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Indian Cinema and Marketing

20 May

The Indian film industry has travelled a burgeoning journey from its first feature film in 1913 to huge budget films like ‘3 Idiots’ and ‘My Name is Khan’ today. As the nation developed, so did the Indian Cinema. In a nutshell, Indian cinema is an approximately 59 billion business revolving around 800 films a year with three times as much the cost of marketing these cinematic products. With the passing times, the commercialization of this art gained importance and promotion of film became as significant as the story of the film. Today, factors such as promotions, building awareness are vital for a film’s success unlike the past where a good distribution system ensured box office hit. Adoption of newer innovative techniques, mediums help films not only mint money but also generate employment for people required for these professionally driven activities.

According to Oxford dictionary, marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research or advertising. Marketing a film is one of the vital functions of its organizational functional cycle besides production and finance. More importantly, Marketing of a movie is all about creating instant brand identity. As films have limited distribution window and therefore a limited shelf life, the marketing has to happen at absolutely the right time to get audiences into the cinemas. Marketing mix if film making revolves largely around tangible promotions and the main film product relies heavily on such activities. The success mantra depends on how film is packaged. Noam Chomsky’s observation though under a different context can be quoted here: ‘Bottom-line is important.’ Marketing builds brand identity which sets profits coming. 4Ps concept applied on the movie industry can be applied as a whole ie: Product, price, place, promotion.

For a movie to selected by the audience on the basis of the content, it needs to be clearly identifiable in its marketing — genre, stars, story, special effects, style all need to be presented suitably as a product. The movie business is one of the most complexes in the communications industry because of its creativity, diversity and its continual explosions of technological delivery options. In Bollywood, a movie is identified primarily at face value such as an SRK or a Bhansali film. The concept of idolization of personality is derived from this and is effectively utilized for all its branding. Tie ups with fashion houses for costumes, sports gear etc keeping in line with the theme of the film are publicized as much as the movie.

For instance the movie Dabangg, was identified as a Salman Khan film, and also cashed in on the sensation created by the Munni Badnaam song. The film ‘Tess Maar Khaan’ used bombarding advertising as a method. Almost every channel at all points of time showcased the film promos. The role of the song ‘Sheila ki Jawani’  was instrumental in getting the film attention and is also novel in the aspect that it came to symbolize the film even before its release. The 2010 film ‘Shahrukh bola khoobsurat hai Tu’ used Shahrukh Khan’s name heavily even as he only essayed a cameo role in the film. Small budget films like Iqbal, Dev. D carry themselves on the force of their product content i.e. the film.

Pricing of the movie ticket though seems standardized in the Indian context at first glance, is dependent on market segments, release schedules, territories and promotional budgets. The marketing decisions regarding these are taken by market evaluation. In the words of the marketing geniuses Al Ries and Jack Trout (Marketing Warfare), ‘Winners tell jokes, the loser holds press conferences’ as happened in the case of Shahrukh Khan’s ‘Rab ne bana di jodi’ clash with Aamir Khan’s Ghajini in December 2008 where despite an early release the marketing tactics of Aamir Khan (Ghajini style haircuts were sported by theatre employees across cinemas) wiped out the former completely. Claims of ‘better people, better product’ is an inglorious fallacy in Indian cinema.

Pricing has become a global issue. The release of a DVD has always been timed to protect producer’s interests. But with piracy at record levels globally, a variety of pricing — and timing — strategies are being tested, like pricing the DVDs very cheaply.

