What worked in Newton’s favour wasn’t just the Oscar buzz; everyone had something good to say about the film. Can film marketers replicate this model?
In an overcrowded marketplace, film marketers are always looking for new and innovative ways to break the clutter to promote their movies. Wordof- mouth publicity has been one of the most reliable promotional tools, where a film virtually sells itself, provided it has a great story to tell and is well executed. Favoured over star power, whose efficacy is limited to day one of a film’s release, positive word-of-mouth is a much more sustainable promotional tool.
However, the box office trajectory of Rajkummar Rao-starrer Newton, after it was declared India’s official entry to the Oscars last week, suggests that word-of-mouth may not be the only hook to bring movie-goers to cinemas.
This black comedy, which released alongside big films like Bhoomi, which marked the comeback of Sanjay Dutt to the big screen, and Haseena Parkar, a film featuring popular actress Shraddha Kapoor in the title role, has shown phenomenal growth at the box office since its release last Friday. While Newton clearly benefitted from positive word-of-mouth publicity, its Oscar ticket seemed to have made a bigger difference to its fortunes at the ticket counter.
Let’s take a closer look at this phenomenon. In the recent past, word-ofmouth helped movies like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, Hindi Medium and a few others, which witnessed a jump in their collections from the late evening shows of Friday. Also, the Saturday collections of these movies were more than that of Friday, and an even bigger jump was witnessed on Sunday.
However, in Newton’s case, the jump in collections from Friday to Saturday was unprecedented. Sure, the film reaped good returns from positive word-of-mouth publicity but the Oscar nomination seemed to have taken the movie to an altogether different level. Interestingly, this sudden uptrend in collections was witnessed in cities as well as Tier II cities.
So, while there is no doubt that ratings from reviewers and the positive buzz around a film bump up its box office numbers, phenomena like an Oscar nomination suggest that word-of-mouth can be used in ways other than the mere positive buzz generated by good content. No one knows exactly what these new ways are. Could one of them be the international validation that comes from a film doing the rounds on the festival circuit or, perhaps a global tieup? Or, in this case, Newton’s Oscar nomination? Can events like these change the perception of even small films like Newton and make them more acceptable to the Indian audience?
We asked industrywallahs what new tools film marketers are about to unleash, to get movie-goers to cinemas, including a new kind of word-of-mouth publicity. Here’s what they had to say.
PRESIDENT – MARKETING, MEDIA & PUBLISHING – TV, T-SERIES
Today, film marketing has become an important aspect in the filmmaking business. Ensuring that the film / movie reaches the correct target audience needs rigorous marketing. Other than the vanilla marketing of doing interviews and spending on radio and TV, every film needs some innovation that brings out the message or genre or story of the film. Marketing teams of production houses do various GEC tie-ups, brand tie-ups, BTL activities, etc. But, in the
end, it is what the product i.e. your film, offers the audience. This is when the film releases in cinemas and the word spreads about the film’s story. After the various marketing activities that we plan leads the audience to cinemas on the release day, it is the word-of-mouth that takes the show ahead from the day of its release. In the recent past, films that were high on content worked, like Newton and Hindi Medium. For all movie-goers, the time and money they invest in watching a film has to be worthwhile. There are some films like Judwaa 2, Baahubali, the Golmaal franchise and Padmavati that the audience will watch regardless of what the films offer for the names attached to them or their grand canvases. But when it comes to smaller films, it’s really important for the content to work. For films like Hindi Medium and Newton, when the audience comes out of the cinemas with an expression like ‘wow, mind-blowing, worth the watch, etc’, that leads to good word-of-mouth. It is here that the audience feels that the money and time invested was worth it. And it is from here that word-of-mouth publicity takes over, with the most effective platform being social media. It is under such circumstances that a film does exceptionally well at the box office. The ROI of the films of smaller COP result in high box office collections. For instance, Hindi Medium, on the first day was `2.81 crore and it closed at `70-odd crore, while the COP was `14 crore. Newton opened at `90 lakh on day one and word-of-mouth resulted the weekend collections rising stupendously. But, just like word-of-mouth can take a film with good content to greater heights, it can bring down a film with not-so-good content.
