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Marketing lessons from Bollywood

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g1There was a time when Bollywood promotions were limited to a film’s “Muhurat” or launch party, thereafter its music release event and finally a full fanfare premier. The film industry had a simple marketing formula – sign in a superstar, ride on a “masala” recipe and success was there for the taking. If the film turned out to be a hit, it was followed up with a celebratory bash.

Times have changed, now the hype and hoopla surrounding a film starts right from the storyboard or the mere thought of making a film and continues till the wee end of the screening process. And the whole thing is well orchestrated with a heady marketing mix. The prime reason for marketing usurping silent Friday releases of yore, is the smaller shelf life of films. No longer we have a ‘Sholay’ or a ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ running non-stop for years and raking in moolah in slow burn. It is the very first weekend that decides the fate of a film now. Silver Jubilee, Golden Jubilee etc. have been replaced with the Rs 100 club or the bigger Rs 200 club. And you have to break into these clubs in quick time.

Rumour mill is passe
Gone are the days when marketing and publicity of cinema was limited to illustrious film posters, giant billboards and some gossip & rumours thrown in. Movie marketing now involves more than thoughtful merchandising, television advertisements, pre-release media hype, etc. So, all the marketing rules of STP [segmentation, targeting and positioning] and the inimitable 4Ps are being put to practice in Bollywood these days. Let’s examine them one by one, not necessarily, in that order.

Getting segmentation right
The film industry is making some serious efforts at segmentation based on a national plus regional marketing strategy. Bi-lingual and multi-lingual films are released on the same day with separate promos, slick dubbing and thoughtfully crafted songs for the target audience. Producers are developing publicity material around regional tastes and releasing films in different languages simultaneously. Segmentation can be seen in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Raavan’, which was shot and released together in Hindi & Tamil and as ‘Ravanan’ in the Telugu-dubbed version. The much hyped Rajinikanth-Aishwarya Rai Tamil film, ‘Endhiran’ was christened as ‘Robot’ in Hindi and hit theatres the same day. Care was taken in its dubbing & production values and songs were specially scripted to appeal to the Hindi speaking patrons. It was not a hasty compilation for the dubbed version per se.

Keeping curiosity high
Timing of publicity efforts goes a long way in deciding the fate of a movie at the box office. Now publicity efforts begin as much as four to five months in advance to make sure that the world gets to hear about the movie. International marketing has taken Bollywood overseas, big-time. Companies like Special Treats which are into film marketing have helped Hindi films like 3 Idiots and Kites, proliferate the UK & other European markets. Wide-spread publicity is a must these days. Today’s films keep whetting the appetite of the audience much before their release so their curiosity level is at its peak when the film debuts.

Cashing on retro value
Targeting and positioning can be evidenced in promos of films like ‘Once Upon a Time in Mumbai’. When this Ajay Devgan starrer was released, several multiplexes had kiosks urging people to enter a retro zone for a ’70s style fashion makeover. The posters in metros were sophisticated and stylish, while the same were flashy in small towns and villages. While the characters in the film had a ’70s look to them, the hired agency P9 developed a unique design solution to connect with contemporary audience. It worked on the ‘retro 70s’ theme and tried out contemporary colour palette to help the audience relate to the film. Similar nostalgic vein had been tried before in ‘Om Shanti Om’ also.

Aamir – the master marketer
Aamir Khan has emerged as a master innovator in film marketing, so we saw ‘Ghajini’ style haircut parlours in auditoriums screening the film and ushers sporting the “Ghajini” look to help seat cine-goers. He tried similar out-of-the box thinking during the release of ‘3 Idiots’ and had the entire nation looking out for him when he travelled across the country in disguise as part of his unique strategy promoting ‘3 Idiots’. Aamir roamed around the country for two weeks in disguise and challenged his fans to spot him. More recently, he went into search mode in many a reality show during the release of ‘Talash’. Aamir’s moves are being aped to death by others and today, we don’t have any single reality show on TV without a planted star cast just before a film is scheduled to release.

Reel to real
Taking a cue from the advertising industry, Bollywood actors are now seen adopting more unique and innovative marketing strategies to promote their films. To promote Ken Ghosh’s ‘Chance Pe Dance’, based on the life of a struggling actor, lead pair Shahid Kapoor and Genelia D’Souza spent a night together inside a car. Megastar Amitabh Bachchan who was cast as a media magnate in ‘Rann’ was seen reading news on a TV channel giving a year-end news roundup. The film’s director Ram Gopal Verma, distributed a ten-page daily newspaper ‘Rann Times’ till the commercial release of the film. Similarly, to hype his pet-project ‘Veer’, actor Salman Khan had announced a hunt for unsung heroes who had performed acts of heroism in their lives. All these below-the-line activities were successful in creating a positive buzz around these films and also got the positioning right. “Good marketing has produced good results at the box office. By the time you wait for the merit to show its face, five other films have shown their merits,” Big B aptly blogged sometime back.

