Over the last eight years, Screen, India’s foremost and most comprehensive entertainment weekly has been commissioning surveys (with C fore, a well known research agency) on industry trends. We have covered a lot of ground on multiplexes, Bollywood brand, icons, social media and studio systems. Given that Screen was the first to introduce an award for film marketing, the idea of basing our survey on marketing practices in show business was a natural progression.
Marketing, clearly a by-product of Hollywood’s influence, has become quite the buzzword for the film industry. Studios in particular, lending their worldwide marketing expertise, skill and monetary resources have been a major factor shaping film marketing in India. With marketing budgets as high as Rs.2 crore to Rs.15 crore—the budget of an average small film—for tentpole star vehicles, producers and film-makers are obviously on to something. Carpet bombing with marketing initiatives that include social media interactivity, merchandising, television shows and ground events is quite the norm each time a big film is up for release.
On conditions of anonymity, producers and exhibitors are willing to admit that many a mediocre film has reached the magic numbers, courtesy good marketing.
Sure, we haven’t yet had a 165 foot long aircraft painted with a one eyed, pill-shaped creature from Despicable Me flying over cities yet, but we do have actors jet-setting across cities and countries to mingle with fans and stoke their curiosity about the film. Aamir Khan went into India’s heartland meeting sari weavers in Madhya Pradesh, while Shah Rukh Khan almost always has premiere in a global city like London (Om Shanti Om) or Dubai (where a premiere of Happy New Year is likely to be scheduled) to enthuse his fans overseas.
Intensive marketing of films increasingly viewed as products of mass entertainment to consumers as well as creators of other products and services that can leverage cinema’s strengths is a common occurrence. Actors, more often than not, are the deliverables trotted out not just to media platforms but for a plethora of activities that allow a synergy of star presence and the sponsors. So watching your favourite star sell tickets at movie theatres (Emraan Hashmi to promote his film Raja Natwarlal) or run announcements at railway stations in the star’s voice (Salman’s voice was used during Ek Tha Tiger promotions) is a common occurrence now. Says Ajay Chandwani, Director, Percept, “Film marketing is fairly similar to marketing a consumer product —you create a hype around a single idea and see it through in all media. Good advertising and PR always help cross promos, and endorsements work well too. There is a certain hysteria about celebrated stars which film marketing exploits. Selling star value means really understanding the crux of their appeal. The personality cult is unique to film marketing.”
The concentration of a film’s theatrical business within the three-day weekend obviously means a greater urgency to the marketing campaign which must ensure that practically every demographic segment must know about the arrival of the film in theaters. From posters on trains and buses that move all over the city to slogans on autorickshaws — (Raagini MMS used the ploy) — or putting bumseats (3 Idiots at multiplexes) or creating Krrish 3 donuts there are several tricks in the book for creating a huge level of awareness about films.
But obviously, in tandem with changing times, the Screen Annual Survey, 2014 shines the light on Film Marketing at large and tosses up a few interesting insights. The survey was conducted by research organisation C fore among marketing professionals across Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad.
To begin with, 93 per cent respondents agreed that film marketing involved a combination of activities—building visibility through out of home advertising, theatrical trailers, interviews, TV shows and events, creating merchandise and games. Equally, 95 per cent felt that film marketing in India has improved considerably, moving on from the conventional platforms of theatrical trailers, hoardings and star interviews.
And then again, 77 per cent of the respondents felt that most of what passes off for film marketing, barring a few exceptions, is more of the same. Rafiq Gangjee (Vice President, Marketing and Communications at YashRaj Films) shares a similar point of view. “Till the time that evaluation of good marketing innovations are linked only to the box office collections, which are star-led most often, marketing can never be considered out-of-the box. The platforms may increase but at its core, it remains the same. My experience however is that no matter how well you market a film, it will not do well if the content does not match its marketing campaign.”
Gangjee’s words are a sobering reality check that business honchos could well take heed of in order to amp up their strategies. Fifty-four percent averred that new media was the space wherein the maximum innovations had been seen.
