At the movies, now it's lights, camera, marketing!

A few days ago, music channel MTV and cable channel In Mumbai aired 'missing alerts' of a certain Vishnu Prasad who, not so coincidentally, bore an uncanny resemblance to Tusshar Kapoor, lead actor in Ram Gopal Varma Production's latest offering Gayab (disappear).

Vishnu Prasad bore an uncanny resemblance to Tusshar Kapoor!

Gayab's promotional campaign, which launched on TV, is just another example of the way marketing and publicity campaigns of Bollywood films have come of age. No more can a film producer afford to leave out any media option. Not if he is serious about getting serious returns from his project anyway. The buzzword today is 'innovation' among bollywood's publicity and marketing strategists.

Looking at just the first six months of 2004, it is estimated that the entertainment industry has, till now, spent around Rs 1 billion on film and music promotions. While a producer ideally would invest 10 to 15 per cent of the total production budget on marketing and promotions, there are occasions when it is stretched to 20 to 25 per cent.

A still from Hum Tum: rocking in the rains!

The recently released Hum Tum produced by Yash Raj Films is a classic example of a film that had highly innovative marketing-publicity campaigns. Though film critics gave a less than warm reception to Hum Tum, the film, specifically targeted at and marketed among the youth, is an acknowledged box office hit now.

The campaign Hum Tum unleashed could well find place as a textbook case on marketing. Yash Raj Films tied up with organisations ranging from Times of India to Lays Chips to promote the film.

"Simultaneous to its production, we had started strategising the film's marketing and publicity campaigns. There were a chunk of big ideas," says Yash Raj films senior marketing executive Tarun Tripathi, who played a key role in ideating Hum Tum's marketing strategy.

According to Tripathi, Hum Tum invested 10 to 12 per cent of its total production budget on marketing and publicity. Tripathi says the movie actually got free publicity worth 30 to 35 per cent of its budget because of the free-of-cost deals like Saif's appearance in Sony's soap Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin and the numerous MTV appearances of its cast-members.

While talking about cross-media marketing, one can't overlook the buzz around online movie marketing. According to Hungama movie marketing head Siddhartha Ray, 16 per cent of a Hollywood film's total budget is devoted to digital media marketing. Drawing a comparison to Bollywood, he reasons why producers here have been making it a point to release web sites of their movies:

"For bollywood, there is a lucrative overseas market and then there is the urban market too. For these segments, web is the best medium through which to be informed about a movie."

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt is of the opinion that movie marketing, though it had always been there, has become more aggressive now.

"Marketing has always been there in Bollywood. It has been the lifeblood of the industry. Now there is a different approach. Now it has got more aggressive," says Bhatt.

"Bollywood marketing has got more aggressive"

Bhatt believes that for a longer shelf place in today's times, marketing is very essential. "Otherwise audiences won't go to the theatres and your movie could be thrown out in the first week itself," he says.

There are other reasons too, that define this change of approach - the big money involved, target groups, multiplex boom, et al.

Integrated content solutions provider Communique's CEO Nitin Kalra is of the opinion that movies have become a luxury item and so the same marketing treatment given to a shampoo or detergent is being given to films these days.

"Taking your family to a multiplex would cost you at least Rs 600. Now to make the masses do that, a good marketing strategy is very essential."

Tripathi believes that any product --- be it a film, play or TV show --- requires good marketing if its commercial expectations are to be met.

"The challenge is to survive the mad race for eyeballs. In the older days, the public had only a few alternatives for entertainment and film producers could always get away without spending much on marketing. But now, the new generation's needs and interests should be treated carefully," says Tripathi.

Leo Burnett Entertainment head Sanjay Bhutiani points to the churning out of movies with a certain target audience in mind. According to Bhutiani, the product is marketed among that specific target group and the multiplex boom in cities has only acted as a stimulant to this.

"Earlier there were only two streams - parallel and the mainstream cinema. But now we have all kinds of films that make it difficult for us to tag them. Even an odd regional or foreign film has its audience in cities now." comments Bhutiani.

Rain Drop Media executive manager Reena Pillai echoes Bhutiani's theory: "If you don't project your film in the correct perspective, the target audience won't notice it."

Rain Drop Media, which is currently handling the account of the upcoming Mahesh Manjrekar directed multi-starrer Rakth, had promoted Mani Ratnam's latest release Yuva. The film, which had a relatively low profile publicity campaign, didn't do well at the box office. Pillai justifies Yuva's low-profile promotion:

"Mani Ratnam is the kind of director who lets his work speak for itself. In fact none of his earlier movies had the kind of promotional drive Yuva had. The success of a film ultimately depends on how the director treats his subject. It is the producer who decides the level of marketing his film requires. The marketing and publicity campaigns are only tools to reach out to the masses. The success depends on how the audience accepts it."

Then which are the factors that influence a producer's marketing strategy? Bhatt voices his guideline: "A film with a strong concept is easier to market."

"stripping" parties, and what else should have been used to promote Oops?

Public relations professional Parag Desai says marketing should be complementary to the film's content. Desai promoted the film Oops by throwing "stripping" parties (the moral police need not worry as there was no going the whole hog) at all the major pubs in Mumbai. He believes that the strategy is decided looking at the type of product you have in your hand.

Industry players agree to the fact that marketing strategies vary from project to project. According to Tripathi, marketing depends on the budget of the movie and its target audience.

"We did a low-profile marketing for Maqbool because the we knew that the movie had a target audience who would like to judge the movie only after seeing it. The film was appreciated by that target group and automatically its collections picked up because of word-of-mouth publicity," says Tripathi.

"It is all about marketing the movie among its target group. The success totally depends on how good your campaign is," remarks Bhutiani.

