Meet The ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ of Movie Marketing
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
— Richard Buckminster Fuller
Amidst the battle against the Coronavirus and other pressing issues across the globe, 12 June 2020 was an insignificantly historic day for a country where every third person in the crowd still blushes upon hearing the DDLJ tune, and every second person goes gaga even during the 55th repeat telecast of Thalaiva’s blockbuster flick. The first person does too. But in complete secrecy.
In case you’re a fourth person, perhaps we’re yet to break that fourth wall.
On 12th June, director Shoojit Sircar’s comedy-drama ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ became the first Hindi feature film to release directly on Amazon Prime; skipping the previously adopted practice of having a theatrical release eight-weeks prior to an OTT (over-the-top) platform release — a move that has sparked a new trend in the film circuits to opt for a direct-to-digital release. However, with these changing dynamics within the distribution and revenue model occurring right in the middle of the pandemic, I cannot stop wondering about two individuals that stand at the brink of humungous transformations during and post the COVID-19 era — the Gulabo and Sitabo of Film Marketing.
Meet Gulabo, our traditional approach to film marketing. Just like the legendary Mr. Amitabh Bachchan, it has been in the game for decades and has aced the art of reinventing itself every time it starts nearing saturation. Just like the megastar’s Sunday ritual of standing outside his bungalow to wave at his fans, this approach has always aimed at connecting the fans to their much-loved celebrities while maintaining the latter’s larger-than-life stature.
To be honest, nearly every mainline promotional activity, during the last decade, has relied heavily on star power and big names. So much so that having the lead actors visit bustling colleges to connect with the millennials or gracing the sets of reality shows for some TRP-worthy moments has now become a ritual of sorts. But off late, these mundane practices have stopped contributing largely to a film’s fate at the box office. With the mob, now conditioned to such tricks, turning smarter day-by-day and choosing cinema with “good content” over “big names,” Gulabo’s successful formula lies at the risk of evaporating into thin air.
Once the pandemic comes to an end, several films will start eyeing for a big theatrical release. The need to stand out from the clutter will give rise to our dear Gulabo’s efforts to initiate the process of reinventing itself. And this time too, while the mandatory OOH banners, PR articles and brand alliances may continue to revolve around big names; the magic of insights, behaviours and key touchpoints will have to lead the game. In my opinion, the practices in the upcoming months and years will have to shift their focus towards experiential activities to form a connection between the movie’s subject and the audience’s deeply embedded values in order to influence their decisions and achieve the envisioned footfalls.
Sitabo, now moving further from the introduction to growth stage, is the young and energetic digital wing of movie marketing with a plethora of opportunities approaching its way, for the world continues to turn into a ‘global village’ (coined by Marshall McLuhan) with each passing day. However, a quick look at the digital marketing strategies adopted for ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ will help you understand where the problem lies:
1. Footage of a video call between the lead cast to announce the trailer launch — previously done by the web series ‘Panchayat’ in March this year.
2. Video snippets from the movie + behind the scenes tales — being actively pushed to the audience since 2012.
3. Contests around songs / dialogues / characters — done to death.
4. Celebrity challenges — in practice ever since the success of the ‘Bang Bang Challenge’ in 2014.
5. Memevertising — current flavour of the season.
6. Content partnerships — in practice since 2014.
7. Instagram/Facebook filter around the lead character’s look — previously conceptualized for ‘Sanju’, ‘Raees’, and other big Hindi films.
While one cannot deny the terrific contribution that Sitabo has made to films like ‘Ra.One’ or the ‘Bahubali’ franchise, we cannot ignore how it has been getting away by tweaking similar strategies in accordance to a movie’s plot — much like Ayushmann’s recent gateway to success by playing the small town common man every time, tweaking his character’s insecurities as per the subject of the film. Of course, the exemplary innovations time and again here are like an ‘Andhadhun’ to Khurrana’s filmography.
However, the upcoming months might see a boom in the number of films directly hitting the digital screens, demanding only digital marketing strategies to promote themselves. Some may even clash on the same Friday. Another major possibility in near future, owing to the rising popularity of Netflix and its contemporaries in India, might be of films demanding a full-fledged digital marketing campaign not only during the theatrical release but during the OTT release as well.
In such scenarios, cluttering a smart consumer’s feeds and efforts with similar ideas packaged differently may backfire, leading to no unique recognition or brand connect. Considering the high possibilities of the demand and supply equilibrium going for a toss; Sitabo would have to, within its budget limitations, reveal new tricks up its sleeve.
While the constant upgrades and addition of new features to platforms and portals will continue to provide relief to the creative minds; what will help a film gain an edge over the others will depend on how sharply the campaigns connect to a consumer’s day-to-day life and interests via mobile marketing and novel AR ideas. After all, we Indians are still obsessed with entering a film’s reality and posing with our favourite celebs than posing as them (take the recent AR filters by Google with 3D animals for instance).
Much like Bachchan and Khurrana in the film, these two residents of the same haveli (read: umbrella thought) now have a task of pulling up their socks with novel ideas and risks that will help them take gigantic leaps before a twist in the tale manages to fling their greedy aspirations miles away.
And who’ll have their “Aha” moment first? Let’s grab a popcorn, wait, and binge watch.