SENIOR VP, MARKETING VIACOM 18 MOTION PICTURES
Fundamentally, what we have to understand is that the audience today does some careful considering before they decide to step into the theatres. They are always looking for some sort of validation about the quality of the content
first. We’ve seen this across films – be it a mass movie like Mubarakan or a content film like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which is still doing well, or a small film, the audience wants validation. It can either be peer-to-peer validation, which is through social media, when friends recommend you see it, or it can be validation via nonbiased, user generated platforms such as IMDB. Based on this validation, the audience will make its decision. Obviously, when you have an association with the Oscars as your validation, the reflection on the business is great. But the trend we are seeing with Newton is a trend that is visible across all films today – the appreciation of quality. Word-of-mouth in today’s age is one of the most important things to have for a filmmaker. But the only way to get good word-of-mouth is to have good content. You cannot manufacture good word-of-mouth. Earlier it was possible to create an impression of the film based on star value or marketing, but today there is very little to hide behind. It’s all about the quality of your content.
HEAD OF MARKETING, DHARMA PRODUCTIONS
It definitely helped the film’s numbers and helped get the content appreciated. Newton started small on Friday, followed by big jumps on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, the news of it being the official entry was used very
smartly. I think the figure did drop on Monday, though. But the Oscar association definitely helped to boost the film. Word-of-mouth is the strongest medium of publicity. There are actors who help you to get a Friday opening, but the content has to take it beyond that. You will have legs because of the content. And word-of-mouth will surely help you. Currently what is happening is that people are sitting at home on a Friday and waiting for the reviews to come out along with the early word-of-mouth feedback. That is why you see a big jump on Saturday and a bigger one on Sunday. If the content is good, then the footfalls follow. People talk about it, ask each other, ‘Have you seen it’ etc. This really helps and I think, without a doubt, this is the strongest medium of promotion we have at our disposal today.
CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, EROS
The Oscars are a global phenomenon, a worldwide certification validating the quality of a film. The official Indian entry to the Oscars always gets a lot of attention. Think of Court and Visaranai. What worked in our favor, since the
announcement was made on the release day, was that there was immediate accessibility for the audience. They could just watch the film in theatres and see what it was all about for themselves. Usually, that’s not the case – it’s rare to find a film in theatres at the same time as its Oscar selection is announced. This really helped us in many ways. Because of great word-of-mouth, the film had great credibility right from the day of its release. Once the Oscar selection was announced, it heightened the positivity around the film and led to a spike in attention and box office numbers. Word-of-mouth is the most effective and the best way to advertise. The art is to use it to your advantage. And this stands as a principle not just for films but for every product available to consumers. Recommendations are taken very seriously by all of us. You hear of a good book or a good shampoo from five people, and you want to try it out too. Similarly, we’ve seen great examples of word-of-mouth working in favour of our films in the past – Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Nil Battey Sannata, The Lunchbox, Kai Po Che and so many more. For Newton, we were very aware of the brilliant film it was. The idea was to gain a lot of positive sentiment even before it was released. Usually, a media influencer screening is held on the Thursday of the film’s release week. For Newton, the press saw the film on the Monday of the release week. Apart from the media, we showed the film to students of Delhi University and influential cine-goers in Mumbai who reach wide audiences on social media, to generate auxiliary attention about how good the film is. We also did a paid preview on Thursday, which was house full within minutes of the tickets going on sale on booking platforms. It’s very important to ensure that there’s a lot of buzz around a film on social media in its release week. This has all reflected in the numbers we’ve achieved at the box office. We are in the thick of promotions even today, to ensure a good second weekend for the film. Thanks to word-ofmouth and our strategy to use it to our benefit, the film still holds very strong at the box office.
FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN, CINEKORN ENTERTAINMENT
To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t make a difference whether a movie is going to the Oscars or not because Indian audience and the Indian space are completely India-centric. Our viewers have their own reasons for accepting
movies. Films that are really content-driven and good, through word-of-mouth, gradually grow in terms of box office figures. This is what we have seen with Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, and we have seen it now with Newton. The film gradually picked up pace and by the time it was selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars, it had already been accepted by audiences. Many had seen the film and liked it. So it was not because the movie was selected for the Oscars that people were making up their minds to see it. Being nominated for awards will not make me watch a film. The Indian audience is smart; international validation doesn’t make much of a difference from what I have seen. The box office numbers have increased not because of acknowledgement from the international market. It’s only content that drives the Indian audience to cinema halls. Nothing can compete with word-ofmouth nor can a marketing strategy develop a parallel source to word-of-mouth. It will happen naturally if the content is good and is liked by audiences.