Word-of-mouth publicity helped Maqbool

That again brings us back to the often-discussed topic -- significance of themes in deciding a film's box office fate. But Kalra believes that these days filmmakers can't rely heavily on the story, as the industry hasn't been stressing on innovative concepts and quality themes.

"Bollywood, most of the time, comes up with clich?d subjects and run-of-the-mill concepts. Now the stress is more on emotions and entertainment and films come as a package of all these," he says.

Corporate houses have been donning the film producer's mantle in a big way - UTV, Tata Infomedia, Reliance Infocomm, AV Birla group, AB Corp, the Oswal group, Sahara India Mass Communications, PFH Entertainment, K Sera Sera, Cutting Edge Entertainment are just some of those who jumped onto the bandwagon, replacing traditional financiers.

UTV has established directors like David Dhawan, Ram Gopal Varma, Aparna Sen, Prakash Jha, Farhan Akhtar, and Ashutosh Gowariker in its fold with whom the company has exclusive tie ups for directing its projects. Sahara India Mass Communication inked a two-and-a-half year deal worth a reported $17 million, with Ram Gopal Varma and production house K Sera Sera, for producing 10 films.

The business acumen comes right from the conceptualisation of the film to its post-release publicity campaigns. B-School dean turned film producer Arvindam Chaudhuri who heads the kolkotta-based Planman Life market research chose the subject for his upcoming Bollywood flick Rok Sako To Rok Lo after thorough professional research. The painstaking process included identifying multiple story lines, testing those ideas against an audience segment, short listing the plots, categorising them into various genres and analysing repeat value of these genres.

The big money being floated by corporate houses in Bollywood has given great impetus to movie marketing, giving it a more professional and authentic look. This has also triggered high volume business of product placement and brand associations.

In Baghban Hema Malini prepared tata tea while Bachchan drove a ford and worked in the icici bank

Communique's Kalra, who strategised product placements in Koi Mil Gaya and Baghban, says the method of incorporating products depends on the film's storyline and the star cast. According to Kalra, producers then get the opportunity to take this star power ahead for the post-release campaigns too.

Bhutiani, whose Leo Burnett Entertainment got together with White Feather Films to ink a (reported) Rs 45 million deal with Radioco Khaitan 8PM whisky for the film Plan says brand association in movies opens up a win-win situation for the producer and the brand.

"Both the producer and the brand can capitalise on the tie-up. 8PM was on top of the consumer's mind for six months after the release of Plan," says Bhutiani.

We have been solely dealing with the visible promotional tactics producers adopt. But there are many other invisible factors too, which can significantly turn the tide in favour of a film or spoil the party. These days, pre-release controversies are routine things. One can never say if these are cooked-up scandals or mere coincidences. Filmmakers and producers definitely play their roles intentionally or unintentionally when it comes to incorporating hot item numbers and smooch scenes. Then we get to see lot of hype generated around star relationships and some weird hairdos and funny costumes used. Ultimately the media, which can't resist an opportunity when it comes to making hoopla around petty things, get the film enormous free publicity.

"Controversies can create an awareness, but there is no guarantee," says Mahesh Bhatt whose productions have always managed to make the media sit up and take notice during their pre-release phases.

The Karan Razdan directed GirlFriend, which in typically ham-handed fashion "addresses" a lesbian relationship, made its entry in the box office on 11 June. The film had been making waves during the pre-release days for obvious reasons. Girlfriend opened to 40 per cent collections.

Post-release too Girlfriend continues its rounds in the media. Be it the protests by political parties or the subject being vigorously discussed all over the media, the buzz has been 'ensured'. Now the Rs 20 million film (approximately) has finished its first week with an improved 50 per cent collection.

Agrees film writer and industry analyst Taran Adarsh (editor Indiafm), "The post-release controversy and the hype generated seem to have helped the first week's performance of Girlfriend remarkably, looking at its first week collections."

Actress Manisha Koirala had taken filmmaker Shashilal Nair to court alleging the derogative use of her body double in the movie Ek Chhoti Si Love Story. Then a political organisation blocked the screening of the movie in metros. If trade-buzz is to be believed, filmmaker Shashilal Nair's 2002 release Ek Chhotisi Love Story reaped huge profits because of the controversy.

"The controversy killed Ek Chhotisi Love Story"

But the filmmaker, who still nurses sore feelings, says the whole episode did cost him an extra Rs 5 million because of the court case against Manisha Koirala. He says the controversy actually backfired in his case.

"People went to watch the movie in the first few days expecting adult stuff. But the movie didn't have anything of that sort and the negative word-of-mouth killed the movie," says Nair.

"Genuine controversies can kill the movie," says Bhutiani pointing out the example of Deepa Mehtha's shelved movie Water.

All is said and done. The film is released and the masses get an idea. Now what? If the film is not doing well, can the producer rescue it through smart marketing? If the film has received a good response, could it be pushed further ahead? Is there a thing called post-release publicity?

"Once the movie is released, it is in the hands of the audience. You can control all the publicity until the audiences see it. So there is no point in working on a movie that hasn't been doing well. On the other hand, if the movie has created a good opinion, you can work on it to improve its popularity," says Kalra.

Taran Adarsh rates the prmos of Deewaar as the best among that of the upcoming flicks

But Thripathi believes that one can control the word-of-the mouth publicity by generating good reviews and apt use of the media. But he is of the opinion that it is the quality of the product that matters in the final count.

"Negative publicity also should be fought during the post-release phase. If a guy likes something he tells it to four people, otherwise he tells it to 17 people," says Thripathi in a lighter vein.

Moral of the story: Neglect marketing and a good film may lose out. And there can be nothing more galling for a film maker who lost out having to watch a sleazy film getting that lift (pun intended) due to smart marketing.

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