On the virtual trip
Innovative marketing is not merely sweeping terra firma but it is pervading the virtual world as well. Films have now moved on from placing just bare bone advertisements to interactive ones that ensure two-way communication with the audience. Earlier, content that was developed for the conventional medium was copy-pasted on the internet too but today, specific content is developed for the internet because of the interactive nature of the medium and the ROI. Many film-makers are collaborating with online portals for promotional purposes to sell movie-related merchandise. In recent times, makers of films like ‘Heroine’, ‘Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid’ and ‘Cocktail’ tied up promotional deals with e-commerce sites like Mydala.com, Snapdeal.com and Myntra.com, respectively. Interactive connect with youth is propelling film producers to hook on to E-commerce businesses to leverage film marketing. So film ads, posters on homepage and participation on other social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are gaining ground. Mydala.com, an Indian social commerce and marketing platform, tied up with UTV Motion Pictures as a marketing partner for recent big ticket films like “Heroine” and “Barfi”. As part of the association, the portal ran a promotional campaign on its website as well as social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Knock knock
‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’, used some really innovative web marketing, specially the eye blaster technology, which was used for the first time in Bollywood, which saw Imran coming right up to you on your screen. A rich media banner was created where Imran Khan comes alive to interact with the user on his desktop, walks on the website, looks around, knocks on the screen and then walks into the advertisement and even jigs to the tune of the song Kabhi Kabhi Aditi Zindagi… A separate shoot was done only for this advertisement which had a click-through rate (CTR) of 2.8%. The average CTR of banner advertisements averages a piddly 0.3% otherwise. Five lakh users replayed the ‘Jaane Tu…’ advertisement and also generated positive word of mouth. Imran coming knocking on the computer screen made one curious about what he’s doing there? This worked well for both the song and the film.

Akshay Kumar starrer, ‘Singh Is Kinng’ partnered with web portal India FM for an interactive campaign where Kumar was seen doing stunts while the users played a game as Akshay Kumar. ‘Love Story 2050’ and ‘Jaane Tu…’ had online groups on Facebook much before the release where the film’s pictures and posters were put up and the group facilitated discussion on the film. Movie Talkies launched an application for ‘Jaane Tu…’ on Facebook on the day of the release, where users were discussing the tagline of the film — so when do you know it’s love?

Selling – Not just tickets
Such Viral marketing was used by the makers of “Heroine” also who collaborated with portals like Fashionara.com. Pre-orders for clothes were opened, inspired by actress Kareena Kapoor’s glamorous look in the film. Movies have started to allot a fair share of the marketing budget to online media. In addition, the web is relied upon heavily for word-of-mouth publicity and sales of movies and music. So, we see bookmyshow.com etc. thriving on this trend. Movie merchandising is moving online. New revenue streams, apart from theatrical collections are an established norm these days. ‘Cocktail’, featuring Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone and Diana Penty, partnered with Myntra.com where the film’s merchandise was put on sale. The trendy collection on the website offered a mix of funky, casual and sporty clothes, similar to those worn by the star cast in the film. Another e-commerce site, Getthelook.in, had also launched a line of apparels replicating the styles of Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra from the movie ‘Teri Meri Kahaani’. Earlier, superstar Shah Rukh Khan had partnered with Homeshop18, where the original merchandise of his mega-budget film ‘RA.One’ was put on sale for one and all. Downloadable games were also released to whet the online buzz.

Getting into the classroom
August academia has also started to provide insights into film marketing these days. A study group of students of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) have done extensive research and have devised a model for blockbuster forecasting. They have cracked the blockbuster code to help Bollywood predict a film’s future at the box office, at least during the first three days. The study by the team — visiting faculty Bharathan Kandaswamy and final year students of IIM-A — say that irrespective of the genre and content of a film, the pre-release marketing budget decides the opening weekend’s success for a film. Their mathematical and statistical model figures out the correlation coefficient between a film’s marketing budget and its success within the first three days of its release. The correlation reduces the opening risks of a film. The study looked at 50 Hindi films released in the last 10 years. Among others, films like ‘3 Idiots’, ‘Cocktail’, ‘Ghajini’, ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’, ‘Kahaani’, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ and ‘Bodyguard’ were studied.

Count your money
Marketing spends for movie trailers on television, out-of-home advertising, promotion on websites and celebrity promotions were taken into account. A typical Hindi film with a budget of Rs 35-40 crore, should utilise stars more effectively in promoting a film, the team avered. Even if a film is made with a tight budget of Rs 10 crore, it should spend on marketing to succeed in the opening weekend. Any film with Rs 10 crore budget and no star should spend around 70-80% [Rs 7-8 crore] while a film with Rs 50-100 crore budget and a star can spend upto 20-30% [Rs 10-12 crore] for promotion. Small budget films require more attention as about 250 Hindi films release every year and it takes high visibility to cut the clutter.

A success formula?
However, the film’s success in the first few shows doesn’t mean it will be a hit. Like any amount of marketing cannot save a bad product, similarly only hype cannot sustain a bad film. A film may slip at the box office after a successful opening. The marketing budget will have an impact in first few days but that doesn’t mean it can turn anything into a hit.

Blockbuster, Sleeper, Bombs
Films can be classified into three buckets – type one are films with a high marketing budget and successful in the first three weeks. These are called blockbusters or super hits, typically such films have global releases & a wider screen share in the domestic market as well. The strategy is to roadblock other competing films and rake in the money within a short span. Additionally, nullifying piracy by ensuring wider availability. Secondly, films with a low marketing budget, which fail to pull audiences to the theatre initially, yet run for 40-50 weeks, later, are called sleepers. These films opt for niche marketing and pick up gradually and generally do not have star power to initiate a big bang launch. Thirdly, movies that fail in the first week itself are called bombs or flops. These are bad products with or without publicity.

Armed with such knowledge, film producers and directors can at least make an honest attempt to make it big or minimize their losses. This space shall witness more professional activity in the days to come and it would not be an exaggeration to expect complete professionals taking over the filmy types in the days to come.

Samrat Sinha is Head-Telesales (Tata Teleservices Limited)

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