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What is missing in telugu Film marketing -article from Allu sireesh blog

This article is from Allu Sireesh’s blog on film marketing written by him before entering as an actor,He explained very well on what lacking in TFI marketing and read the article here

“Movie Marketing” is a subject in itself. There are books, websites dedicated to it. The marketing team in a Hollywood studio has the ‘veto’ power from greenlighting a new film is they think it’s unmarketable and won’t bring in the money. On the same hand, they’re on the firing line if the movie fails to get the expected openings. Internationally, it’s not uncommon to hear the marketing budget of a film exceeding its production budget. Back home, Bollywood and even tamil cinema to an extent have understood the importance of marketing and made it work to their benefit.

But telugu cinema is yet to realize the potential of marketing and hardly any importance is given to this aspect of filmmaking. One of the marketing books I read went to the extent of saying, “We’re no more in the movie making business, but in the movie marketing business.” At the end of the book I had to agree with it, as I realized how marketing which is supposed to aid filmmaking has ended up overshadowing the filmmaking process itself. I am not going to give Philip Kotler style theory on movie marketing, but just some insight on what I’ve witnessed and done as a part of my job – producing films, where marketing is one of the important functions.

The movie’s marketing campaign is primarily expected to do the following jobs :

  • Make people aware about the movie, firstly.
  • “Position” the film properly. That is, telling the audience what to expect of it.
  • Excite them about the film. Make aware of its release date.
  • Convert the interest into ticket sales.

Earlier this was a simple task. The producer releases still to the press, issues ads in the newspapers, does interviews of cast and crew, airs trailers, does an event on the film covered by the media. Then the movie would open to the public and perform as per its merits. The producers use traditional media outlets like radio, newspaper, television to advertise his film and buys ad inventory himself. But all this has changed in since 2000, more so in the last two years.

Today, newer mediums have evolved like outdoor advertising, internet & mobile. Unlike the Doordarshan era where the whole family sat and watched the same channel at the same time – today’s TV audience is far more fragmented. Each segment such as kids, youth, men, women have their respective platforms where the advertiser has to be present to reach them. Also it’s not enough to buy advertisement slots in TV and newspaper. It has also has to be backed by PR (public relations) where stuff gets written and said about the movie in the media, typically for free because of its news value. Also, there is so much clutter in the media. Other than rivals films, other brands which sell products and services are already vying for the consumer’s attention and mindspace. Hence, it takes much more today to make an effective advertising campaign. The producer has to be present in all mediums such as TV, newspaper, outdoor, mobile, internet and radio and consistently remind the audience about the film and excite them about it. This is called a ‘360 degrees marketing campaign’.

Sadly, in telugu films most producers still stick to the traditional forms of advertising. The result of which – they’re not able to fully exploit the movie they have in hands. Why don’t producers adapt to newer methods of marketing – I can’t answer on their behalf. But to keep things simple, I will tell what’s already there and what is lacking.

Traditional Marketing tools (What’s already there) :

Film posters: The most noticed aspect of the campaign is the movie’s poster. In Hollywood the concept of ‘key art’ is followed where the producer only uses one or two posters consistently through out the movie’s advertising. Where as in telugu films, we’re used to creating 20-25 different posters for the movie. These posters are placed in movie theatres. Larger version of these are wall-pasted in both urban and rural areas.

Print Advertising: The producer issues ads in the print media – newspapers and film magazines about the film. The drawback is that the Producer’s Council is very restrictive. The movie can advertise in the newspaper only 4-5 times in its lifetime. Again there are size and printing restrictions. Any film that violates this rule will be fined. Even distributors who advertise in the newspaper about the movie’s timings and location have restrictions. Why this rule? Because as per the rules formed in the mid 90s, a big-budget producer has more advertising money and will buy up most of the ad-inventory challenging the smaller budget films. Yes, socialism exists here too. Fair enough, but then again it sounds irrelevant in today’s times.

Press Event: The producers calls all the media – print, electronic and new media to an event associated to the film. This could be either a simple press meet or a grand event such as an audio release function. The cast and crew interact with the media, which gets coverage for the film.

