As film consumption undergoes a tectonic shift, marketers are forced to rethink the fundamentals of movie promotion – digital is the key.
It doesn’t matter whether new content or changing consumption patterns came first; the fact is that the marriage of a new wave of content and the emergence of varied platforms on which this content is consumed has altered how Bollywood operates. While this confluence has changed the process of filmmaking and fundamentally altered the creative aspect of our industry, it has also wrought changes in the business-related aspects of our trade.
One of the most critical aspects that is being reshaped is the marketing and promotion of Hindi films – campaigns are now bespoke to suit the nature of films regardless of the stars featuring in them.
There was a time not long ago when the long promotional windows of films meant that the actors would be seen on every television show, whether fictional, non-fictional or reality TV. And promotional songs, mall visits and city tours would crowd their schedules for two months before a film hit theatres.
But now, with the digital space taking over more, the need to be physically accessible via these visits or TV shows has considerably reduced. While we do see some traditional promotional activities at a few launches and, of course, the mandatory interviews, other forms of media and public engagement have taken a back seat.
The stars now interact with their fans directly via social media platforms and several digital campaigns have also been working well for many recent films, like Raazi, Race 3, Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, Pad Man and October. Trailers and songs are launched directly on platforms like YouTube, where their reach is much wider than they were before.
These new promotional and marketing strategies have not only proved to be successful but also quite cost-effective. To learn more about this shift in marketing campaigns to the digital platform and how a filmmaker decides on his or her promotional approach for a film, we spoke to the marketing gurus of several production houses and some top producers.
Mukesh Bhatt, Producer
Young people watch movies on social media and you obviously go where the eyeballs are. Your target audience is predominantly between 18 and 30 years. They are all in the social media space. The principle of marketing is to go where your target audience largely is.
The first criterion that marketers must believe in while devising the marketing techniques and promotional campaigns of a film is to understand what section of the audience the film is targeted at. The marketer should know whether the film is for the mass audience, the youth, senior citizens, an elite audience or the family audience. He must be honest about his product. He must understand which section of the audience the story is catering to.
Once you know that, you have to figure out the best way to reach out to them, so that they feel that the story is relatable and has a certain level of connectivity with their lives and their sensibilities. I completely believe that the promotional strategies of films depend on the genres they belong to.
Ramesh Taurani, Producer
The makers have realised that doing roadshows, visiting malls and going to various cities do not create an impact. The impact is made only when the audience gets to see the stars live. However, that does not amount to an increasing number of footfalls in theatres. The stars continue to go to a couple of popular television shows even today, because television has a wide reach in India and beyond. These promotions do not just impact their films, but also improve the branding of celebrities. It increases their popularity and that has a positive impact on the film.
These days, the first trailer does the trick. If the film is not good, then the trailer will also not be good. If a film has good material and something really good to say, the trailer will also be good. After watching the first trailer, the public decides if they want to watch the movie.
These days, the digital space has become very big. Technology is booming and has come to the forefront. Digital marketing is becoming more popular because everybody has a phone today and they can watch everything they want to on their smartphones. Digital marketing depends on the films and their content. As opposed to a big film, if it is a small film that will grow by word of mouth, you have to limit your marketing expenses to that.
Vinod Bhanushali, President, Media Marketing, Licensing (TV) and Music Acquisitions, T-Series
I don’t think the practice of the stars going on TV shows has completely stopped. They still do these things but what has happened now is the evolution of social media. Three to four years ago, the actors could not get directly in touch with their fans; there was no Twitter or Instagram penetration back then. Now, you can interact with them directly via these media, they can talk to you, write about you and all that which helps them connect with their fan base and communicate with them. That’s one part.
Stars still go to some reality shows on GEC channels due to the sheer penetration of these channels and the ratings that these shows enjoy across India. City visits have reduced because the stars are now able to get in touch with their fans through social media. But they do go to some places like Delhi so that they can interact with the media there directly.
Also, the stars do radio rounds, where they go and talk on radio stations. especially in cities like Mumbai. This is very popular. This is uploaded on their social media site, which doubles the reach and does not limit them to the Mumbai audience. That has increased along with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ‘live’ features.
