Movie marketing in the digital age: of over-dose and mystique

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Bollywood has blown film’s marketing out of proportion‘, said actor Paresh Rawal recently. He was referring to the trend of on-ground activations related to virtually every film, which call for stars to ‘interact’ with fans in malls across the country. He also mentioned that only the Hindi film industry resorts to such marketing activities and that ‘stars have lost their magic‘ as a result of that.

It’s obvious that movie marketing has come a long way. Its kept pace with the times and adopted new technologies and platforms. And its not just about publicity – Kamal Haasan is breaking new ground by airing Vishwaroopam  first on the DTH platform, instead of a regular theatre release. Even when it comes to publicity, movie marketing has adopted to new media in a big way. Social Media (including Facebook brand pages & Twitter feeds), in-show marketing on Television, ground activations, online banner ads, mobile marketing (including apps and banner ads) have all been adopted in a big way by the entertainment industry. Of late, a lot of it is following a ‘template’ and its all looking a bit jaded. Since no one can predict the fate of a movie at the box office prior to release, the PR folks’ strategy seems to be to bombard audience across all media. And build the hype so high that a prospective movie goer is guaranteed to hear about the movie in some medium. Coupled with this effort is the hyperbole that surrounds the movie in terms of sound bytes: every movie is pathbreaking, every actor is fantastic and everything about the movie is excellent. In India, you have the added dimension of the movie’s music creating a marketing opportunity of its own. What TIME magazine said in 2007 about movie marketing rings so true: marketing a movie is like choosing the right outfit for a porn convention: in a crowd of exhibitionists, it takes real creativity to stand out. Some campaigns do stand out: The Simpsons MovieGangs of WasseypurBarfi, to name a few. Good reads on the topic here and here. In fact, social media promotions has become de rigueur for the Hindi film industry.

However there is some truth in what Paresh Rawal says: an overdose, that too in ‘personal’ media, takes away the mystique of a movie and movie stars a little bit. Social media’s commenting and sharing options can be a double edged sword, for one. It can help content go viral (like with ‘Kolaveri’) and can help the movie marketers get a pulse of the audience. But it also means exposing the movie and its stars to all kinds of comments. It can lead to flame wars and even personal attacks on the star. Add to it the easy integration of Facebook comments on any site and you have ample scope for a movie fan to ‘comment in’ on anything – from a movie review, to a Facebook post from the movie’s brand page, a Twitter update or even an innocuous wallpaper of an actor.

In India here is the additional factor of Facebook Mobile being the first exposure to the online world for many people. So interacting (so they think) with a film, its film star and being able to comment on it is a high most people cannot handle. People can hide behind the anonymity of the web and play critic, use street language, be obnoxious, be appreciative…be anything. Add to this, the lack of moderation of comments on any film site or blog. You have a situation where people get vile, abusive, sarcastic, opinionated and yes, appreciative and adulatory too. You just have to visit sites like to see what I mean.

A few years ago, the only way you could reject a movie or its stars was to not buy the movie ticket. And perhaps read about the star in monthly gossip magazines and have a laugh. The ‘distance’ – helped create the mystique. The over exposure of a film star cuts both ways today. It can help stars reach out to their fans instantly and in large numbers. But they also have to accept and live with the fact that such presence makes them vulnerable to opinions and attacks. And in that process takes away the ‘distance’ between them and the fans. Some stars prefer to keep it that way and restrict their social media & public interaction. Others go the full hog. But most often a movie’s release forces them to be visible across media, including the ‘handshake in Nagpur’ which Paresh Rawal referred to.

To me, the mindless ‘handshake in Nagpur’ and ‘meet the stars’ programs in malls are options when the movie marketing does not have a strong, innovative idea linked to the movie. It then reduces the star to a commodity and robs the mystique of the brand. Adopting new media and technology for promotions is a must for movies today. While good movies like Kahaani get traction on their own, thanks to great content and word-of-mouth, not all movies have that option. They have to break the clutter with an idea-based marketing campaign. In a way its the difference between marketing a high end perfume and a mass low priced deodorant. The former commands a premium thanks to its aura and mystique. The latter is approachable, mass, can be picked up at the local kirana store or off the shelf in a departmental store. But has none of the aura, mystique and ‘desirability’. That’s the trade off.

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2009.

photo credit: wvs via photopin cc

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  1. I think there is a need to embed marketing into films rather than do silly roadshows and tamashas. Rajini, Kamal, Rehman and co have often shown their much hyped Bollywood stars how to innovate. The Mumbai boys often follow what their Southern counterparts do

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