HEAD-INDIAN FILMS, DISTRIBUTION, ZEE STUDIOS
When the trailer of Newton came out, it created a lot of curiosity among trade people and the audience. The trailer conveyed that the film had something different to say. It promised, along with entertainment, a theme of a universal nature and one related to the country. People were waiting for word-of-mouth to confirm that they should see it. Then came the timely news of it being picked for the Oscars; that increased awareness about it quite a bit across the country. It increased visibility for the film too, and broadened its horizons. As a distributor I feel that if the content is good, the audience becomes the biggest marketer of all.
HEAD OF MARKETING, JUNGLEE PICTURES
Rajkummar Rao has been known as a very good actor since movies like Shahid, Trapped, Aligarh, etc. His track record has built him up as an actor but a serious one. Bareilly Ki Barfi gave him a boost in that respect. His work in
that film was appreciated and when he returned with another film a month later, even if it was in a different genre, there was an initial audience. This was not your regular movie-going, masala movie-loving audience. The Friday numbers were those people who had planned to watch Newton. The minute the news about it being selected for the Oscars came out, curiosity increased. It’s not about Hollywood or international acclaim, but curiosity. You have liked Rajkummar Rao, his acting and his films, but are not too sure about this next one, which is so different. Then you hear about it being the Oscar pick, and you want to go and see what it’s all about. That is the reason you saw it spike form probably a 90 lakh Friday to a 2.5 crore Saturday. And that played against movies like Bhoomi, Haseena Parkar and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Newton has had phenomenal numbers. Having said that, if I go ahead and do another solo film with Rajkummar, will that movie open with the same numbers? That is debatable. What is happening now is that we are getting more and more educated about good cinema. Gone are the days when we were star-crazy and would worship the stars irrespective of the crap they did onscreen. Right now, the awareness regarding content is in abundance. You have Netflix, Amazon, etc. Plus, there is a lot of time and money invested in watching a film in the theatres. You have to battle traffic, find a parking space, shell out huge sums for tickets followed by huge sums for the food and beverages. All the while, I can watch the same film on Netflix a couple of weeks down the line, at my own pace, in my own surroundings. So what is happening is that films with good content are the ones that are succeeding. Look at Hindi Medium, which opened against Half Girlfriend. The latter opened big because of Arjun Kapoor and Mohit Suri. It had doubledigit numbers while Hindi Medium was in the single digits. But when it came to the first Monday, Hindi Medium picked up big time. If the film offers good content, then it may start slow but word-of-mouth will help it pick up. This increases the longevity of the film too. Take Bareilly Ki Barfi. All three stars are small ones, recovering from their previous disasters. But the movie did well because of good content. Even after a slow weekend, it went on to do 34 or 35 crores in business and that is due to word-of- mouth. Everyone is a critic now. So you rely on what your friends say on their timelines. If the reviews say it’s bad, you won’t waste your time and money on it.
CHIEF MANAGER, SAREGAMA INDIA
I think for this kind of film, which is not high on content and not high on star power, critical acclaim and word-of-mouth are very important. It has been to festivals and is now associated with the Oscars. For Indians, the Oscar thing
becomes a big deal. It gives a film a certain kind of impetus. Having said that, the film itself is a very good film. It got good reviews before the opening; people were giving it four, four-and-a-half stars. So, all of that put together, the film gets a certain kind of impetus. Word-of-mouth is one of the major things today; one has to be realistic about that. Films like Newton, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Hindi Medium, all of them are supported by some kind of a known star. Hindi Medium had Irrfan and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar. They weren’t bigbudget films, but they did have people like Aanand L Rai backing them. It is middle-class cinema from small towns. These films will not receive big openings compared to a Golmaal Again or a Padmavati. For these films, it’s not about what happens on Friday but what happens on Saturday evening. It is when the family crowd goes in that word-ofmouth becomes important. These films also take a tongue-in-cheek look at the reality of the middle classes, and that resonates with audiences.
