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BRAND, Pop Culture

Agent Vinod pungi’s himself

I was in the midst of my daily ritual of walking the haloed grounds of social networks when I stumbled upon a little gem @sambha_bhilane  Friendship is watching Agent Vinod together without blaming anyone.

This is not an isolated attempt at panning the movie, that bit has already been done. Within a week of its release a lot has been said about Bond_Ver_India. Reviewers, publications and audience are shouting their disappointment out loud as another high profile, eagerly awaited final product flops.

After all it was supposed to be the resurrection of the dormant Spy Thriller genre in Indian film industry.

As a hopeful viewer, it isn’t fun spending time and greens on a movie that assumes you’re retarded. But getting offended isn’t a solution either. We do the next best thing, salvage some learning from a marketing perspective on creation, positioning & marketing  of a film.

Keeping with our film industry’s tradition of hyperbole, here is our latest blockbuster,

Dummies guide on How to create, position & market a spy thriller

The essential first step in marketing a product is, identifying if it’s needed.“If there is a hole, plug it” they say. On that count the Agent Vinod team was right. There is surely a latent demand for the spy genre in our market.

However, knowing this is not enough, you must –

Define your product:

In this case the protagonist. The spy genre movies depend heavily, if not solely on the strength of the central character. It’s their sheer personality that keeps the audience on tender hooks. So the question is

What is this character? What makes him fascinating? Any Quirks, Flaws perhaps?

Agent Vinod stumbles at the start, is he Bond, or is he Bourne? Sherlock? Hell No!

Communicated as desi bond, our spy neither has the trademark style nor the charm. Saif Ali Khan should know better that being Saif Ali Khan isn’t enough.  If say he was taking on Bourne the amnesiac edginess and mma (mixed martial arts) were lost on us. We’re greatful that  the flawed obsessive compulsive genius of  the new defined Sherlock wasn’t even taken on ( it’d be grossly unfair to attempt walking in Mr. Downey large Kohlapuris).

Agent Vinod at best is moderately witty, idealistic, morally straight sleuth who is as R.A.W as the agency he works with.

Result: This semi defined character has little or no emotional sway over its audience, failing to draw them in, to mystify, seduce or intrigue them.

Solution:

  1.  Story board : Give the protagonist a back story, an insight into his motives, character and quirks.
  2.  Consistency:  Once the character model is defined, every move of the protagonist has to stay true to this identity. I still can’t get my head around the patchiness of Saif’s characterization. Cunning in one scene & love lorn idealist in next. A pity.
  3.  Antagonist: provides the benchmark for the protagonist’s brilliance. Stronger the villain, more intrigued the audience. Villains Bond faces off are unique –  from a guy who can’t feel no pain to the one who bleeds through his eyes, every single time there is an eccentricity that kicks you in the teeth. On a more realistic note, Bourne faces an invisible enemy, this mystifies the plot. Close to home is Kancha from Agneepath (racked in Rs. 206 cr). In comparison Agent Vinod’s villains were cardboard sketch characters with bad hairdos. You have a present day spy facing off with 80s B-grade villains. Cant work.

Choose your market:“You can’t please all”

Virtually every hindi movie in recent years suffers from this dilemma. India is a complex market with sharply divided consumer tastes. Not only is there a huge gap in taste of the urban ,semi-urban &rural young, even within these SECs there are numerous profiles. Who are you addressing?

Giving into the temptation of accommodating all doesn’t make for a wise creative or business decision.  Here in lies another pain point for Agent Vinod. It wasn’t clever enough for the young urban audience, who’re  exposed to the exploits of Ethan Hunt or George Smiley, yet  was undecipherable for single screen cinema goers.

Result: It was a non starter on Single screens and experienced sharp decline owing to bad reviews at multiplexes. 

Solution:

Stay true to your TG :

Glaring inconsistencies in positioning Agent Vinod is evident in its dialogues, sample this

“ Yeh nuclear bomb ka detonator hai, don’t lose it”.

“ Sir, give me the coordinates for the location”

Just who are you talking to?

If team AV was catering to hindi heartland completely, the script should have been more linear with emphasis on the masala element & simplicity of language. They could have given AV’s love story with a Pakistani spy a“ Happy ending”. But that would have marred the chances of a sequel which they so badly wanted before getting the original right!

If its urban youth they were addressing, what’s the explanation for dumbing down the script with average action ( even the director’s earlier Ek Hasina thi had  more visceral action), moronic villains and an unnecessarily  sappy love track? Till the end it wasn’t clear if the director was paying a fanboy homage to 80s formula, comic book genre or making a modern spy thriller?

What’s funny is that Team Agent Vinod consulted Vir Sanghvi, as part of their research for the movie. What were they making? How to lobby for telecom license or How to form a coalition government?

If you have a product that is suited for a certain market, it’s imperative that you stay true to the dynamics of that particular demographic. It’s not impossible to make moolah without unnecessarily bending over. Case in point Don 2, at best an above average grosser in India, went on to become a blockbuster overseas. Last count collections were over 210 crores on 70 crore budget. Reason – It was an urbane thriller, unapologetically cosmopolitan with international production standards.

Communicate

Once you have a well etched out product in mind and the market that needs to be addressed. The marketing and communications strategy needs to deliver too. Having a good product is not good enough, it needs to promoted right  & placed well to ensure eyeballs.

A few weeks back, we’d suggested a marketing and promotion route for AV. Our understanding of the product was based on a teaser.

It’s now established that the teaser flattered to deceive. The final product was no where as slick as conveyed. The promos teasers were a sum total of the best parts of a 2 ½ hrs long labor. The viewer goes in expecting mystery and superlative action. Comes back disappointed & the negative word of mouth ensues  sounding death knell at the Box office.

If Ra-1  was an example of a blitzkrieg  of promotions overwhelming the viewer’s senses, AV promotions were confused, rushed up  and underserved the product.

There was a graphic novel  created for the movie, it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet. What are the chances of its selling if the movie is a critical and commercial non starter? Why weren’t strips freely downloadable even before the release? The love angle between Indian & Pakistani spies was not promoted in teasers at all, yet is significant part of the screen time.

The USP of the movie was it being first to be shot in 12 countries. Shoddy communication & product has spawned AV jokes on social media, calling it TRAVEL AGENT VINOD.

Result: The audience didn’tknow what was being served. Spy thriller, International travel or pyar ki pungi.

Solution:

Sell the product not your soul,  it’s imperative that the marketing efforts of the movie are

  • cohesive, targeted & in line with the product & the target market
  • build curiosity but do not mislead about the final product
  • Convey USP of the movie effectively.

That said, in the last frame Agent Vinod  lands up in Rio, announcing his intentions to “carry on spying”.

It’s doubtful  whether he is up for a second coming. The nut whacking he has received may dampen his morale. But if he does decide to come back, he needs to ensure that he doesn’t perform Ace Ventura tricks in a James Bond Tuxedo! and yeah we hope it doesn happen in the same year as Ra. Two.

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