The idea is that social media platforms allow the stars to directly talk to their fans, which proves to be effective. Earlier, this interaction was only possible through physical presence or through cinema. But with the ‘TV’ in your hand now, everything has changed as people can watch it on demand.
However, the digital medium is dangerous because if there is even one wrong move, people will say, ‘Yeh toh picture hi flop hai.’ Information moves so quickly electronically and word-of-mouth, positive or negative, spreads like wild fire. I believe that digital is a very important tool in marketing today but one needs to make sure that communication remains strong and engaging to get the audience in to theatres to get a good first-day opening.
Varun Gupta, Founder-Director, MAX Marketing
This year, I promoted a film called Pad Man. I have also marketed a film called Pari, where Anushka Sharma didn’t do a single interview, leave alone a reality show. The film managed to open bigger than Phillauri, which she had promoted everywhere. Then, I did October, which could have been easily promoted by taking Varun Dhawan everywhere. But when the film released, people realised that it was not what Varun’s personality is. The film was in line with Shoojit Sircar’s personality.
It is important to devise the marketing strategies of a film depending on the kind of film it is. Imagine how the audience who came to watch Judwaa 2 would have reacted it if they were to watch October. The latter film received wide appreciation because the right kind of audience came to see it. It wasn’t a large audience but it was the right audience.
Today, promotional techniques have definitely changed. Reaching out to the audiences has become easier. Let me give a simple cause-and-effect understanding of this. Fridays and Saturdays are the two days that a marketer can achieve. If a film is good, it passes the Sunday test and it moves on from there. I also promoted Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran, where we did nothing that was typical because we did not have the time to. We only promoted it for 10 days and it is John Abraham’s highest solo grosser.
As a marketer, if the Friday and Saturday audiences are my target, then more than 70 per cent of those audiences are active on social media. When you have big stars and personalities like Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and Rajkumar Hirani, you don’t need to do anything. Only letting people know that your film is releasing is enough.
There are two things – information and excitement. In films like Sanju, information is enough. But for films like Pad Man, which deals with a topic not everyone may be comfortable watching, or Pari, you need to build excitement. For Pad Man, we got Akshay (Kumar) to go to a Marathi reality show to break the taboo so that people came out of their houses to watch a film on menstrual hygiene. Before January 2018, people were not comfortable using terms like ‘menstrual hygiene’ and ‘pads’ openly.
Sanju did not do anything drastic in terms of marketing, but their communication and trailer worked, and everything else fell in place. For Karwaan, if the trailer and the pitch are right and you reach out to the right audiences, more than half the battle is won.
Social media has made things easy, for sure. Marketing strategies definitely vary depending on the genre of the film. I have marketed four films this year, each way different from each other. Every film is very clearly targeted at a specific audience. There are very few films that are universal in their appeal. As a marketer, I need to understand what audiences will watch a film at the theatres, so that it reaches out to them in the right way. My target market changes with every film. So, my strategy and the packaging also need to change. It cannot be a template-driven thing.
Deepesh Shah, Founder-Managing Partner, Yellow Inc
Over the last couple of years, media habits and approaches have changed. Earlier, mall visits and city tours meant a different form of conversation. In the last 2-3 years, there has been a significant shift in the way India has begun to consume films. It is reflected in the kind of films that are working. Three years ago, movies like Housefull, other slapstick comic capers and formula-scripted films would easily work. Today, they don’t. There is a change on the part of consumers and marketers.
Our job is to find the most strategic way to connect to the audience. Today, there is an explosion of virtual media with social media being a part of it, mobile phone penetration and the penetration of television became much bigger than before. Seven years ago, 40 million households constituted the television market. Today it is 140 million.
On the digital media, we have almost over 500 million subscribers across entertainment platforms. Out of that, 251 million are social media users on mobile devices. The coming together of all these elements is allowing us to have a lot more data. Social media is used today to reach out to audiences in a more optimal manner.
In today’s scenario, there is an information overdose. This implies that your attention span for a particular film may not be very big. As marketers, we try to grab attention when it matters most. Having said that, it may not hold true for all films. Zero started a campaign in January 2018 for a December 2018 release. The strategy is different because the film is different. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion kicked off its campaign on the day Baahubali: The Beginning released.