Movie Trailers: The producers cuts a 30/60 second version of the trailer known as the TVC (television commercial). This gets aired across all satellite channels. The cost of airing trailers in telugu channels is very cheap, as this cost is subsidized. Film producers pay a fraction of what regular advertisers pay to buy those spots. But, the Producer’s Council also has a restriction on the number of TVCs a producer can buy. This is to ensure that a producer with a bigger spend cannot eat into the campaign of a smaller film. Since TVCs have a state-wide reach, the producer pays the bills for these.

Sadly, not many producers cut a theatrical version of the trailer. A theatrical trailer need not exactly be 30 or 60 seconds – hence has lesser creative restrictions. Also it’s viewed with better picture and sound than a TVC. Topping it all – the movie theatre is the best place to catch a movie goer’s attention. But, the production process of making a theatrical trailer is a little more complex than a TVC – hence a lot of producers don’t do it at all. Telugu films are shot almost till one week before the release, which makes it almost impossible to make theatrical trailers. This has to change.

Outdoor: Outdoor advertising includes billboards, hoarding and wall posters. These are the oldest forms of advertising. Typically, these are borne by the distributor of that respective territory. Its also a cost-effective method of advertising. But, in Hyderabad city the rentals for billboards are expensive as it’s a cosmopolitan city but the returns also high – hence producer’s opt for this medium. For Jalsa, we had nearly 90 hoardings in Hyderabad city alone where as most films do about 30-35. We have taken the help of brand partners such as Airtel, CMR-Chandana Bros, Big C Mobile, SFM to achieve this number.

Media Relations: There is typically no major PR exercises except doing cast and crew interviews. Also film magazine which are only read by avid movie buffs do coverpages of the film before its release. Producers don’t go glitzy press conferences, hand out freebies and presskits in telugu cinema. Any major announcement related to movie is announced through a small press meet arranged at the producer’s office or the shooting spot. The producer hands out photo copied printouts of the matter conveyed to the press.

Television channels usually do half-hour special episodes on highly awaited films using the principal cast and crew and air it during ‘prime time’ such as weekends or holidays. These are typically interviews, with some clips of the movie inserted.

Music: Music is one of the most important elements of the movie itself, not just the campaign. Hence producers try to make the audience aware first by doing an audio function. If the movie is a hit, it automatically increases the moviegoer’s interest in the film. Typically, producers don’t advertise on radio, but do some publicity tie-ins and ‘meet and greet contests’. Radio stations play hit songs of new films at regular intervals and get RJs to talk about the film, which again is publicity for the film.

Except putting up posters at music stores, the music company doesn’t majorly do anything to popularize their music or the film. Luckily, radio stations are active in promoting music and tie up with film producers and run some shows or contests around the movie. For the radio stations its content, while its free publicity for the producer. For Desamuduru, Radio Mirchi ran an on-air contest. Young female listeners have to propose to the actor Allu Arjun. The most creative and effective proposal will be picked as the winner by Allu Arjun. Also, all the short listed participants got to meet the actor and spend time with him. The movie got good mileage by doing this event.

Newer marketing methods (What’s lacking and need to be implemented) :

These newer methods are nothing path-breaking that I’ve invented, but forms which exist in most other evolved film industries lacking in the telugu film industry. Probably a few films would have implemented one or two of the methods mentioned below. But in general most films big and small don’t do anything beyond the traditional advertising methods mentioned above.

Standees: Standees or cutouts of the film posters have to be put up at movie halls. This grabs the movie goer’s attention when they walk into the movie halls to watch another film. This is one of the basic and low-cost publicity method for any film, big or small in most industrie. As far as I remember, no other film made and marketed a standee on a mass scale till Jalsa. I called up some suppliers in Mumbai, negotiated rates, got it designed by our agency – Kiran Poster Ads, got it printed and shipped to Hyderabad, stocked it in our godowns and distributed it to theatres ourselves. I am not claiming Jalsa was the first film to make a standee, but it did make other producers realize the potential of this tool. Now, companies in Hyderabad itself, like Macromedia Digitial are manufacturing it locally as producers are regularly placing orders. The trend of making and distributing standees is slowly catching up.