FOUNDER / MANAGING PARTNER, YELLOW INC
I think the Oscar nomination actually got the movie onto consideration level for the audience. Technically, it has just been nominated as an entry, so it doesn’t have an association with the Oscars yet. What every movie needs is a
spotlight that will make the audience look at it. This kind of recognition tells them that this is content that they should watch. For me, it is not about the Oscars as much as it is about the timing for the makers. The release date was very well timed with the official entry at the Oscars. They got lucky because the announcement happened in the same week as their release. Good content will always sell, and Newton’s status as official entry at the international awards has pushed people to sample it and talk about it. Word-of mouth is not something that anyone can design. It goes back to the old adage that a good story is a good story. It does not require an actor or a superstar or any kind of packaging. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or Bareilly Ki Barfi would have done the same business even if they had different actors. It is not the actors which made the film, it is the story. Right now, as a market, we are looking at newer content. We are in the paradigm shift between masala films and contentdriven stories. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is a movie that appeals to everybody because it is a subject that has an emotional connect with people. It’s the same with Hindi Medium; every person knows the pain of the admissions process. Any story that connects with us as individuals, is going to appeal to us.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, MUKTA ARTS
Newton is a fine movie. It speaks about something that is fairly relatable, given the current situation of the country,
and therefore is not a film which struggles to connect with a known TG. Yes, this is not a mass film by any stretch of the imagination, but it has developed a strong and loyal audience and it follows films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan as smart and sensible cinema which has left a mark on the audience. The film festival route will only help in the promotion of the film. No one judges a film based on whether it has been to festivals or not. This film has struck a chord with its audience because they have related to it, and especially to Rajkummar Rao, who is outstanding in the movie. Word-of-mouth is any film’s best publicity. There is no better publicity for a film than positivity from the audience. The failure of films around Newton has helped it immensely because its positive word-of-mouth has been allowed to take hold when its competition collapsed. This is why the film has shown tremendous growth at the ticket windows. It’s a good selection for the Oscars from India and is a happy success in what has overall been a poor quarter.
GROUP PRESIDENT & CHIEF STRATEGY OFFICER (CSO)
India has come a long way from the overdramatized era of Pakeeza, where overzealous acting peppered with a dramatic storyline, melodious songs and dances ruled the charts. Today the formula is two-pronged: star power or story power. With Tubelight, the sheer power of Salman Khan propelled an average story to box office greatness. For Newton, most of its popularity came after its Oscar nomination. So, yes, there are certainly modern-day practices that go beyond word-of-mouth power to bring fame as well as box-office popularity.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, RAKSHA ENTERTAINMENT PVT. LTD.
There is no trick to word-of-mouth publicity. Ours is a gut-feel business. Everyone goes by their gut; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Yes, an Oscar nomination does help, because Oscar talk takes a film straight to the top
of the scale. It takes it right up there. So even people who were not interested in seeing the film, or were wondering whether to watch this small movie, will go and watch it. Today, content is working. It’s not really word-of-mouth. You see, people today are so used to getting international-quality films due to Netflix, Amazon and other platforms, that they’re connected to the international standards of filmmaking and television. So sometimes, films with big stars are also not working, if the content is not good. A star might pull in the crowds for one day, but by Sunday the film crashes. Content has always worked. And now the audience has become more content conscious because of easy access to quality content. So they are not going to watch any rubbish. The star is irrelevant to them. Of course, when you have a star in a content film like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, then that will take it to another level. See, if you have a Randeep Hooda doing a film like Toilet… and an Akshay Kumar doing a Toilet…, the difference is going to be huge. Two stars who have understood the importance of content in the industry are Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar. They are doing quality cinema and are top-rate actors. So yes, Oscar nominations take you there, and word-of-mouth helps a film. Even for films with bad critics’ reviews, good word-of-mouth helps. I have seen it with films like Kya Kool Hain Hum. When it was released, it got bad critic reviews but the public loved it and hence it did good business. Also, Grand Masti, Gadar: Ek Prem Katha… Gadar had bad reviews but the film picked up because of word-of-mouth. And it was blockbuster hit.