You cannot have a formula or a template for any campaign. For my campaign on 102 Not Out, the cast made two television appearances, one during a cricket match and one on Zee TV. We came up with a series of digital videos where we made fun of what celebrities do to promote their films on digital.
I have done the opposite of what people would do, because today it is not about creating awareness, but about creating enough noise for people to discover you so that there can be a conversation around the product. Previously, it was about awareness and promotion. Now, it is about discovery and conversation.
Gautam Thakkar, Founder, Everymedia Technologies
Firstly, digital is very cost-effective. Today, if you do a whole bunch of videos and release them on television, it is a very expensive proposition. But if we upload them on social media and other digital channels, it is a fraction of the cost. Even if you promote it, push it or amplify it, it is still cheaper than releasing it on any other platform.
The second part is that digital is quantifiable. You can measure the impact of a campaign. You can tell the producer if something has worked, or not, If it has reached the intended audience and how you can fix it if it has not. You cannot do that on other media.
Lastly, today there is massive internet penetration in the country. Everybody is on a smartphone, everybody is accessing data, and everybody tends to watch a trailer on YouTube first. So you technically have a captive audience on virtual media.
Generally, the benchmark for a promotional campaign should be how many people you can reach out to at any given point in time. Today, Hindi movies are consumed all over the world, so you are reaching out to your audience in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the Middle East. And obviously India remains the biggest market for you.
Promotional campaigns definitely change with the genre of the film. In India, we can divide movie-goers into the family audience and non-family audience. The family audience watches action, rom-coms and comedy. The non-family audience watches adult or horror films. The minute you identify what kind of movie it is, you also know the kind of people you want to reach out to. If someone loves horror movies, there is no point showing them the trailer of GOLD. But if he loves biopics, is an Akshay Kumar fan and is into sports-based movies, then he is the natural audience for it.
Having said that, you have to be very careful because there is always going to be a mix of audiences; so a horror movie lover might also love a movie like GOLD. But generally the idea is that you can always identify your target audience if you understand analytics right. The minute you figure that out, everything falls into place.
In our country, there is always a Salman Khan fan base, there is always an Akshay Kumar fan base. These are people who always come with their own fan base and they are the first ones to come and watch the film. That is how you break it down, and genres make a huge difference in every movie.
Aneesh Mohan, Head of Marketing, Junglee Pictures Ltd
Earlier, all campaigns would be really long. If it was a big star film, then one would have an 8-10 week marketing campaign for it. But you run out of steam very soon. Assuming you release your film in October, the trailer would be out in August. One needs to sustain from August to October. Then, even though there are songs releasing every week or so, there is only so much they can do. Hence, travelling to various cities, doing college or mall activities, going on reality shows and TV shows was part of the plan.
The major breakthrough that has happened now, which is very good from an industry standpoint, is that the marketing window has been considerably reduced. Right now, even for a big film, it is a four-week window and in that time, you can do only so much. Gone are those days when the actors would also give you that many days for promotions. Now, you barely get 15 days from the actor. And when you have so little time, you need to plan wisely.
So, yes, while there are various digital mediums and social media platforms that have taken over, we cannot discount the fact that TV is still our primary tool in terms of a film campaign. It is just that the structure of campaigning on TV has changed a lot. Earlier, one would concentrate only on music channels. Right now, depending on the genre of the film and the actor, you plan a little more wisely. It is a mixture of art and science.
Earlier, one would be present on all the 20 music channels that exist but, now, you are present on the music, TV and Hindi movie genre channels as well as GECs and English entertainment channels, depending on the content. You should know to target your relevant audience. You break down your film based on the cast, genre etc to decide where your ROI is going to come from. Is it going to be the six cities where it will be huge in the multiplexes or 15 cities, where it will be a mix of the multiplex and non-multiplex audience? Depending on that, you base your buys and your marketing campaigns.
