Marketing a movie

Recent times have seen Bollywood going out-of-the box for promoting movies. May it be Abhay Deol getting tattooed for Dev D or Aamir Khan for an “across India” trip to promote 3 Idiots — the industry is filled with such examples. Is innovative marketing the key to turn otherwise routine films into mega hits?

By Gaurav D.

In the making of a film, one has to be innovative. In marketing it, you have to be even more so. The above axiom holds true to the core. How else would 3 Idiots, at best an average film with a rather labored, off-kilter storyline, proved to be a great success?

Aamir is now quite a past-master at this game, having pulled off a stunning hat trick of year-end super hits — Taare Zameen Par (2007), Ghajini  (2008) and 3 Idiots (2009). His strategy appears to be rather simple but it calls for much thought and a sense of timing: unspool a concerted publicity campaign in the run-up to a new release, flood media outlets with freewheeling interviews, think up unprecedented mass contact tricks to arouse the curiosity of the public and then sit back and watch moviegoers troop into the multiplexes to savor his latest film.

Even as 3 Idiots was, by the 10th day, smashing the records set by Ghajini, Aamir wrote on his blog: “In less than 10 days, 3 Idiots has overtaken the entire business of Ghajini… India, overseas, everywhere… and is still going strong. I have no idea how to explain what is happening…” Marketing gurus as well as Aamir himself knows exactly what is afoot out there.

Ever since round-the-clock television became a part of the lives of millions of Indians, the well-oiled Bollywood publicity machinery has been in overdrive mode in order the extract the maximum mileage out of the medium. But when a big Bollywood banner relies too much on getting the word out via the idiot box, it is usually a hit-and-run kind of affair – some films hit home, others turn out to be also-rans.

So, of late, a new scenario is emerging on the movie-marketing front. The men and women, who devise the promotional strategies of big-budget Hindi releases, are pushing beyond the confines of the small screen and Page 3 columns and into real life spaces where they can attract popular attention to their upcoming cinematic products.

So you have superstar Aamir Khan jetting around the country in the guise of a common man, donning a new persona at every stop, making friends in the unlikeliest of places and doling out gold rings to his new pals to promote Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots. The exercise may have cost producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra a huge bomb — Aamir had a jet on standby for him all through the unique road show — but it paid handsome dividends in the long run. 3 Idiots mopped up a whopping sum of Rs. 315 crore from the box office in less than 20 days, setting a new Bollywood collection benchmark.

The 3 Idiots publicity experiment was in a way a replication of what Aamir had pulled off with great success exactly a year ago with Ghajini. In the last few weeks of 2008, the star ran amok with the publicity of the film, getting all and sundry associated with Ghajini to cut their hair and acquire his on-screen look. Young male ushers at multiplexes sported the lawn-mower look as audiences walked in to watch a movie — the buzz about Ghajini assumed giant proportions in the bargain. When the Rs. 50-crore film opened, it raked in Rs. 32 crore in a single day, another difficult-to-break benchmark.

Once, Mumbai residents woke up to find dummy corpses hanging from posters of Agyaat (a Ram Gopal Verma movie), blood oozing out of them. The movies sank.

Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan, co-producers of the latter’s My Name is Khan, adopted silence as their promotional device.

As marketing gurus point out, today’s audience have a limited attention span. A movie has to make an impact on the first day of release. Its  long-term fortune is determined on the opening weekend itself. Of course, My Name is Khan has been in the news ever since Shah Rukh was involved in a well-publicized fracas at Newark airport, where US immigration officials hauled him up because “his name is Khan.” Detractors had described that incident as a publicity stunt to draw attention to the film.

The Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukherji starrer, Hum Tum, released in 2004, had reaped the benefits of a well-orchestrated promotional binge. Since Saif played a professional cartoonist in the film, the release of Hum Tum was preceded by a comic strip in an English daily, a tie-up with a top potato wafers brand, and an appearance by the two leads in the popular soap opera, Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin.

Dev.D’s promotional design was no less in-your-face than the film. Its production company, UTV Motion Pictures, invited visitors to its Web site to get into an adult chat with Kalki Koechlin, who played sex worker Chandra in the Anurag Kashyap film. On his part, Abhay Deol threw his weight behind the film by introducing a line of tattoos inspired by Dev.D.

Such gimmicks don’t always yield the desired result. Chance Pe Dance has met with a similar fate. The film’s two stars, Shahid Kapur and Genelia D’Souza, did the rounds of promotional events to provide the Ken Ghosh film a push. The producers also launched a contest for Hindi movie fans, who fancied their dancing skills by inviting video entries from. But with a script that reeked of a redundancy, this dance had no chance of pulling off a profitable pirouette.

Aggression and innovation are now the dominant mantras, but they can only guarantee visibility for a film. Box-office success is still, if you discount Ghajini, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani and 3 Idiots, hinges on quality of content. Or so we would like to think until the next load of cinematic muck hits paydirt.

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