A few weeks ago, Shah Rukh Khan vowed over a video message to fly down to the city which had the maximum numbers of girls names Sejal. This was, of course, to promote his film Jab Harry Met Sejal. As promised, he soon arrived in Ahmedabad to keep his date with the ladies. Sejals across generations and in various stages of hysteria assembled to greet the star. All Khan had to do was speak a few words in Gujarati and he’d be drowned out by hoots and claps. Later, the women smothered him, hugged him and one even gave him a peck on the cheek. If nothing, Khan can count on these Sejals to turn up for his film.
It doesn’t stop there. There are almost two long months to go before Varun Dhawan’s Judwaa 2 hits the screens. But the makers of the film have already found a smart way to grab the attention of their target audience - twins. The Twitter hashtag #huntforjudwaas allows twins from across the country to win an invite to the film’s trailer launch by sending in cutesy photos of themselves. Also, search the hashtag #IndiaGoesMubarakaran and you’ll find videos of Arjun Kapoor fans doing the hook step of his latest song in their bedrooms and kitchens. The actor, along with uncle Anil Kapoor, rewarded the best ones by paying them a house visit.
Ten years ago, a film’s promotional strategy was pretty straightforward - ads on television, large hoardings on roads and a spread on Bombay Times. But how many eyeballs was this really grabbing? And how many of them would translate into ticket sales on a Friday? There was no way of knowing.
Today film marketing is largely hinged on data crunching. A trending hashtag or a Facebook post can pin down the location, age and sex of a potential ticket buyer. If used creatively, like in the case of Mubarakan or Jab Harry Met Sejal, it can even take you to their doorstep.
One of the early movers in digital marketing for films was Gautam B Thakker who started his company Everymedia Technologies 7 years ago. Today he has over 300 employees to ensure that if a film he’s handling is up for release, there’s no chance of it escaping your notice. He believes that a marketing campaign done right can affect the global box office figures of a film by 30-40 per cent.
“There is a content dissemination team which is literally going out and seeding information. Even if you’re a Bollywood blog in Malawi, we will send you the trailer and songs. So say if you’re an Irrfan Khan fan sitting out of a remote place in South Africa, we will find you and say here is a trailer of his new film, why don't you see it. That’s what changes the game,” explains Thakker, who has worked on films like Pink, Piku, Neerja and Tubelight, to name a few.
The real gamechanger here is technology. Digital teams can now track every Tweet, Facebook post and YouTube comment around a film without breaking a sweat. All you need is a software that processes all the chatter around a movie and puts them into three buckets - positive, negative and neutral. “We know every handle that has spoken positively or negatively about a film. I don’t waste energy on the negative. I work more on the neutrals. That’s when people start saying a movie has good word of mouth. They don’t realise that someone is actually converting them,” says Thakker.
In the run up to Badrinath Ki Dulhania, the digital team at Dharma Productions would create weekly reports after the launch of a trailer, song or dialogue promo to get deep insights into which age group, city and area was warming up to the film. It was found that the Holi song ‘Badri Ki Dulhania’ did exceptionally well in tier II cities.
“Once the film released, we collaborated closely with a booking platform to understand how tickets were selling and tallied it with our data reports. At least 70 percent of the data matched. So if the film was tracking well in Chandigarh then tickets sold there also reflected that,” says Alpa Golcha, senior marketing manager of Dharma Productions. These insights also help determine which cities the actors should visit for promotions.
Saurabh Doshi, who heads content and media partnerships for Facebook India, says it’s not uncommon now for producers to reach out to him even before a film is announced. “There are times when we have been involved with the film when it was still being planned and written which provides us an opportunity to see through its entire lifecycle,” he says. Last month, Onir’s movie Shab had its music launch live on Facebook instead of a traditional offline event. The video garnered a million views. Doshi adds that FB’s tools are especially beneficial to films that are smaller or niche in content.
A case in point is the recent kids animation film Hanuman Da Damdaar. Here, the aim was to lure young mothers into taking their children for the movie. But not just any mother. “There’s no point targeting moms with 19 year old kids. We needed to speak specifically to moms with young kids and Facebook and Instagram allows you those options,” says Manish Kumar, founder of Digi Osmosis, the agency working on the film.
Having said that, Kumar says that his job as a digital strategist doesn’t end at exploiting Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. He must also tap avenues that take him closer to a fan in Gorakhpur still functioning on 2G internet. A service he often leverages is called Kan Khajura Teshan (KKT) - a platform invented by Unilever that operates like a free radio service for B and C category towns. “They have got over 6 crore subscribers. Just for them, we launch an audio version of the same trailer that goes on YouTube. For Dilwale, we first launched an audio trailer on KKT. It felt like Kajol and Shah Rukh were radio jockeys. Last year we did it with Rustom as well,” he says.
Therefore, with an ingenious digital marketing plan, the possibilities are endless. Take the videos of Aamir Khan’s crazy physical transformation for Dangal or the ‘Lipstick Rebellion’ campaign for Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha. It’s safe to say that the photos of celebrities flashing a red lipstick and their middle finger in defiance gave the film a new life.
Nikita Khandelwal of World Wide Open says her ‘Shashi Was There’ campaign for Phillauri in February took off after she posted a photo of Anushka Sharma being present at the Oscar ceremony during the famous goof-up. “It said Shashi knew about the mistake but no one could hear her because she’s a ghost. The post went viral and fans started sending in photos of Shashi in different scenarios,” says Nikita, who is now working on Jab Harry Met Sejal.
All these ideas, she points out, can be executed almost immediately and cost a fraction of what it takes to put something out on TV or newspaper. “But we are still the smallest piece of the pie,” says Thakker. “The spends on digital is not even one fourth of the PR budget despite having the biggest reach. We are also the last guys to get the phone call, sometimes just 6 weeks before release. I'm hoping that changes. There is a new breed of producers that will show us the script but those are very few.”
But this is likely to change sooner than later. Film promotions on digital platforms is still a relatively new phenomenon. The first ever film to have a trailer launched only on YouTube was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in 2011. Today it’s become fashionable for a film to boast about how many million views a song or trailer has amassed in 24 hours.
“Nobody cares if your trailer has touched 50 million. This tradition of buying fake views on FB and YT has infected 90 per cent of the industry. They come from a click farm, there’s a bot doing it,” adds Thakker. But given the rapid pace at which this sector evolves, he hopes this practice too shall pass. The thumb rule is to keep evolving your strategy. Or as Kumar explains, “In digital if you do things that are repetitive, you’re dead.”