Co-branded advertising: This is one thing totally neglected and lacking in telugu films. There are two reasons – one is the producer’s lack of understanding and the second being the Producer Council’s highly restrictive rules. Telecom providers, alcohol, cola brands, real estate and electronic brands spend huge monies in advertising and interested in this space. They’re tie up with movies to create “co-branded advertisements” where the brand’s product or service and the movie is publicized together in a single advertisement. Most Hollywood and Hindi films do co-branded advertising. This include TVCs, outdoor hoardings, print advertising, in-store advertising. The brand needs the movie’s visuals as it manages to grab eyeballs. The film benefits as the expense for all this is borne by the brand. The movie gets a high exposure without spending anything. For brands this is a low-cost way of associating themselves with stars and a new hook to make people see their advertisement.

Typically brands ask for an “in-film placement” where their product or service is subtly incorporated into the movie. Even if there is no in-film placement, brands tie up with movies just for the marketing campaign. The problem with this is most directors do not wish to reveal their story to brands, and even if they do – do not understand the brand’s requirements and effectively incorporate them into the movie. Some directors who are purists refuse to accommodate ‘in-film placement’ as they feel it effects the story telling and diverts attention to the brand. But it has been repeatedly proved that brands can be accommodated into the film without interrupting the story.

For Jalsa, we did not have any in-film placement. Airtel and Geetha Arts only had a ‘marketing tieup’ where they would advertise our film on billboards, print, in-stores and send SMS messages to subscribers. In return, we arranged a ‘meet and greet’ with the actors and let the brand use our movie’s visuals. For the movie Parugu, the brand – 7UP was visibly incorporated into the film for which the producers were paid a “cash compensation”. They also recieved marketing support. 7Up did co-branded hoardings of 40,000 sq ft across the state, 300 delivery vans had the movie’s posters. Neary 50,000 kirana stores in the state carried the co-branded posters constantly reminding the viewers of the film. Every big-budget film is worthy of co-branded marketing campaigns, but most producers dont make use of this.

There are not major marketing agencies in telugu, which can be an effective bridge between producers and the brands. Most producers either don’t know how to market their films to brands, or if approached command insanely high-prices and the brand lose interest. Unlike in Hindi and Tamil, the telugu Producer’s Council does not allow co-branded TVCs of a film. Why? I am yet to find answers. This is a big blow, as TV is the most expensive and effective of all mediums. I would like to write a separate dedicated article on how producers – small and big are losing by not making use of co-branded advertising.

Promotional vignettes: Producers usually only give trailers to the press, which most channels put it on air. Even today, not many films gives promotional vignettes such as ‘making of’, out-takes from the film or electronic press kits – which has some visuals from the film which the TV channels can use. Using these the channels themselves can create some content around the movie, which would be free publicity for the film. All major Hindi films already do this – and get a lot of free footage on channels.. Rab Ne distributed the ‘making of’ clips of the songs to all music channels like 9XM, MTV, Music India who aired it along with the songs. The making of vignettes of Ghajini including the making footate of the songs and the movie. which the media aired enthusiastically. Hollywood creates these electronic press kits and distribute it across the hundreds of channels across the world as its physically impossible to accomodate interviews of every media outlet likes newspapers, magazines, websites, radio stations and TV channels. For our upcoming telugu film, we had a dedicated crew who extensively captured the making footage of the movie.

Publicity plug-ins: Telugu producers usually do cast and crew interviews and some contests. Other than this, we do ’success tours’ or vijaya yatras where actors visit small towns and interact with the public. Other than these we can also make stars participate in reality shows as judges, participate more on TV. Also not many producer sin telugu run ‘movie themed’ reality shows. The producers of Dostana, launched a programme called ‘Dostana Dance Challenge’ a dance competition which would be judged by the lead cast – John Abraham, Priyanka and Abhishek. Abhishek Bachchan did a surprise appearance in the reality show Bigg Boss as one of the inmates and did a publicity plug for his film ‘Drona’ which released then. Aamir Khan participated in a fashion show organized by Van Huesen, a brand partner with Ghajini. These are some of the newer things, than can be tried in telugu films.

