It isn’t that farfetched to expect two versions of Shah Rukh Khan’s next release. In one he would play a Tag Heuer-sporting NASA scientist, meet girl, woo her over Diet Pepsis, flex a few muscles and sing a few songs. In the other he̵ 7;d play a Dish TV dealer, meet the same girl, woo her with Pepsis and Sunfeast biscuits, and flex the same muscles and sing the same songs.
Just possible, considering the increasing importance of marketing in deciding the fate of a film. And in-movie placements are just one aspect. Today, marketing spends can account for almost half of the cost of production of a small movie. The spends are very flexible, but they can even be as much as the movie itself if the producer decides it’s worth ploughing the money back, explains UTV Motion Pictures’ Shikha Kapoor.
Because a steady stream of releases has freed exhibitors from running half-empty halls, dwindling performances can be replaced with newer releases. “Movies have become extremely perishable,” explains Big Pictures COO Mahesh Ramanathan. With week after week of films for the exhibitor to choose from, the ability to draw in the crowds in the first weekend has become a crucial determinant of a film’s fate.
“Everyone today understands the importance of owning their films,” says UTV’s Kapoor, pointing to the very media-savvy stars today. They are willing to take part in media interactions, cast engagements and road trips. Thus is explained the stripping of Aamir Khan, the clinical documentation of flab to pectorals, and his generous billboard appearances in the bizarre Ghajini haircut. It certainly paid off, says Nitin Sood, Chief Financial Officer, PVR, with due respect to the contents of the movie. The movie was the biggest hit in recent months.
Marketing has also become very sophisticated. The earlier approach, the noisy marketing that bombarded audiences with television and print ads, is passé, says Ramanathan.
In a fragmented environment it’s difficult to capture audience mindshare for a film. “It calls for marketing campaigns in which movies are treated as a consumer product; it’s marketing carried out once audience profile and message has been fine tuned,” he says.
Producers are micro-engaging. DevD, UTV’s modern-day version of Devdas, launched a line of tattoos in Mumbai’s Al’s tattoo parlour, and a ‘Lustline’ has been opened for callers who can talk to key actors in the urban interpretation of Devdas. The initiatives are targeted at its key audience, the urban youth.
The plans are different for the highly awaited Delhi 6, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, which has a more pan-Indian appeal, says UTV. A caravan will take stars to 10-15 cities across the country, including Indore, Surat and Nagpur. A mela, recreating the gullies of Old Delhi, is being planned for Bangalore and Kolkata.
For its latest release Luck by Chance, Big Pictures arranged programming alliances, now a norm. Stars made appearances on Oye! It’s Friday, the talk show on NDTV Imagine (hosted by lead actor Farhan Aktar himself) and at the grand finale of the singing contest show SaReGaMaPa.
Big Pictures is leveraging Reliance ADAG’s other entertainment businesses such as Big Adda, Zapak (with a microsite) and Big Flicks (with ground promotions at its stores) as well as rolling out online promotions on portals such as Yahoo!, Rediff, and Google. The movie opens across 900 screens and is believed to have had a marketing support of about Rs 8 crore.
It all starts at the script level, where audience, message and brands, and how effectively and smoothly they fit are worked out. Traditional FMCG products are now also on board. Brand alliances also amplify the noise of the film, says Kapoor. For its movie Fashion, UTV tied up with RPG Cellular, Kimaya and Sunsilk. Both Kimaya and Sunsilk launched a range after the film.
Lead actors Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut walked the ramp for Sunsilk at Lakme Fashion Week, helping buzz reach peak at the time of launch.
A Vogue photo shoot was roped into the storyline; Priyanka Chopra had already featured on the magazine’s cover by the time the film released.
As brand endorsers stars can extend the association. Samsung launched special Ghajini-model handsets and Tata Sky ran a continuous feature on how Aamir Khan (its brand ambassador) worked to get the Ghajini look and hosted an interactive quiz.
While it’s one thing to build expectations, it’s quite another to oversell; that can be detrimental. A case in point is Drona. Marketing is to raise expectations to the exact level that will eventually be met by the movie.
Some films do well for themselves by word of mouth. For example, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! which picked up pace purely on its own merit. Almost by itself, with some backing from marketing. UTV says it knew the movie would be talked about and decided to push the movie just around the time of release rather then weeks in advance.
Producers are counting on paid previews/premiers. It’s a new phenomenon; Chandni Chowk to China had them, and Luck By Chance ran a “paid preview” before its release.
The Hollywood studios’ foray into Hindi movies has demonstrated how the big studios do the marketing. But the hype only did that much for the movies Saawariya (Sony) and Chandni Chowk to China (Warner). Eventually it’s all about the content.
Appreciate, however, that theatrical revenues contribute to only half of a producer’s earnings. TV broadcast rights, international territories, musical rights and brand associations make up for the rest.
You may no longer hear of a 100-day-run for a Hindi movie. At a time when life cycles are counted in days and not weeks, Rock On! ran for 75 days, points out Ramanathan. However, a 50-day- and 100-day-milestones are still important in establishing a film’s success in the Tamil film industry.
UTV, Fox Studios, and Big Pictures have all announced projects in Tamil. It’s both a sentimental and a commercial landmark since they release with fewer prints. Today, while weekend collections can contribute about 50-60 per cent of a movie’s revenues, they make up for 30-40 per cent of that of a Tamil movie. But this could change soon, says Swaroop Reddy, Director, Sathyam Cinemas.
At multiplexes, movies go from 10-12 shows a day in the first week to four in the second. The payout, or share of theatre’s tickets sales, to a producer also reduces week-on-week, explains Reddy. Sathyam often works with the presenter to market the movie. A movie lives by its content, says Reddy.
Slowdown or no slowdown, filmmakers believe nothing will keep audiences away from an essentially good movie.
With a few exceptions, last year hasn’t been good. “The silver lining is that there is a slate of projects. But four bad films, and an audience will get cautious about the fifth,” says Sood.
Things will have to be done differently in 2009 when money will be tighter for both film makers and film viewers. UTV sees the marketing window of 60- 45 days coming down to 35 days before the release. “People may be choosy at best, but they won’t give up on films. But a bad film stands to be completely wiped out,” says Ramanathan.