pic for representation purposes

Placement of an Indian film is largely on grounds of exaggerated reality, where it is sufficiently conveyed to movie goers through promotional activities. Also the fact that entertainment in India is largely based on the escapist mode where the viewer is looking for pure entertainment and marketing activities such as innovative shows, appearances, one-liners on the line of least expectation instantly wins over audiences. Post production promotions are also a new factor in India with the movie 3 Idiots being promoted well after a year of its release every time it is telecasted on television. Options for placing the film product are increasing as technology has increased a films defense to competition. Forcefully or in-your-face marketing divisions of films are pulling out all stops to ensure awareness as in the case of the movie Tees Mar Khan which developed its game version along with the production of the film and was released before the actual release of the film. Marketing is a combination of surprise and superior skill as demonstrated classically by Aamir Khan while promoting 3 Idiots exceeded the business capacity of an average film in India’s interiors by appearing in disguise in small cities and offering prizes to those who discovered his attire, online campaign such as, facebook profile of Aamir ‘the pucca idiot’ and alternate reality gaming, painted toilet seats and autorickshaws (capacity: 3 idiots), the fourth idiot t shirt campaign, butt seats in theatres across the country and also involved bytes with local regional media. Aamir sent little perks such as hand written tease cards to goad the local media editors of the city he went to in disguise who went ballistic to cover the film, thereby buying into the publicity share of 3 idiots. The mainstream media were only provided with footage shot from these activities with all major interviews were given to regional media thereby connecting to the man from Ujjain and the man from Ranchi, it struck a chord. Emotional connect was used in an extremely new way by Aamir. In Indian cinema producers seldom ever directly sell the film to audience but to distributors, investors, sub distributors, exhibitors and internet strategists. In-audience marketing happens through word of mouth. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that God is on the side of big battalion. Led by a 25 member team the brief was clear to the T- to get the common man watch. This was proved wrong by 3 Idiots. In fact, 3 idiots emulated the advice stated in the book ‘Marketing Warfare’- attack on as narrow a front as possible which 3 idiots did in a matter of 2 months in public eye unlike other films which seek attention throughout the making process. It’s simple as the law of physics, the larger front you hit, and the heavier is the impact. Quantity matters as much as quality. On release, ‘truth will out’.

Sevanti Ninan in her book ‘Headlines from heartland says, ‘Mediums such as television and films of national scale came rapidly and have saturated at a fast rate, for Bollywood interior regions are still a virgin territory.’ While people admired Bollywood for all its grandeur, regional cinema remains an undisputed choice in Indian hinterland with the rare exceptions like 3 Idiots.

Innovations in movie marketing can be seen almost with every big banner release. But yet, not all big studio’s/ production houses are using the science of media planning to reach out to many people at a little cost. In cinema business, it is the age of going that extra mile. It’s difficult to stand up to expectations and over hyping can kill the product (read Drona, Krazzy 4 etc.) and it has to happen at exactly the apt moment. Once again, quoting Napoleon Bonaparte, ‘I may lose a battle, but I shall not lose a minute’ which is right considering 30 per cent of the budget is marketing campaigns.


Over the past few years the financing of Indian cinema has undergone a sea change. Banks (UTI, Exim, IDBI), multinational companies, corporate houses (UTV, Reliance Big pictures, Adlabs) fund approximately 15 percent of the films. These establishments have turned Indian cinema into an organized industry and has also generated newer sources of income such as satellite rights, DTH, radio etc. Corporatization does not generate good quality films and have over commercialized the art of film making.

Film reviews

Indian Press scenario is such that critiquing a film post release is subject to editorial interference and manipulation. Most news channels and newspapers have in staff as critiques who are not independent invariably becoming a tool for film makers who enjoy tie ups/ collaborations with media houses and maneuver rave reviews and success stories.

Big sweep Owners

Big Sweep owners like the Bennett and Coleman Limited have enormous marketing prowess with major businesses in the field of radio, television and print and 70% of the bus shelter hoardings in Mumbai. Hence establishing a connect through these mediums at one go makes the job of the film makers quite easy as these big sweep owners provide the ultimate marketing solutions on one platter. The big sweep owners can ingrain the potential movie goers mind and generate a must watch feeling by tapping every available resource at hand.  These activities would generally ensure that the people, masses and classes alike would become aware of the ‘launch’ in the market. The situation is quite different in the South where a complete movie is made and then is sold to media tycoons owning one of the TV channels in the state who promote the movie incessantly. Recent example of the movie ‘Endhiran’ was bought by Sun Pictures owned by Kalanathi Maran that ultimately netted 400 crore in revenue. Kalanithi Maran left no stone unturned in making and marketing Endhiran. Using all his channels effectively methods like playing endhiran trailer every 5-10 minutes on Sun TV, Suriyan FM, owned by Sun network  and special features on various aspects of Endhiran worked in its favour. The hype was built around Rajnikant’s name, in the hype the story purpose of the movie was lost. However, the true value of the movie lies in the marketing sensibilities of Sun Network which milked the movie product for all its worth through marketing.

