The big picture: How digital platforms 'Reel-ed' in movie marketing in Covid times

Social media is becoming the first place for spotting a new movie trailer and an unbiased source of information from release to performance

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Sep 10, 2021 8:19 AM  | 6 min read

Poster, teaser, trailer, song release -- for the last decade or more, this was the formula with which most movies were being marketed in India. Producers spent anywhere from 15% to 30% of their overall production budget in covering cities with posters and hoardings, running trailers and teasers on all major TV channels and in cinemas, and sometimes television shows got the much-desired presence of big television stars. Who doesn’t remember Saif Ali Khan’s (for Hum Tum) episode in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi, right! It was considered a big shift from the preceding B2B-heavy promotions of films, wherein the focus was on distributors and theatres. Yet who would have imagined that the growth of the digital world will bring a massive change in these tested successful stints as well. Now paired with a pandemic, the marketing industry foresees a changed era of movie promotions.

The changing media mix

The biggest change that has probably come in the movie marketing industry is how the producers are using various platforms to promote their movies, while there hasn’t been any shift in their budgets.

SoCheers Co-founder & CEO Mehul Gupta notes, “For the past many years, depending on the production values and budgets, producers have been spending about 15-30% on marketing the film. That still remains constant. However the media mix has reshaped, especially in the past two years. Pre-Covid, the focus remained largely on television and on-ground events. But now, the push has doubled down on digital platforms. Content marketing is growing big time and producers are not shying off from investing money there. OOH has suffered because of the pandemic and a large chunk of investments have moved from there.”

Adding to this, Infectious Advertising Business Head Sujay Bhosle highlights, “Nowadays, the major load on promotional budgets has been reduced, thanks to partnerships with brands for product placements. This has allowed filmmakers flexibility in their promotion budgets. Earlier, more than 50% of the budgets were spent on television. There weren’t many options for targeting consumers as the creatives played on television lacked the adaptability to digital mediums.  But now digital mediums have allowed marketers to focus more accurately on the consumers. The promotions have become more quantifiable, resulting in measuring efficacy and reach in a way that if a particular piece is not working, it can be changed or removed.”


New-age digital platforms leading the game

Digital media has shifted the game for the marketing industry altogether and movies are not different. Social media, short-video platforms, and influencer marketing have taken a great leap here as well. Akshay Kumar’s promotions of Bell Bottom are a prime example of how producers are using Reels. Who would have imagined a high on production value short video being created specifically for Reels, otherwise. 


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A post shared by Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar)

Gupta points out, “Producers today realise that every platform is different and users come to these platforms with different intentions and mindset. A lot of creativity and effort is being put into using these digital platforms for their specialities, tweaking the core marketing strategy at each point. From Reels to small talk shows on Instagram, to tweets by celebrities, even those who are not a part of the movie, to using platforms like Moj to reach the heartland audience, producers are making impressive efforts. Reels are in fact becoming the primary platform for viewers to discover the music albums for any movie.”

He emphasises that contextual marketing is the mantra for all producers now, irrespective of the medium of release or their budgets.


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Bhosle further notes that social media platforms are an unbiased source of information around the movies for viewers. “They are helpful in revealing the marketing communication and the expected content of the film. They also act as great reminders for release dates, and promos, thus providing easier access.”

Further, the founder of one of the leading digital marketing agency highlights the roles of the influencers in the mix. “Influencers are a part of communication for any show that is going to release. They build a lot of curiosity and noise on Instagram followed by Facebook, etc. If there is any new show launch or a movie that is coming up, there is a lot of noise that influencers create. Today people, even on OTT, are leveraging influencers as part of bigger campaigns and bigger ideas, telling them to not just talk about the show but also be a part of it,” he says.

He adds that movie marketing has also become a great platform for cross marketing because of the heightened involvement of the influencers. “Today when OTT is coming with something, it is not only about influencers but they are cross promoting with different brands also. So more than influencers, it’s about cross promoting brands across channels and there is a rise in such types of promotions now a days. It’s not only leveraging influencers but also doing multiple things on digital platforms to get the noise and create so much chatter around the show to build curiosity around it.” 


What the future looks like

While the industry is expecting a steady revival of the OOH and events for movie marketing as Covid restrictions lift, they unequivocally agree that digital will remain a strong part of each producer’s promotion strategies. They also emphasise that celebrities, especially actors, have greater responsibility when it comes to keeping the excitement and interest around their films alive.

Albeit, industry veteran KV Sridhar (Pops) feels that along with marketing, a big shift is impending in the distribution of the movies as well. He quips, “Audience was already changing before Covid but now they have experienced what an evolved world will look like. This means commercial movies like Golmaal or 3 Idiots, or any of the romcoms per se, wherein the direction is more focussed on dialogues and close-ups of the actors, will remain focussed on the digital platforms for their run. Whereas for grand cinematic experiences like Baahubali or Dangal, people will be more interested in seeing them on the big screen. So, if a movie is not strong on visual elements or storylines, people will eventually get used to watching them in multiplexes or rather will prefer to watch them on OTT. So, along with marketing, I foresee a great shift in storytelling and productions as well.”

He adds that the time is rife that the industry starts putting more focus on creating sci-fi and family content, including movies suitable for kids as the audience is yearning for that.

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