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Taming the Box Office, fair and square

A few days back, when Hindu was not ahead of The Times, I woke up to a before-after VLCC style pic of Hrithik Roshan sporting on one side a slightly lardy frame, looking paler than a fresh banana peel, and on the other side in a physique where Zack Snyder would have had to make 301.

For the lucky some busy reading The Hindu editorial then, it was a superstar sharing his amazing 10 week transformation from a lard tard to Greek god. To a trained eye however it was an effort to promote his forthcoming release AGNEEPATH, where he faced off with a villain who was a cross between Batman’s Joker and Harry Potter’s Voldemort.

Having lived through a blitzkrieg called RA.One, you feel empathy for the residents of Homs (Syria). There is that shared sense of pain, suffering the relentless onslaught, albeit in our case a less lethal. The Assads of Bollywood have over the last 4-5 years pulled all stops off movie marketing gimmicks. Trying to touch & titillate every sensory perception of the viewer, to shock, awe , thrill , entice and seduce the consumer into shelling the moolah at the box office.

The respectable word is “Movie Promotions”, we can however be honest and call them Gimmicks.

Rationale: In an age where life span of a movie is less than the milk you forgot to keep in the refrigerator, it is imperative that  the initial collections of the movie ensure the return on investment. The idea is to get the viewer hooked enough to watch the movie before factors like reviews and word to mouth affect its fortunes.

These marketing efforts cannot be a substitute for content , but if properly employed they can ensure that enough people go and watch even a Ram Gopal Verma m(istake)ovie.

After giving in to the temptation, the viewers feel, that anytime  Ashton Kutcher is going to spring out of the screen to tell them, they’ve been “Punk’d”.

Quality or the lack of it in content side aside, the promotions business in movies is roaring. There have been a few cases where the positioning of the campaign has been spot on with the content  and contributed to the buzz and collections where as a lot of cases where its been done simply because it had to be done.

A film promotion today is not just release of a poster, trailer or a press conference tour across country. Before release producers and stars ensure high decibel levels to drum up their forthcoming.

Here’s a look at some Good Bad and the Downright Uglys of the efforts:

The Good:

Ragini MMS Ekta Kapur can be blamed for dragging tv down below idiot box levels where glycerine oozes out of lcds, but when it comes to movie making, there are a few who can match brings to fore a more sharpened skill.

Good product, excellent positioning and a frugal yet highly effective campaign.

Auto Tieups, blood stained beds in multiplexes, punch the pervert app, staying true to the theme of the film and yet creating buzz around it. No wonder the small budget film with no star cast raked in moolah for her to get down and Dirty Picture.

Ghajini – Although 3 years old, this one is guerilla marketing at its best, this was the real Jodi breaker for Shahrukh’s Rabne bana di Jodi. People came in to see a love story to be confronted by Ghajini buzz cut ushers and servers in halls and multiplexes across India.

Tremendous buzz with Aamir’s 8 pack and his transformation videos all over the intenet. This one milked every possible media to its best.  180 cr at the box office and a smile of a Cheshire cat. Wonder if SRK wanted to land a punch 3 years earlier than he did!

3 idiots:  The A of khans has a holistic 360 degree approach to his films. The fact that the director was Raj Kumar Hirani of the Munnabhai Series, Aamir was starring in the movie based on a Chetan Bhagat novel the recipe was there anyway to make the movie a hit.

But Aamir gone missing and fans challenged to spot him in their towns raised the curiosity levels  about the movie. Then Mr. Bhagat decided to cry fowl over not being given due credit post release and the subsequent melee ensured urban audience thronged theaters to watch and make up their mind if the movie was adaptation or copy of the book. All fights and make ups later the movie is a colossal blockbuster the size of Sholay.

The Bad:

Force:You might remember  this John Abraham actioner if you forcefully jog your memory and that the makers decided the best way to promote an actioner with revenge theme  is to have a wedding farce of John and Genelia. The Pandit claimed he got carried away and got them married in reality… Could it be anymore lame? Not in line with the movie or its theme or positioning. I would be surprised if the guy who thought of this is still not divorced.

The fact that John had beefed up for this, picked up motorcycle in fight sequences and the action was raw was lost on the promo team. What could have been marketed as an out an out beefcake was sold as a marshmallow. No wonder few bought it.

Mausam:- A love story directed by arguably the best Indian actor ever with his son in it. Its another thing that the boy did not look the part of a Top Gun like pilot but just a boy.If the fake moustache, was not enough to sink the movie, Shahid Kapur decided to play weatherman on tv to promote the movie coz the name is MAUSAM. How literally moronic.

The Ugly

Well it’s the fight for the crowns and a certain Mr Khan is the King. What’s more ugly than an overkill.

RA.One – A superhero movie with corporate tie ups with Nerolac and Liril. One is deluged by a tsunami of WTF emotion thinking of the possible link between the movie and these promotional tie ups. I would rather stick a fork in my eye and die before watching Batman bathing in Yardley, London.

The Bad and the Ugly category is so replete with examples that if we go on it could be full fledged rant blog. So we’ll look at the future and what can still be saved:

On March 23rd a 70s style noir movie called “AGENT VINOD” is hitting screens. The promo is released and is crackerjack!

Looking at possibilities here’s what we suggest:

  1. Since it’s a detective thriller with mystery angle to it. An online mystery game in line with movie theme is highly recommended
  2. Graphic novel or a comic book sin city style would establish noir credentials and get the right buzz for a sleek actioner like this. Leave them at coffee places.
  3. On ground promotions with  gamification of mock shootouts  or puzzle solving would ensure raised level of interest. Even paintball in a tuxedo would be very cool.
  4. On licensing & merchandising  side an apparel  tieup with sharp suits and glares lbrand is in line with James Bondish credentials of the movie. Would help rake in moolah and yet stay true to the movie’s character. For heaven’s sake don’t make this explicit. Pay a fashion blog to write about Agent Vinod and Bond girl variety’s outfit. They’ll do it for INR 20,000 tops, no?
  5. On the tie up side, a security system, spy cam endorsement, automobile/bike tie up , alcohol brand / cocktail type for Agent Vinod would all be in line with the theme

Here’s another guerrilla tactic (free ;)) for a forthcoming film:

All these solutions would be true to the nature of the product offering and not compromise its credentials. Half baked efforts and overkills  may sometimes rake in moolah to cover costs but it compromises on shelf life of the product. And then there is the cost of bad PR if the movie bombs, often ignored.

Its another thing, if the intent behind producing the movie is akin to buying and selling farm land.  Using nice frosting on a shit cake approach could work purely to ensure profits, but if the intention is to make and sell a proper film then you’ve taken the wrong turn.

Cant help but wonder what the shelf life of X-Men franchise would be if Wolverine peddled razors for a smooth lasting shave.

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