Sam Balsara, Chairman and MD Madison World, who counts among the men who forged the BJP victory at the hustings explains, good film marketing as, “ Good marketing is recognising a consumer need and fulfilling it, at a profit to the film-maker. Many fundamental principles of product marketing would apply to film marketing, but with one major difference that whilst a product is meant to go on and on, a film has a very short product lifecycle and there is no opportunity to test market or course-correct, which makes film marketing even more challenging.” He added, “It’s only recently that film- makers have woken up to the importance of marketing for the success of their films. Marketing should be planned for the film as it is conceived and not after the film is ready. Like in the product marketing world, the world’s best products are not the largest selling and it is no different in films.”
A majority of survey respondents — 81 per cent — felt that good marketing could bolster the prospects of an average film and as many as 89 per cent thought that a good film could meet with tragic consequences if the marketing of the film was weak, thus supporting Balsara’s logic. Chennai Express among the Hindi films and The Avengers among Hollywood — both tentpole films driven by star power — were voted films with the best marketing strategy.
However, only 28 per cent of those surveyed felt that 40-50 per cent of a film’s budget should be allocated to marketing while a whopping 65 per cent thought that market spend should be pegged at 30 to 40 per cent. They were also of the opinion that a high marketing spend results in a lower Return on Investment (33 per cent) and as an extension of that logic, 73 per cent felt that big tentpole films were more suitable for allocating a big marketing spread. As many as 23 per cent opined that a big budget tentpole film with stars is more likely to succeed. Reinforcing the blockbuster strategy, pursued by Hollywood studios, 50 per cent opined that fewer small films would fetch the big profits that a big film would and therefore marketing overkill on a small film was more fraught with risks. However, a significant 19 per cent felt that high concept small films, if well marketed, could equal big films in earnings (Kahaani and The Lunchbox are examples).
In Bollywood too, the opinions are divided. Distributor Rajesh Thadani supports the latter stream of thought. “A buzz is implicitly created once you have a big star in your film. It is a non-star cast film with good content that needs promotion,” explains Thadani, adding that if done right, marketing could add as much as 15-25 per cent to the box-office collections.
Television and print as marketing mediums still dominate in perception (30 per cent) as effective with movie trailers in theatres a close second (20 per cent) and digital and mobile platforms an immediate third (16 per cent). Karthik Laxminarayan, COO of Madison Media Infinity opines, “Regular advertising of the film on television is the hardest marketing weapon! This can be supplemented with appearances on television shows, and any other kind of interaction followed by ground activity like appearances in malls, radio, digital platforms etc.” That would perhaps explain the endless star appearances on popular television shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati, Comedy Nights with Kapil, Koffee With Karan, Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa and Bigg Boss. Gangjee also agrees that going on television shows has proven to be very beneficial for several YashRaj Films in achieving desired reach.
Appearances on television shows (30 per cent), product endorsements (23 per cent) and print coverage, interviews in magazines, etc (18 per cent) were the top most effective marketing tools for film stars outside of the films they act in.
Fifty two per cent of the respondents echoed Movie Moghul Shah Rukh Khan’s sentiments that imagination and innovation is a necessity in business, especially the movie business. Predictably, Khan notched 41 per cent votes as the actor with the smartest marketing plan in showbiz (all India) and his company Red Chillies Entertainment topped the list too.Vidya Balan aced the survey for actresses, while Viacom 18 Motion Pictures was the studio number one in the marketing game. Thadani too agreed that Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were the two stars with top-of-the-mind recall for their strategies despite the difference in their approach. As things stand, with aggressive marketing campaigns already underway, both Happy New Year and PK could sail into the Rs.300 plus crore bracket, predicts Thadani.
When it came to non-film marketing campaigns that stood out in the respondents’ memories and which could serve as handy references for films, the BJP election campaign, Dove and Pantene found significant mention.
Well, given that films based on the lives of real people have proved successful, film marketing mavens looking for smart ways to growing their business could surely take a leaf from real life case studies.
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