The promotion revolution

Over the years, films, both low-budget and big-budget ones, have understood the importance of promotions. The times are changing though, and doing the expected isn’t thought to be good enough anymore
Photo Source: Oh My Dog pet adoption drive, Veetla Vishesham poster, Kaduva team with influencer Nirmal Pillai and Panchathanthiram cast
Photo Source: Oh My Dog pet adoption drive, Veetla Vishesham poster, Kaduva team with influencer Nirmal Pillai and Panchathanthiram cast

Aamir Khan, who is thought of as a pioneer in film promotion, once said that spreading awareness about a film is just one aspect of promotion and that creating a desire to consume is cardinal. Over the years, films, both low-budget and big-budget ones, have understood the importance of doing this.

Recently, we saw films like Veetla Vishesham and Vikram going the extra mile to woo audiences. For big films like Vikram, the strategy seems to be about keeping audiences constantly excited and curious, while for the smaller ones, the idea is to spread the word as far and wide as possible. The times are changing though and doing the expected isn’t thought to be good enough anymore. And that’s why…

Out-of-the-box thinking is essential

MK Surendar, who spearheaded the marketing campaign of RJ Balaji’s Veetla Vishesham, believes that the “thematic strategies employed to promote the film worked wonders and ensured a great opening.” As part of the promotions, RJ Balaji did interviews, of course, but he also went a step further and participated in family functions and made prank calls to put word out. For an enthusiastic team that has been working together since RJ Balaji’s first directorial, LKG, the aim for Veetla Vishesham was to bring back family audiences to the theatre in the post-Covid-19 phase.

“There were talks that theatre trends had changed, and people would come only to theatres for pan-Indian big star-studded films like KGF and RRR. We wanted to prove these ideas wrong and promoted our good content with a dash of creative juice," he shares.

Among the many ideas implemented was a promotional drive based on the film's theme, pregnancy. “We had many talented actors in the film, but we did not have a crowd-pulling cast member in the film. So, we were highly dependent on promotions. To cater to audiences in the rural areas, we erected baby shower decor sets at various places. Likewise, we brought back RJ Balaji’s iconic radio show CrossTalk, through which we pranked strangers by telling them that their parents got pregnant,” he recalls, with a laugh.

Such promotional drives enable interpersonal interaction with potential audiences, he notes. “It’s also like a feedback loop and comes full circle when people with whom we had interacted pre-release get back to us on social media after watching the film. Much goodwill ends up being created.”

While RJ Balaji is a relatively fresh face and relied on the novelty of promotions, what do you do when you have a seasoned artiste like Kamal Haasan returning with a big-budget film like Vikram? You rely on…

The power of nostalgia

Jonathan Jayanth of Social Beat, whose team created the Panchathanthiram reunion promo for the Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram, believes it to be a tremendously effective idea. Everyone remembers the hilarious conference call sequence from Panchathanthiram and the dialogue: "Anju perum pesurom; orutharukku oruthan pesanum. Ore samayathula pesa kudaathu da padicha muttaalgala!"

To promote Vikram, actors Yugi Sethu, Jayaram, Ramesh Aravind, and Sriman all came together over a video call and recreated something similar to the famous conference call sequence from Panchathanthiram. The idea to move away from a conventional promotional idea was to go over and beyond the efficacy of teaser-trailers, says Jonathan.

“Our focus was on celebrating Kamal’s comeback to the theatre, and we also wanted to pay a tribute to his contributions. One of our team members suggested going back to old films, and one of the titles on our list was Panchathanthiram. I think the sheer euphoria around the film and the cast coming back for a video call was an exciting idea for the audience,” Jonathan adds.

If you don’t quite have the star value of a Kamal Haasan, another idea is to appeal to…

A sense of social consciousness

Sarov Shanmugam, director of Oh My Dog, the recent children's film starring Arun Vijay and Arnav Vijay that premiered on Amazon Prime Video, points out that the makers organised stray dog adoption camps in Madurai, Coimbatore, and Trichy, that attracted kids and family crowds. The cast and crew were present at these camps to promote the film.

Sarov notes that extra effort is required for small films like Oh My Dog, in order to make sure that good content doesn’t get buried under a pile of films that seem more attractive. “For Oh My Dog, we focussed on children and family audiences, and tried to do something beyond simply asking them to watch our film. In one of the adoption camps, I saw a special child bonding well with a dog. It was so pure and really resonated with the film's emotion. I encouraged the parents to adopt the pup for the child. I hope he’s having a lovely time with it.”

With social media being all the rage, a tremendously effective promotional idea these days seems to be to cater to…

The reel-addicted generation

Chennai-based social media influencer Nirmal Pillai collaborated with actors Prithviraj Sukumaran and Vivek Oberoi, for a standalone funny Instagram reel when they were in Chennai to promote Kaduva which had a multi-lingual release. While social media has enjoyed hilarious collaborations of celebrities like Yash, Mahesh Babu and Ranbir Kapoor with social media influencers, Prithviraj’s was the first of its kind in Malayalam. “Such content works well for the Gen-Z audience, and we act as a medium to cater to the Instagram audiences between the ages of 18 and mid-30s. When you put up fun content with such celebrities, young fans get to see another side to their favourite actors, and this ends up creating curiosity,” Nirmal says.

The challenge with such content is to engage the audience in one minute with a humorous sketch video that persuades the audience to check out the film. "The key is to have entertaining and interesting touchpoints, and digital partnerships are often a wonderful union of ideas. Additionally, it provides new content to build and sustain a distinct audience base for influencers and celebrities alike," Nirmal shares.

As Aamir Khan once said, “Marketing is not outside filmmaking; it is a part of the whole process itself.”

Promotions gone wrong

Ashoka Vanamlo Arjuna Kalyanam (2022)

As part of the promotions for Ashoka Vanamlo Arjuna Kalyanam, Vishwak Sen put together a prank on a street in Hyderabad. The viral video features a supposed fan pouring a liquid substance over himself and trying to set himself on fire, while Vishwak and a few others try to prevent him from harming himself. The prank was staged on the side of a busy road with moving traffic, and bystanders are seen filming the scene. After the video went viral, a complaint was lodged with the State Human Rights Commission, claiming that the publicity stunt caused public nuisance.

Evidey (2019)

The Malayalam film’s lead actor Asha Sharath landed in controversy for uploading a Facebook video in which she says that her husband Zacharia is missing and asks people to contact the Kattappanna police department. It is only at the end of the video that the title, Evidey, is revealed. The actor faced police complaints and abusive messages on social media for spreading ‘fake news.’

Pihu (2017)

In what appears to be an ill-conceived promotional trick, the Hindi thriller film’s marketers sent out anonymous SOS phone calls featuring a wailing child's voice. The voice, that of a baby girl, mentions something about her mom and dad in Hindi before hanging up. Upon calling back, the listener receives a text message saying, "PIHU just called you. She needs your help. Click on the link NOW and help PIHU". A link to the film's trailer accompanies this message.

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