Pull, not Push: Film marketing is no longer the same

19 Aug,2022




By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorA long weekend, like the one that spanned from Aug 11 to 15, is hot property for film producers. Big holidays boost box-office collections by upto 75-100%. In this regard, Aamir Khan’s Forrest Gump remake Laal Singh Chaddha got the perfect release date. It was also his first release in almost four years. But the audience just didn’t turn up. Khan, who was the first to breach the 100, 200 and 300 cr box-office levels, will have to settle for about Rs 60 crore this time.


Not so long ago (through pre-pandemic years seem like a thing of the distant past), a saleable movie star was box-office insurance. You could make the worst film, but he would at least get bums on seats on the first weekend. Things have changed rapidly over the last two years. Laal Singh Chaddha, for example, could never recover from the tepid response to its trailer, and all the marketing that followed seemed like a futile catch-up. Khan has been a marketing trendsetter from the times of Ghajini. But he missed a trick this time, by not realising that the nature of marketing may have changed fundamentally.


Films, like many other product categories, have extensively relied on push marketing for years. You essentially spend money to “buy” share of voice and mind, and build enough “buzz” to get people to watch the film when it releases. We have seen Shah Rukh Khan promote some of his weaker films with this intent, and with some very good results too.


Push marketing worked well in simpler times, when media options were limited and more consolidated. In today’s digital-dominant ecosystem, you cannot push all the buttons at the same time. To begin with, it will be insanely expensive, given the growing fragmentation of media consumption over the last few years. And then, there are ‘media’ (like the SVOD apps) that are ad-free anyway. And then, there are other media, like social media, where marketing works best when it is organic and user-generated… when it is led by a consumer pull, than by a manufacturer’s push.


This is a fundamental change, and one that many in the media or the marketing industry are currently not adapting very well to. How do you create consumer pull for a new product that has no prior brand or franchise value? So many things have to come together: The product has to service a real need, and come across as original in its intent. And the marketing must be imaginative and disruptive, to stand a chance of being embraced by the organic pop culture that accepts and cancels new things every day.


In Tamil and Telugu cinema, the top stars still carry an aura that ensures a natural consumer pull by just their presence on the film’s poster or trailer. But we have seen many such films crumble from the second day onwards too. So even when an agent of pull is available, more works needs to be done.


It’s not easy to create consumer pull. After all, if you could “create” something that’s meant to be “organic”, would it be “organic” anyway? And that’s where the conundrum that lures marketers towards the classical push marketing approach lies.


But days of push marketing are numbered, at least for entertainment products. With the success of Pushpa to KGF to the Marvel films, and a dozen failures on the other side, the writing is on the wall. Can the film industry pull up its socks then, all pun intended?


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