minute slots prominent in that period. 

Adding to the aspirational tone of the Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy was a hint of competition – who will be a millionaire you or your neighbour? Further, their first even campaign focused on popularizing the 9 PM slot with – Nau Baj Gaye Kya? 

Bachchan’s lines “Mai Amitabh Bachchan..” and “Deviyo or Sajjano” went on to become famous takiya kalaam of the show. 

Season 2 – Kaun Banega Crorepati Dwitiya 

A campaign with a message became KBC’s trademark and every season offered a new story and story. Post a 4-year hiatus, KBC returned on August 05, 2005, as Kaun Banega Crorepati Dwitiya with double prize money, INR 2 Crores. 

To promote the new season Star Plus came up with – Umeed Se Dugna – a rap campaign urging consumers to not lose hope. While footage of the campaign isn’t available, we can see Big B rapping the words in the first few seconds of the below video. 

The season, however, ended rather abruptly with Bachchan falling ill. 

Season 3 – Kuch Sawaal Zindagi Badal Sakte Hain 

The show returned in 2007, however with Shahrukh Khan as the host. The promo championed how asking questions can change one’s life. 

The change of host, however, did not go down well with the audience and the show witnessed a considerable dip in ratings. KBC was set to take a 3-year gap again. 

Season 4 – Koi Bhi Sawaal Chota Nahi Hota

With the SRK season falling flat, Star Network was of the opinion that KBC has run through its prime course and wasn’t willing to renew the rights. Sony Television came in, giving KBC a new broadcaster and a new campaign for their upcoming season. KBC premiered on Sony on Bachchan’s 68th birthday in this season. 

Also Read: Milton’s 50 years of defining ‘Kuch Naya Sochte Hain’

Conceptualized around the thought of no question is small, the campaign for the season was directed and produced by Chrome Pictures. All the videos had a humour element to it. This was also the season where a jackpot question of INR 5 Crores was introduced. 

The campaign was integral to SET for yet another reason – Viacom’s newly launched Colors TV had acquired the rights to Bigg Boss, a reality show that was first aired on Sony with Arshad Warsi as the host. KBC in the prime time slot now also competed with Bigg Boss that was usually aired around the same time period and time slot as Kaun Banega Crorepati. This rivalry would continue for seasons to come. 

Season 5 – Koi Bhi Insaan Chota Nai Hota 

Celebrating the common man in its fifth season, conceptualized by Leo Burnett and produced by Chrome Pictures, the campaign told viewers that all humans are alike. Danish Khan, the then Senior Vice President – Marketing, SET India shared that 25 per cent of their marketing spends were received for television. 

K V Sridhar a.k.a Pops, the then, National Creative Director of Leo Burnett, India shared that the idea of the campaign was rooted in the Anna Hazare style movements that emphasizing on equality, gripping the nation. 

This KBC season was the first one after the release of Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, which centred around the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire – making the new season of Kaun Banega Crorepati much awaited and anticipated. Media reports anticipated the 5th season of KBC to have minted ad revenues close to INR 400 Crore to INR 500 Crore. Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy played an integral role in this.

Season 6 – Dusra Mauka 

In the next season, KBC incorporated causvertising in their communication and focused on deep-rooted biases faced by society – Girl Child, Dalits, and more. The campaign, conceptualized by Leo Burnett, shared that knowledge and only knowledge can help one change the society. Media AOR for the campaign was awarded to OMD. 


Girl Child Discrimination

Bada Baap

In line with the theme of the campaign Sonali Mukherjee, a victim of acid attack, appeared along Lara Dutta in a special show while Manoj Kumar, a Mahadalit accompanied by Indian actor Manoj Bajpayee graced a separate episode. 

Season 7 –  Seekhna Bandh toh Jeetna Bandh

Continuing their relationship with Leo Burnett and Chrome Pictures, KBC season 7 advocated the importance of life – long learning and education. This year the price money was jacked up to INR 7 Crores. 