CMO, CARNIVAL CINEMAS
Let’s not forget, on its own, Newton is a great movie. Great direction and a fantastic performance from its leading man Rajkummar Rao, who’s been on a roll being involved with some fantastic film projects this year. It’s unfair to
discount the hard work of the cast and crew, especially the writers who crafted a terrific story. Rajkummar Rao and Newton are part of the renaissance that Indian cinema has undergone in recent years. We’ve seen the emergence of a new breed of actors, directors and writers who want to tell unconventional, different and lesser-known stories, with producers and studios (domestic and international) willing to back them. While the Oscar buzz around Newton certainly did not harm the positive publicity it received, it was only one of the factors that might have contributed to the film’s box-office success, in addition to its critical acclaim. Oscar hype doesn’t always guarantee a box office push as we’ve seen in the past. A case in point is The Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture in 2009 but is one of the lowest-grossing movies released on the big screens. The Indian audience has evolved to a great extent. They’re smart, well-informed, constantly looking to consume new content and a driving factor why small films like Newton are finding success. They’ve come to expect a certain kind of performance / stories when certain artistes are involved in a film project. It’s fair to say that these cinematic expectations are certainly of a high standard and have been set by these artistes themselves. Movie marketing is a constantly evolving field. Marketers have always adapted to the times, to keep pace with current trends and innovations, particularly those of the younger audience, young adults with loads of disposable income and those who are and trying to be influential taste-makers among their friends. Every movie is different and marketers always tailor the marketing and publicity to create excitement and anticipation for the audience. The latest trends have seen marketers use a mix of elements across the environment in which their target audience interacts. A mix of coveted movie merchandise + collaborations with F&B brands + exclusive content ensures that the movie is engaging the target audience at different touch points of their lifestyle. Recent trends have shown marketers effectively use social media influencers very effectively (a natural evolutionary step in the word-of-mouth publicity process). Giving them exclusive access, special screenings and extending perks to their followers has remarkably influenced their followers to the movie theatres. Engaging with new-age media sees amplification in word-of-mouth publicity, with a desired digital viral effect.
DISTRIBUTOR, DELHI AND UP
There is a certain section that knows about the Oscars. So they notice these kinds of films. Otherwise some films just
go unnoticed, even though they are good. All big films have run on word-of-mouth. Yes, star appeal is also a factor. But word-of-mouth can make or break a film. Why did Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan make over 350 crores but Tubelight make just 125 or 150 crores? This difference was due to word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth is faster for starry films because more people go and watch them. If it is a small film that is good, less people will go and watch it at first and the word-of-mouth will surely spread, but slowly. In the case of Newton, the Oscar news was announced on the day of its release, and that helped a lot. This word-of-mouth works with controversies too. If there is a controversy at the last moment, that will also help a film.
DISTRIBUTOR, MULTIMEDIA COMBINES
If people have liked a film and have spoken about it, it does help the movie’s collections grow. And when a film like Newton gets international validation, it further ensures good returns at the box office. As long as there is no strong opposition around, all these factors help. The films released along with Newton didn’t work, so I think it had that advantage also. But of course, if the content is good, the movie will work. These other factors do hype up the film and create that extra bit of excitement around it, which is good. Word-of-mouth really helps smaller films, as we have seen with movies like Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shub Mangal Saavdhan and Hindi Medium, whereas bigger films, with bigger stars, have failed to click.
DIRECTOR / DISTRIBUTOR, MARUDHAR ENTERTAINMENT PVT. LTD.
The content of Newton is very good. The movie has got a lot of appreciation. Yes, the news of the Oscar pick did give it a positive push. But the reviews were already so good even before the release, with the press saying it was a fabulous movie, that word-of-mouth spread even faster. Business picked up on Friday afternoon itself. So the Oscar news was definitely an advantage, but the content was already driving it. Reviews and word-of-mouth are also helping films like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Hindi Medium, Lipstick Under My Burkha. They do good business after the first few days and that is due to word-of-mouth.