Merchandizing & brand extension: This is something which Indian cinema itself falls short. Hollywood doesn’t treat a film merely a film, but a ‘brand’ with a shelf life. That’s why they make sequels and TV shows out of their hit films and milk the brand for years togather. Though some Indian films have attempted to create merchandize around the movie’s content – none of these exercises achieved major success. Though the animated film Hanuman was an average grosser at boxoffice, the merchandize sold well as it was religion-oriented. The key chains and posters of the movie did brisk sales. Pepe Jeans released a limited edition ‘Dhoom 2′ collection with clothes from the movie on the shelves.

Hollywood earns a sizeable percent of their income for merchandise such as t-shirts, books, novel adaptations, movie-based video games. For Jalsa, Geetha Arts developed a mobile game and did a press conference to announce it launch. The game got 25,000 downloads. The cost was recovered and made meagre profits. It was also a good publicity tool to promote the film. For our previous telugu film Johnny, Geetha Arts carried out a huge merchandize activity like t-shirt, caps and keychains. Though the movie flopped, the merchandize sold well before its release. Also, Pepsi released a limited edition “500 ml Johnny” bottle, the first time ever for a movie in India itself. Adlabs did an ‘online flash game’ of the Ajit starrer Kireedam. It was hosted on Zapak.com and promoted aggressively. It added to the buzz around the film.

For the first time in India, Geetha Arts and FXlabs are making a full fledged, 3D PC-based game based on our movie – Ghajini. This is not aimed solely at casual gamers and movie buffs, but also serious gamers as the movie has an elaborate plot and game play.

Hollywood movies tie up with fast-food chains such as McDonalds, Burger King to create in-store promotions such as free giveaways with food, the movie’s ads on the food’s packaging and wrappers. The excitement around the movie drives food sales, where as the movie gets free publicity. There is a long way to before we see something of this sort happen to a telugu film. But being such a film-frenzy state, if the concept of merchandizing clicks – it would turn out to be big revenue source for telugu film producers.

Internet: Internet is the best way to reach out the overseas audience and youth as they’re highly hooked onto the net. Most telugu film don’t have an official website, advertise on search engines and do special promotions on the internet with movie portals. Simple stuff like uploading videos to YouTube, creating fan sites on Orkut & Facebook can generate so much buzz around the film. Though producers do some publicity on the internet, its typically giving away stills, trailers and doing interviews. A lot more can be done on the internet around a movie. For the present big-budget movie – Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Ghajini, there are 2-3 microsites based on the film and are running their own contests based on the movie. Also a huge money was spent on internet advertising by these films. This is another area where producer’s are not making full use of.

Mobile marketing: With over 2.2 crore subscribers, Andhra Pradesh is the state with the highest mobile penetration. It’s easy to market a movie using this medium. It’s low cost and highly effective. Producers can tie up with cellular operators who would sending out messages to its subscribers asking them to participate in a contest, or download the movie’s content. The producer from his side has to give away movie tickets, autographed CDs or some freebies. But, this is one space producers in telugu are active. Most big films have some contest running on cellular networks. Again a lot more can be done using mobile, which would merit a dedicated article in itself.

Big-budget need to do a 360 degrees marketing campaign to build further excitement and anticipation around their films, get bigger openings, faster money recovery and more value from their advertising spend. Smaller films too need to get more aggressive in their publicity as they have to first make people aware and then compete against bigger films at boxoffice. Hollywood studios have initiated and mastered this intense advertising culture, which is successfully replicated in other industries. In Bollywood, these practices have come in as a result of the industry’s corporatization. The ‘studio’ culture is yet to come to telugu cinema. It should. Some day not too far off, it will.

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