Ours is the largest film industry in the world in terms of volume of production, clearly establishing the fact that we Indians love watching movies. It is this very passion for films that has the most famous film industry in the world, Hollywood, not only looking at the Indian market very seriously, but also eating into the box-office pie of Hindi film releases.
Why, the potential is so great that there have been occasions when English films have released in India even before they have released in the US, while some Hollywood films enjoy a simultaneous release on both continents.
Film-related marketing and publicity is always on a high for Hindi films. The competition is razor-sharp and filmmakers go all guns blazing to market their products. So, naturally, we witness some heavy-duty promotions from various film studios for their films.
However, while Hindi filmmakers spend huge sums on marketing, Hollywood films still end up giving tough competition to our films, with little or no marketing on our home ground. Interestingly, almost every Hollywood film that did better business than Hindi movies had one thing in common — limited marketing.
Ever since the surge in box-office numbers for Hollywood releases, a few years ago, the West has been very upbeat about India. According to a report co-authored by the Motion Picture Associations, India is the fifth-strongest market for Hollywood releases after China, Japan, the United Kingdom and France. While this only increases the array of choices for cine-goers, it has led to a pitched battle between Hollywood and Bollywood at the box office.
This week, we quiz trade insiders who are best-placed to judge a film’s spending and box-office returns, the following question: with the market for Hollywood films in India growing consistently, does the Indian film industry need to rethink its marketing strategy. Is going into marketing overdrive the way forward? Over to them:
It’s great to see Hollywood offering innovative and fresh content every year as it benefits art, cinema and ultimately the audience. Besides, competition is always good as it keeps filmmakers on their toes, to offer their best, it gives the audience more variety to choose from and so it is ultimately a win-win for the audience. However, thanks to the audience’s love for Bollywood, this industry has survived and will continue to thrive despite the competition. Also, the focus should be on creating superlative content that can compete with international projects. After that, a smart marketing strategy should be adopted that is suitable for the project. Marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing but should be planned in accordance with many factors regarding the project including target audience, budget, genre etc.
With over five to seven movies across languages releasing each week, there is a vast selection that the audience in India has access to, even in theatres. Not only is it important to not resort to gimmicks – but it is important to credit the audience with discretion – when it comes to campaigning for a film, and the content of the film itself.
While marketing a film, it is important to be true to the film, effective in communicating about it, efficient in planning and implementing marketing dollars, and finding a balance between smart, strategic and sticky marketing campaigns. This is something that we have effectively deployed across our work in both Hindi and English films.
No matter what the spend – at the end of the day, if the content put out to the audience is not working, the campaign will also not stick. Take, for example, what we did on Dangal. While the media spends campaign only kicked in two weeks before the release of the film, the theatrical promos, songs and dialogue units of the film had gone on to make their mark across audiences. The high organic reach of the film’s marketing material could be attributed to the affinity it found across audiences, and of course eventually translated into phenomenal box-office collections.
As a matter of principle, the marketing and promotional campaign was strategised keeping the content as the focal point and highlighted the four cornerstones of the values that the movie exemplified: The journey of a father and his daughters, the power of winning against all odds, the pride that hard work and victory can bring to a nation and its people – and a genuine emotional ride – treated with a lot of love, humour and heart. One of the key thoughts going into the campaign was to not resort to common tactics including perhaps a trailer launch event, city visits, television appearances etc. So, it’s not just about what you do – but also what you stay away from, that makes a campaign smart and visible.
With Marvel’s Doctor Strange, the studio was bringing a new superhero from the realm of Marvel Cinematic Universe for movie fans. As the film was releasing around Diwali and there was unprecedented clutter on television – with e-commerce advertising, and two giant Hindi film campaigns – it was a challenge to be heard and seen and become an unmissable movie event. We took a strategic call to not be present at all on TV – instead focusing on the Marvel fan base online. Marketing in a concentrated manner gave us the penetration we needed, created the buzz and early fan and influencer programs such as the Star Secret Screening – led to massive positivity and word of mouth. Doctor Strange was a huge success in the week of demonetization!
Just goes to show – that it is an equal combination of content and the campaign.