Season 8 – Yahan Sirf Paise Nahi, Dil Bhi Jeete Jate Hain

Released during Ramadan, the campaign focused on unity on different levels. By 2014, KBC promos had become a recurring content IP that audience awaited. These were integral to the marketing strategy of brand Kaun Banega Crorepati. Leo Burnett and Sony wanted to create a video that encapsulated how the hotseat enables not just money but also dreams and values, through an entertaining yet emotional film. 


Hindu Muslim Unity 

This was also the first time when the entire season was shot outside Mumbai – in Surat. 

Season 9 – Jawaab Dene ka Waqt aa Gaya Hai

Sony had discontinued its association with Leo Burnett and was looking at a hard-hitting spot for their recurring campaign series. Conceptualized, directed, and written by Nitesh Tiwari, the director of Dangal, and Nikhil Mehrotra the campaign this time around dealt with a slice of life situations.

Season 10 – Kab Tak Rokoge

Taking their partnership with Nitesh Tiwari and Nikhil Mehrotra ahead, Kab Tak Rokoge focussed on the Can Do, Will Do attitude of the people. Celebrating the spirit of resilience, the video narrated the tale of a driver who never gives up on his son’s education. 

Season 11 – Vishwaas Hai toh Khade Raho…Adey Raho

Released in 2019, conceptualized by Nitesh Tiwari, the campaign wanted to go beyond the melodramatic undertones and was back with a whisper of humour. It narrated the chronicles of youth who dare to break the shackles of societal norms and succeed.

Season 12 – Setback Ka Jawaab, Comeback Se Do

KBC Season 12 Announcement and call for registrations advert came at the brink of the initial phase of the pandemic in 2020. The shot at home campaign, observed Amitabh Bachchan reciting poetic notes drawing parallels between the cherished experiences that hit pause, and the dreams that cannot be paused.

Kicking off the televised exhibition and shooting with additional protocols became more difficult than it already was when Amitabh Bachchan tested positive for COVID-19. The uncertain circumstances then gave rise to a concept that further amplified the aspirational and inspirational value of the television game show.

Conceptualized by Nitesh Tiwari and Nikhil Mehrotra, along with being shot by Tiwari, the campaign builds on the non-fictional circumstances Amitabh Bachchan bounced back from with recovering from COVID-19 and displays how contestants can overcome challenges in real life by participating in the televised game.

KBC Season 13 – Sammaan

The launch communication of KBC Season 13 explores a long format film titled ‘Sammaan’, presented in three installments. Shot in Berchha, Madhya Pradesh, the film features actor Omkar Das Manikpuri best known for his stage and film performances, with local talent with an aim to adding to the authenticity of the narrative.

The objective of the campaign is to reiterate the notion that KBC resonates with the people of the country, even in its most remote corners. Conceptualized, written, and directed by filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari, the narrative traverses through a remote village tapping an immersive cinematic experience through multiple emotions dabbling with drama, humor, aspiration, and more.

Brand KBC – Who became the real Crorepati?

Kaun Banega Crorepati has been around for nearly two decades now and evolved into a brand – independent from its production house or broadcaster. Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy is a case study in itself. Be it Amitabh Bachchan’s distinct voice or the recurring campaigns with a message – the show became a beacon of good teachings. 

Further, the creators harped on the successful elements of the show such as Hotseat, Bachchan’s diligent companion ‘Computer Ji’, and his winning phrase ‘Lock Kia Jaaye’ – to further enhance KBC’s reach and popularity.   

KBC campaigns also became a recurring video property, with the audience looking forward to it every season – making Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy a renowned one.

Kaun Banega Crorepati marketing strategy

Following the success of Kaun Banega Crorepati, Indian GECs attempted bringing many international reality formats to India such as – Sacch ka Saamna (an adaptation of Moment of Truth)  and Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hain? (the Indian version of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?) but to no avail. None of the shows could match up to the popularity and brand image of Kaun Banega Crorepati.

One can attribute the success of Brand KBC to the choice of ambassador, the compelling campaigns, and the creator’s choice of marketing it as a reservoir of knowledge – something Indians are always looking for. While we end the Brand Saga on this note, Brand KBC seems to be going on.