Small budget films

Recently small budget films like Udaan, Peepli Live have made mark at the ticket collections courtesy more due to their content than marketing. It is a running debate where marketing plans made by professionals were falling flat which brought back old scenes of the movie industry where content mattered more than buzz.  It reiterated the old belief that cosmetic and hyped marketing plans cannot default the need for real content and therefore cannot proxy for the same.

Role of Controversies and New Media

In an era where nothing is left untouched by internet, for publicity the web is an indispensable tool. Internet marketing of a film ranges from designing all posters, photography, merchandising, blogs, websites, social networking, interaction with public and even transmission of a film is done via internet to avoid piracy. The website of a film must embody and express the purpose, convey brand identity of film. Using twitter, facebook and other internet media are new found avenues of generating awareness about a movie. Actor Siddharth promoted the movie Striker through Twitter and it was released via internet on YouTube to combat piracy. This in addition to increasing the viewership of the websites also increases the interest in the movie among the audience. Bollywood has tried and tested buzz and viral marketing, and is investing heavily into mobile advertising; the approach of new media is largely in your face.

Audience Transformation and In-film advertising

Indeed, quality will become the key factor. The success of “Tere bin Laden” is the latest proof indicating that audiences are undergoing a transformation. Marketing of a film lasts for an entire lifecycle, in film promotions of varied products and services contribute to the highlights of the film.

Imran Khan at an event


The Brett Lee concert Stampede

18 May

If acting on impulse is a good thing, then it better be at a concert where all the madness is.It was my first experience of a concert. On 15th May of this month Indian music band M majors performed with Brett Lee at Inorbit mall (Malad) in Mumbai. Female fans couldn’t stop swooning over him as he took to the stage. M majors had to bear the brunt of Lee’s popularity when the audience screamed and clicked tongues impatiently chanting Lee’s name. The band sang beautiful numbers nevertheless and the audience enjoyed it. M Major’s handled the impatient crowd sportingly. Perhaps they had already braced themselves to face a full blast of Lee’s popularity.

The crowd even took to arguments with press photographers jostling for space in the small space near the parking lot of the mall where the show was being held. I did note that girls who were loud enough at concerts usually take the limited hugs and kisses. Funnily enough, one girl who got to the stage, got her hug (I don’t know about the peck/kiss i could not beat to watch it so i closed my eyes) but refused to leave the stage and remained there while the last long was being sung.

Brett enthralled the audience with his guitar playing and chorus singing. The crowd grooved to his tunes as he sand Summer of 69,brown eyed girl, proud mary and Sweet home Alabama. Lee endeared the crowd with his hindi speaking too.

Now Brett has been doing small shows like this all over India along with philanthropic appearances. Some of these gigs are sponsored by NGO’s. Reports in world media have often suggested his closeness to India was the prime reason for his estrangement and divorce with ex-wife Elizabeth Kemp. Despite that Lee has kept a close association with Indian endorsements, music and film industry, his fans are only loving it.

Lee performed three songs and then came the part the crowd most dreaded and i did not foresee. Autograph seekers rushed to grab that golden chance, but the guards did not allow anyone to get near Lee. I joined the rush to get an autograph but midway through the struggle i fell down and couldn’t figure out what happened next as the crowd passed me or rather trampling over my foot. I managed to pull myself free and thankfully didn’t get injured. Lee escaped unscathed.

NOTE: This is not a brett lee praise article. It was the first time i attended a concert and the above article expresses what i observed there. PHOTO SERIES: