In the 21st century, film promotion seems to have been taken to a new level with novel strategies and zany marketing.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s superstar Rajinikanth in his natty avatar with his salt and pepper hair and thick white beard,courtesy the character he plays in the Pa Ranjith-helmed Tamil gangster caper, Kabali, dominating planes of Malaysian airline AirAsia. Brand Rajini just discovered a new high even as Kabali will light up screens on July 22. In another instance, Pune-based Force Motors tied up with Yash Raj Films (YRF) for the Salman Khan-starrer Sultan, in which it enjoyed extensive and well-placed branding.
Gone are the days when hand-made movie posters were pasted across cities and towns announcing the release of a film. In the 21st century, film promotion seems to have been taken to a new level with novel strategies and zany marketing marking the release of each movie. Publicity budgets have become so humungous that some can even finance a small film. With scores of movies every other week competing for attention, it calls for focused and aggressive marketing.
Producer-director Kalaipuli S Thanu is the brain behind the Kabali promotional blitzkrieg. A savvy marketer, he had accorded Rajini the ‘superstar’ tag way back in 1978 during the release of the movie Bairavi. After he made Yaar in 1984, in which the superstar had a cameo, Thanu promised the latter that he would make a film with him. Now, the director has pulled out all the stops for Kabali. The rebranded AirAsia plane with the Kabali livery will be ferrying Rajini fans from Bengaluru to Chennai on the day of its release. Fans will also receive Kabali memorabilia, including a special meal. Kerala-based Muthoot Pappachan Group has collaborated with the makers of the film to bring out gold and silver coins embossed with the superstar’s image. A Rajini doll on the Kabali character has also been designed.
Soundarya Nandakumar, who was among the top 10 contestants of television music reality show Super Singer and did a cameo in Kabali, got a chance of a lifetime when director Pa Ranjith invited her and others to be part of the film’s promotion. “I was invited to check out the arrangements inside the airplane. We were the first to view it,” says Soundarya. A picture of her standing next to the AirAsia aircraft is doing the rounds on social media.
With hundreds of crores of rupees riding on their films, big production banners are wont to throw their weight behind strategic marketing to reap benefits at the box office. Just before the Eid release of Sultan, Salman Khan and Anushka Sharma—the two leads in the film—joined hands with Y Films, the youth wing of Yash Raj Films, (YRF) to promote the latter’s transgender music group, 6 Pack Band. Business and Creative Head at YRF, Ashish Patil, says, “Since 6 Pack Band and Sultan were both YRF productions, we took the liberty of making an interesting cinematic association. Sultan is a romantic action drama that preaches love, and 6 Pack Band also promotes the philosophy of love. The campaign was as much to promote the music band as to publicise Sultan.”
Besides the money-spinner Sultan, another sports drama and a biopic on wrestler Mahavir Phogat titled Dangal starring Aamir Khan has also been generating a lot of interest. Aamir has always piqued the public interest with inventive ways of promoting his movies. His Ghajini haircut, playing hide and seek during the promotion of 3 Idiots and substituting “talaash” for “search” on Google for his film Talaash have been brilliant publicity exercises.
Siddharth Roy Kapoor, MD and CEO of Disney India, which is producing Dangal, says, “The moment we plan a film, we plan the promotion. I cannot tell you what Aamir Khan has in mind for Dangal. It’s going to be a surprise. He has always been very innovative.” The only clue that the actor has let out is that Phogat will be present during the film’s promotion. “We will be introducing him to the public as the film is a biopic on him. We are planning some things, let’s see how it works out,” is all Aamir is willing to reveal.
Producer and director Saurabh Varma—whose gritty thriller 7 Hours To Go, inspired from a real-life incident starring Shiv Pandit, Sandeepa Dhar and Natasa Stankovic, released recently—had his task cut out. “My film’s release date was such that it was sandwiched between Udta Punjab and Sultan. We had to make an impression, or it would have got lost in the buzz surrounding the biggies. Employing innovative tactics, we had this masked man who came into theatres. At some places we had a girl who was tied up and held hostage. Whoever managed to release her, would win a prize. We thought of ideas involving the number seven,” says Varma, adding that the modest budget film recovered quite well.
In any industry, the focus first is always on product quality, after which marketing muscle is put behind it. The same pans out for films as well. “Content precedes everything. Our job as a marketer is how to position that content. Eros International Ltd is a very dynamic studio, producing films in all languages. This means we need to study consumer behaviour in particular regions and then position our communication and media weight behind it,” says Prerna Singh, Chief Marketing Officer at Eros International Ltd. When Bajirao Mastani released last December, the production banner pegged it as “the biggest love story from India” and “the story of a warrior”.
The strategy for Housefull 3, which released in April, was to position it as the biggest franchise. “When I say that it is the biggest franchise, then I know how I will be designing the campaign keeping the target audience in mind—people who have been following the first two films,” explains Prerna. The promotion for the film was unique, something never attempted before for any film. “We wanted to create headline messaging, which went ‘100 cities, 12 states 50,000 fans, 1 movie Housefull 3’. We identified 100 cities that were important ‘box office cities’ for this genre and tied up with the biggest newspaper chain for publicity. We invited people to rate the Housefull 3 trailer, giving them a sense of ownership about the film,” says Prerna.