A campaign plan for a film like Baaghi 2 would be very different from Raazi. People have understood that the audio-visual consumption of a trailer is the most important thing, and you either do that on a cinema screen or on a platform like YouTube or Facebook. You focus more on that and build your campaign around that and start pushing it out to more and more people. Like when we launched the trailer of Raazi, we had a whole build-up around it. And since Junglee Pictures is a part of the Times Of India Group, there were a lot of resources that helped us get the right kind of traction in not only Hindi but other regional sectors as well.
Earlier, a part of the campaign would be to manage the perception of the audience regarding the film. Now we are focusing more on reaching out to the right audience. Consumer interaction has also increased in the cinemas. People have promotional campaigns based on their films in the theatres itself because again, that is your hardcore audience.
Earlier, stars would visit different cities. People would come to malls to see them in the thousands but sometimes not even a fraction of that number would turn up in the same mall’s theatre to watch their film. So, it is better to connect to your target audience, in cost-effective ways. Going on TV shows helps the channels more than the producers in terms of marketing the film. These things are also very time-consuming. In that same time, you could reach out to a lot more people, and do a lot more interviews that would make more sense to the film.
Prerna Singh, Chief Marketing Officer, Eros
Amid shifting content consumption patterns in an evolving consumer landscape, one needs to constantly innovate and adjust the movie strategy by anticipating trends and augmenting changing audience behaviour in order to stay ahead of the curve and drive ticket sales. Movie marketing, like most other kinds of marketing, has changed with the times to keep pace with current trends and innovations, particularly those of the younger audience. A good marketing campaign has to create urgency to watch a movie during the opening weekend. Our jobs are to get people off the couch and into theatres.
Amid sagging movie theatre attendance, competition from streaming platforms and a wider range of entertainments options, a successful movie marketing campaign still boils down to one simple axiom: A good movie. The tension lies between making art and selling a product. The audience is now based on affinities and online behavioural patterns, which is why marketers are now focusing more on digital.
Audiences have started reacting to engaging content. Once viewers know the genre of the film, it is important to have a content marketing plan for the film campaign to build curiosity and to influence a consumer’s decision to see a film than its critical reception as the audience is already invested in the story.
Recent campaigns like Sanju, which has been a great success at the box office, was largely focused on digital media and had a story telling through its campaign. Their campaign focused on the many avatars of Sanju followed by a UGC-driven activity with Facebook filters, which drew a lot of engagement from users.
Marketers are capitalising on the social media followings of film stars and more influencer marketing to create a buzz and build their brand.
Story telling is important. Other mediums offer no instant feedback and engagement, and have no shareablity. Digitally, you can tell a story as the user – everything can be targeted. It is a two-way thing. Today, brands like BuzzFeed are a part of our daily conversations, it is relatable, it is content that is designed and engineered to reach you. A movie’s campaign on digital needs to be as accessible as the experience of watching a movie is. Having said that, other mediums too play a key role as part of the overall strategy but medium priority is decided on the basis of the genre/target audience/box office or market potential of the film.
Manan Mehta, Vice President – Marketing And Merchandising, YRF
There are a few reasons for this tectonic shift in marketing. First, the audience is on digital and social platforms already, so it makes sense to lead our marketing with this medium. Second, apart from the cost of the reach, the biggest advantage for us is that we get to immediately understand the audience’s reaction to our content. By looking at the social data and sentiment, we can arrive at a future course of action on our film’s content packaging and publishing strategy.
And, third, the most important division in our business after direction is marketing. The cost of marketing a film is directly related to the bottom line of the film. Thus, the sooner you start your campaign, the better opportunity you give your film to build reach and recall. And if you can do it at almost negligible cost, employing digital and social then you have a head start on your film.
The most important parameter to evaluate and understand is to know what your content is and whom you will target at the core. You will arrive at your pitch, proposition and tone of communication from that. Keeping this as the fulcrum of your strategy, one needs to start identifying audience brackets and communities around the core and keep expanding the base and making it as broad as possible.
To summarise, your promotional campaign is nothing short of running an election campaign. You need to get the audience to come out on a specific day to theatres, to cast their valuable time with you. It is that simple and yet complex.
