Digital is the new blockbuster in B'town, studios shift to online marketing

Tapsee Pannu in Thappad
Over the past few weeks, there has hardly been a digital mail box worth its subscriptions that has not received a rousing letter of protest against violence against women. The letter by actor Taapsee Pannu, star of Ek Thappad, Bas Itni si baat nahi hai! (One slap is no small matter) Pannu writes, using the familiar format of online petitions to make the case for her movie. And with a budget a fraction of what Bollywood marketers usually spend, the letter has piqued interest and created huge recall for the film. 

Ditto for another film and another set of stars. Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan (Box office collection: Rs 32.6 crore so far) that released last week, has been a part of almost every online conversation on gay pride, gay rights and love, for months now. Challenges, influencer-generated mystery posts and targeted intervention through posters, memes and trailer-releases are part of an expanding digital tool box of movie studios that are learning to roll their marketing budgets through the nooks and crannies of online channels.

Movie makers no longer consider digital marketing as an expense says a marketing executive. It is an investment, she says and while the amount spent could be as low as Rs 2 crore or as high as Rs 25 crore, digital is measurable, helps spread the money effectively and tracks every rupee spent.

Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO & co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea (TSBI), a digital and social media marketing agency, says, "Few years back film marketing was around stars. A big hero would ensure a certain initial footfall. Now the consumption pattern has changed." He cites the case of Badhai Ho, an ensemble cast, but a great story, that went on to become a huge hit. Made on a tight budget of Rs 29 crore the film raked in close to Rs 140 crore at the box office. With limited star power at its disposal, the marketing team focused on the storyline, using analytics to test the impact of every byte and pixel. 

Ayushmann Khurrana in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan

Data is used to determine the reach and influence of the message as much as it is used to amplify the narrative. Hareesh Tibrewala, joint CEO of Mirum India, a digital marketing agency explains how social listening tools are becoming hugely popular. For months prior to the release, the marketing team deploys tools that trap all mention of the movie, its stars and then plays it back to the studio to alert them about areas that may need more attention , or a different tactic. 

Tibrewala says, “Social listening involves the use of tools such as Social Studio, it works just like Google. We set up a few keywords in the tool, depending on the kind of conversations we are looking for. It looks through all the conversations on channels that are in the public domain, pulls them out and displays it on the interface, allowing one to look at one conversation at time, determine is relevancy and tag it appropriately. Social Studio also has built in processes which can automate this process,” he explains. His agency has worked with movies such as Aquaman. “In our experience, digital accounts for about 50 per cent of the total marketing spends though print, outdoor and promotions still play an important role,” he adds.

Digital is a big draw for the measurability it offers. Pillai explains that marketing agencies team up with online booking platforms (say BookMyShow, Paytm and so on) to target their marketing efforts better. Data helps understand, for instance, who watches the film, do they go alone or with a partner and how many exposures to a movie promotion (trailers, song quizzes, campaigns and so on) before a voyeur becomes a viewer. The aim is to bring down the number of exposures required to induce a purchase. 

As agencies have turned more efficient with data, studios and actors have become more digital friendly. Digital marketing spends for movies are up by as much as 30-40 per cent, said marketers and the cycle starts about four weeks before a movie release, lasts through the first two weeks post-release, petering out thereafter. The data banks are then set loose for the next big release.

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