Actor Rana Daggubati, who is awaiting the release of Baahubali: The Conclusion in April next year, believes that you have to market any product you make. “Films are recreational means for most people and one is competing with theme parks, restaurants, night clubs and other recreational activities,” says the actor.
The prequel Baabubali had some excellent promotion with the producers tying up with other language producers. Says Rana: “The sequel has become a brand in itself and we will promote it via videos, virtual reality, games, etc. We will announce things when they are ready and perfect. We are testing a bunch of things for the Indian as well as the overseas market. The prequel is releasing in China next week, which is one of the largest non-Hollywood releases I have ever seen.”
Besides the movie business being a risky gamble, marketing and promotion have lent themselves to a new dynamic. Atlanta-based producer-director Nagendra says earlier, films would run for 10-15 weeks and producers would plan their strategy accordingly as they needed money for the entire run. But now with the screening period shrinking, they aim to get back their investment within two to four weeks, which explains the targeted and maximum publicity. Nagendra has produced two Kannada hits, Joke Falls and Rambo, and has directed the Hindi movie, Mumbai Connection.
Filmmaker Karan Johar joked at Goafest 2016 that there was a time when all his father did was take the film reel to Vaishno Devi and pray, that being the only promotion for the film. Says Laxman Habbu, the then distributor for R K (Raj Kapoor) Films in Karnataka: “We would hire a car to go around rural areas with the songs of the film blaring from loudspeakers. Music was the selling point then; if the audience loved the music, they would definitely come to watch the film in the theatres.”
With the audience scattered across media, promotion needs to be tailored accordingly. “The morning radio slot is for the IT crowd, the vinyl poster and multiplex trailer is for the B and C centres, the evening TV slot is for government officials, and so on,” says Nagendra. Publicity costs eat up 50 per cent of the total budget. “In case of a small star cast, 50 per cent and 10-15 per cent in case of a big star cast, which eventually works out to the same,” he says. Thanu puts the minimum figure at 10 per cent, with the norm being 15-20 per cent.
Tie-ups and collaborations with products that share certain likeliness with the film are all part of the marketing framework. For Sultan, YRF went beyond Salman’s loyal fan base, tying up with Force Motors for the wrestling events in the narrative. “We collaborated with Sultan as it symbolises our never-say-die attitude and adaptation to dynamic environments. Force Motors is shown to be the principal sponsor of the mixed martial arts competition. Our logo is extensively seen during the Pro Take Down wrestling bouts,” said a Force Motors company spokesperson.
The marketing gambit extends to cinema houses as well. “We are the content owners, and by tying up with cinema owners, we provide value for them. The theatre is an innovative platform as once there, you don’t have the liberty of changing channels. You are hooked to the screen,” says Prerna. For Eros International’s upcoming movie Dishoom starring John Abraham, Varun Dhawan and Jacqueline Fernandez, there was an interesting innovation. “We created customised promos revolving around the song Toh Dishoom in the movie. One was if you drop the popcorn, toh dishoom and so on,” says Prerna, adding that “we also did a roadblock, that is, at a given time the trailer of Dishoom would air simultaneously across the 550 screens of PVR.”
For Oopiri, PVP Cinemas went one step ahead. Karthi’s face was splashed on popcorn wrappers in theatres for the film, which was produced by PVP Cinemas. Rajeev Kamineni, executive director of PVP Cinemas, said they had targeted one lakh popcorn tubs every month.
Creativity is the key to promoting a film, especially if you have a good film but are short on funds. Tamil film Kaaka Muttai premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, winning a lot of appreciation, which in turn created interest at home. Earlier in 2010, director Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s film Aaranya Kaandam opened at the South Asian International Film Festival. Nagendra says “you get initial exposure, but once you come home, you have to promote it extensively. This also works only if you participate in the really big festivals where big shots come and when they endorse the film, like it happened with the recent Tamil Visaranai and the Kannada Thithi”.
Into this creative cauldron, mixing social media has proved advantageous for many, and has become the best way to reach out to youngsters and the urban populace. “Through Eros Now, the company’s online entertainment portal, we created parallel content such as the special animated digital series showcasing the Maratha warrior Bajirao,” recounts Prerna. “Social media platforms provides good publicity, but are only a supporting tool,” reasons Nagendra. Then again, filmmakers think up innovative ideas to catch users’ attention; like what director Pawan Kumar did for the crowd-funded Kannada movie Lucia, asking Facebook users to suggest an alternative ending for the film.
Apart from the entire marketing machinery comprising producers, distributors, exhibitors, publicists, etc, actors are also getting involved in promotions. Aamir Khan’s inventiveness in promoting his movies is marketing folklore. Other actors are following suit. Kannada star Yash went all the way to the US to promote his 2014 film Gajakesari among the Kannada diaspora.
Things are going to get crazier as more and more films vie for the audience’s attention. Till then, blame the ringing in your ears to Kabali’s Neruppa Da.
with Shama Bhagat