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The business of social media film marketing

MUMBAI: Who would have thought that posting about films on Facebook or tweeting those trivia on Twitter could fetch eyeballs for a new film? With more and more audiences crowding the social universe, social media marketing has emerged as a novel tool for film producers. As a result, most producers now set aside a portion of their budgets specifically for online marketing.

Some of the recent films for which the social media platforms were widely used included ‘Dhoom 3’ (which created a lot of buzz through its teasers), ‘Sholay’ (which launched special stickers on Facebook), ‘Bullet Raja’ (which tried to hit the bullseye with its graphic novel series on Facebook) and more.

Of these, only ‘Dhoom 3’ maintained a kind of secrecy about its story and did not reveal much apart from some 15–30-second trailers.

Rajesh GurnaniElaborating on the strategy, YRF senior manager digital, business strategy and promotion Rajesh Gurnani told TelevisionPost.com, “Our strategy for ‘Dhoom 3’ was less is more; so we released only 10–15 exclusive videos. Even the 30­–second promos got us over half a million views, including behind-the-scenes videos. The biggest reason to build curiosity was to ensure that people watch the film and they did.”

Social media has opened up a new avenue for marketers. It creates a two-way communication with the consumer whereby production houses can gauge people’s feedback on all aspects. Social media users are early adopters and the ticket-buying consumers, so it is important to use social media to build curiosity, awareness and excitement.

Two other films that had seen innovative social media marketing as part of their strategy were ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ where Fox Star Studios created customised Imran Khan e-cards for the New Year and ‘Murder 3’ where they came up with ‘Love Gone Wrong: Murder 3 Love Notes’ on Facebook and Twitter. The apparently innocuous traditional love poems had a shocking ending that upturned the notion of the typical billet-doux.

Evolving from digital marketing, social media marketing has come a long way from the days of simple websites for films. Starting with Facebook and Twitter, where producers do bulk of their campaigning, there are also Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr for production houses to create curiosity about their films.

One of the early adopters of this social-digital trend, Yash Raj Films launched its YouTube channel in 2008, with separate verticals for trivia and y-films featuring shorts and specials.

Taking it forward, YRF recently launched its regional channels on the platform—YRF Telugu, YRF Tamil and YRF Bengali on the strength of its regional film catalogue comprising ‘Aaha Kalyanam’ (a Tamil remake of ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’) and the upcoming ‘Gunday’ which is being launched in Bengali as well.

For ‘Gunday’, the production house plans to release caricatures of the film’s actors on social media with dialogues and an exclusive picture revealing trivia about the film and the actors. Besides, there will be an app featuring the two main characters.

These individual platforms enable customised content creation for different types of audiences. While YouTube has emerged as the preferred video platform and Twitter hosts contests, Facebook and Instagram are used for exclusive posts and pictures respectively.

There is also the phenomenon of social gaming whereby films come out with exclusive games on Facebook and users are encouraged to invite other gamers to ‘like’ the film page. More often than not, there are also activities on Twitter that require users to tweet and respond to a task to unlock some coveted fun.

Google Plus, which is a comparatively new social networking platform, has not yet managed to emerge as an important online marketing space due to its slow growth.

Hungama Siddhartha_RoyHungama Digital Entertainment COO of consumer business and allied services Siddhartha Roy says, “Most production houses now prefer to release their movie trailers on social media as the actors too have large communities there. They use this to create buzz by setting off conversations in these communities.”

Hungama, which was the agency for films like ‘Sholay’, ‘Yaariyan’ and ‘Krrish 3’, released unique, film-themed stickers and emoticons on Facebook and mobile apps like Line. It also created communities and conversations to keep the target audience engaged.

Although Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are easy to use, they are still not fully capable of providing financial returns to the production houses. A notable exception is YouTube which has seen production houses like YRF come aboard for both full and short film content.

Depending on the release date, users have to pay anything between $2 and $6 to watch a full film on YouTube. There are also various packages like romance, comedy, action, etc for viewers to choose from. However, this trend is yet to catch up in India and is mainly for international audiences.

On the other hand, short-form content comprising trivia, event videos and live chats is an easier stream wherefrom earnings are generated through ads.

For all these bells and whistles of straightforward marketing, there remain a number of challenges such as maintaining these groups and communities following the release of a film. The peak buzz period on social media is mainly before the launch of the film and after the launch, the groups slowly become inactive.

In ‘Jolly LLB’, which follows the theme of the common man lawyer who rises to be a David fighting a Goliath, Arshad Warsi’s character would give a humorous ‘Jolly’ take on major Indian events on Twitter. He also re-interpreted news headlines in his own way, giving rise to a unique ‘Jolly Express’.

Special content featuring actors’ birthdays, mobile contests, videos and year-round promotions of films, in combination with live video chats with actors, trivia videos and karaoke videos of songs, also make their way onto these online communities.

With the digital media scene evolving constantly, it is important to keep tabs on the changes and adapt quickly. Nonetheless, producers have to hold their breath for the results as social media loyalty follows a slow growth trajectory. A good social media campaign focuses on long-term brand building which will take time to gestate and create followers organically.

An example of this was the Twitter activity by Fox Star Studios for ‘Bullett Raja’. For the trailer launch, they created a ‘Garmi Badhao Contest’ from the film’s tag line ‘Aayenge to Garmi Badhayenge’. Fans from across India were asked to tweet and all major Indian cities were represented on a map. As more and more tweets came pouring in from a particular city, it would light up on the map, unlocking some kind of gratification at every level for the highest tweeter from that city.

Additionally, Hungama also created a Bollywood graphic novel series on Facebook. Over a period of eight weeks, they released eight chapters of comic strips charting out different facets of the eponymous Bullett Raja.

The fact remains, however, that users have short attention span, and with this plethora of options to engage and interact, there is a constant challenge of creating content that works above all else.

Vivek KrishnaniAs Fox Star Studios’ head of distribution, marketing and syndication Vivek Krishnani says, “Another major challenge is that of the return on investment [ROI]. There needs to be a credible currency measurement agency with parameters that are standard for global digital media to help justify the ROI.”

Besides, owing to the availability of multiple platforms, it is difficult to measure success and create reports. Hence, production houses sometimes have separate designated teams or appoint third-party agencies to do the task for them.

These days, a correlation can be drawn between the number of views the trailer or a song of a film has earned on YouTube, the number of fans on Facebook and Twitter, etc. and actual box-office numbers.

Rudrarup DattaViacom18 Motion Pictures’ head of marketing and project operations Rudrarup Dutta says, “With the increasing penetration of the internet and the increased use of mobile, social media has become an important tool for marketing. This is despite the fact that the performance of a film is strongly impacted by word of mouth. Our films like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ and ‘Madras Café’ had a strong social media component which contributed to their success.”

He affirms that social media have moved up in the marketing budgets of films from about three per cent to almost 10 per cent now.

Echoing Dutta, Gurnani adds, “5–10 per cent of a film’s total marketing budget is now set aside for social media and this will keep growing. We see the success through online booking of tickets. 20–25 per cent of all bookings come from the net and this will grow to 50 per cent in the next two to four years.”

However, TV is still the biggest medium in India as internet penetration is far from ubiquitous across the country. These are surely early days and it will take 5–10 years for this trend to gain currency, thus enabling the industry to recognise it as an alternative to the conventional means of marketing.