The Hollywood films that do well in our market are the ones which are not only high in content but also have an element that plays on Indian sentiment. For instance, recent release Logan is not only part of a successful franchise, it also has the emotional angle of a father-daughter relationship. Our audience connects with human relationships like that.
Having said that, we should know our target audience and market our films smartly, at the right time and with the right emphasis. What happens is that if one film uses a certain kind of marketing gimmick, everyone follows their lead. This herd mentality takes away from the essence of the film and its content. Our filmmakers should focus on presenting good content in their films and marketing should be based on the content and the target audience in mind. Hollywood movies, which boast massive CGI, VFX, high cost of production, quality content and big star casts, are bound to bring in the audience. Also, most Hollywood films release in multiplexes and have a controlled release.
I think, these days, people decide whether or not to watch a movie based on its content. Language is becoming less and less of a deciding factor. The recently released Hollywood film Logan’s success is based on Hugh Jackman and Wolverine being well-established brands in India and a strong marketing and PR campaign, which was global and not India-specific. It raised awareness and interest in the film and was always going to do well in urban markets. Hindi films can no longer take their pole position for granted and will need to establish a connection with the audience via content and not just media spends.
With the passage of time and an increase in the literacy rate, the charm of Hollywood has tremendously increased and English movies are engaged in a neck-and-neck race with Bollywood. The success of Logan is a prime example of how a beloved franchise without much promotional fanfare has toppled much-awaited Bollywood movies like Rangoon and it also gave Commando 2 a stiff competition. It’s high time Hindi movie marketers revamped their strategy of movie promotions and looked for new experiential marketing techniques.
Hollywood franchises come with built-in marketing (overseas buzz that travels to Indian shores) and target audience, hence awareness levels are already high. Not all Hollywood films succeed with minimal marketing. Original films often suffer due to minimal marketing. Hidden Figures, one of the highest-grossing Oscar Best Picture nominees, is doing phenomenally well at the US box office but it was only a modest success in India. So it is just as uneven for Hollywood in India as it is for Bollywood.
The release period also impacts collections. With exams underway in most parts of the country, the only Hindi release of any note was competing with Logan whose TG is the English-speaking, X- Men franchise and comic book fans. Also, with most of the big-ticket Hollywood franchises scheduled to hit the screen this year, Bollywood will have to up the ante not only in spectacle but also in storytelling.
The English films’ global marketing budget is many notches higher than that of any Hindi film. Each film has a dedicated team that does strategic marketing based on research and experience. Hindi films, on the other hand, are still experimenting with marketing and not many have a full-fledged marketing team to manage everything. Having said that, Hollywood content is still no match for a good Hindi film in India.
Content is more pivotal than marketing, and the Indian film industry should think about producing better content rather than rely on marketing. Promotions push a product. However, end consumption depends on content affinity. The recently released Hollywood film Logan had its own weightage in terms of star cast, franchises and Hugh Jackman. The film also got excellent showcasing in metro and major cities, resulting in better sales for the movie. Commando 2, on the other hand, performed fairly well in single screens and non-metro cities. The same was repeated with Kong: Skull Island, where Kong ate not only the shows but also the box-office numbers of Badrinath Ki Dulhania at less than half the marketing spends.
This is happening because Hollywood films create plenty of buzz abroad and also due to the faith that the Indian audience places in some film portals. As an industry, we need to junk the myth of creating awareness through TV and newspapers advertisements and making our producers, directors and star cast happy with more spends. We should concentrate on spending in appropriate places in quality as well as quantity. For instance, one of the fastest growing and most economical emerging advertising fields is in-cinema advertising, where your film reaches to its core audience without any wastage. Lastly, marketing is important but the film’s content rules. That’s the final verdict.
The Indian audience keeps abreast of Hollywood films through the Internet. They keep track of which film is about to release and which films they want to watch. On the other hand, Bollywood has many films releasing simultaneously and that’s why every film needs to be promoted well. It’s a rat race and hence Bollywood needs to go ballistic on promotions. In contrast, Hollywood big-banner or star-studded films need no promotions here and hence they do a great business sans big marketing spends.