Prithwiraj Choudhary, Chief Manager, Saregama India
As a marketing person, the one thing you always look forward to is ROI. If you are spending ‘X’ amount of money on flying the stars to different parts of the country for city and mall visits, doing their hair and make-up, including their entourage cost, then you get a certain amount as your return. There are billions of households in India that have access to television. However, what it does not guarantee is the availability of the right target audience.
We have come to the era of the digital, customised, personal and one-on-one reaction. Facebook Box was done recently for a couple of films. Messenger services send customised messages and posters. The whole idea is that you are talking to a person or a fan on a one-on-one basis. Once you initiate a loyalty programme in the digital space, you gain a customer for ’X’ amount of time for life. You can go out and ‘apply’ the customer on your next film. They already are a part of your social media. Going forward, that will be the way we reach out to the right segment of people.
The most important part is targeting the right people. Now, data is available on our phones. A million people have access to smartphone devices. People use Facebook and Instagram on a daily basis. It is very important that the first touch point of people whom you reach out to are phones and laptop screens. It is through these platforms that you start sharing trailers, songs and promos. The best example is the face filter of Sanju that was there.
The influx of OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, ALTBalaji and Voot is making content available easily. This is the age where the focus is shifting to smaller screens. Our marketing techniques are also veering towards the digital space. It is definitely cheaper, realistic in terms of the fact that you are reaching out to the right audience and it helps get more ROI.
I have worked in both star-driven and content-driven projects. For a big-budget blockbuster, it is fairly simple to do the hygiene stuff on social media. But it should be done well. Typically, for these films, you can do some of the steps digitally that are strategically targeted at a wider audience. Your aim should be to get as many footfalls as possible on the first weekend.
For smaller films, it is very important to know your audience and to target your audience specifically, whether in the form of a YouTube app or a Facebook campaign. For smaller films like A Death In The Gunj and Gurgaon, or festival films like Ajji that released last year, you know they are not meant for fans of Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan. There are many target segments and it is important to know whom you are targeting and then to talk to that person.
Remo D’Souza, Producer-Director
Everyone has a smartphone nowadays. Everyone is on the Internet. Even the guy in my building who operates the lift has a smartphone with Internet access. Everyone is checking their phones all the time. Not many people read the newspapers or watch television today. That is the biggest reason marketing strategies and promotional campaigns have shifted to the digital space.
I strongly agree that the marketing strategies of a film are decided based on the genre of the film. The genre decides how we should go about promoting the film. If a film is youth-centric, then it is best to promote it online because most youth are on social media.
Kalapi Nagada, Founder, Cinekorn Entertainment
Marketing of movies has come a long way. Traditionally, marketing and publicity represented only 5 to 10 per cent of a film’s success at the box office but today it determines up to 50 per cent of a film’s success. Every release has an improved marketing strategy in place.
Today, new media is on the rise in India. It has become an integral part of everyday life and leveraging this fact, Bollywood marketers have chosen to target audiences through innovative marketing techniques.
Movie-goers spend more time online or using their mobile phones compared to watching television or reading the newspaper. Though television remains a strong pursuable medium, the upswing in new media has toppled mediums such as newspapers, magazines and radio. Online websites are increasingly popular with movie-going audience depend on the Internet for movie information. These audiences turn up online before deciding whether or not to go for a movie. Moreover, this innovative new media marketing technique is helping increase box office collections.
Today’s audience has a limited attention span. A film’s long-term fortunes are determined on the opening weekend itself and a large responsibility lies with marketers in order to help a movie become a hit or a dud. New media is proving to be largely successful, and with the way things have evolved in the recent past, it is apparent that it will have a larger role to play in the future.
In today’s dynamic entertainment environment, hundreds of movies release in Bollywood every year, and find it difficult to stay afloat amid the tough competition. The marketers behind these projects are forced to search for innovative ways to draw this audience to theatres. New media is the latest platform to market movies. Movie websites, social networking sites, blogs, mobile phones and games are the recent new-media tools being used for revenue generation.
However, unlike in Hollywood, the use of new media in Bollywood is at a very nascent, albeit intriguing stage. Movie-goers spend more time with new media than traditional media, and these newest marketing tools, despite being naive, are already making a difference to box office performance.