Why Aamir Khan is Bollywood’s marketing guru
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New Delhi: At last count, Aamir Khan’s latest blockbuster Dangal notched up a box office collection of Rs381.05 crore within India alone. Going against the grain though, the Nitesh Tiwari-directed wrestling drama, brand experts agree, didn’t indulge in any of the regular shenanigans a big-ticket Bollywood film would, as part of an exhaustive marketing campaign.
In the run-up to the Christmas release, Khan was seen in none of the reality shows that are, by now, synonymous with Hindi film promotions. He made two significant appearances—one at the launch of the Haanikarak Bapu track with child actors Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar on the occasion of Children’s Day and the other at real-life Geeta Phogat’s November wedding in Balali. Dangal producers Walt Disney Pictures initiated a print campaign a week before the release and had only three brand partners on board.
The innovations have of course paid off and the lead actor has a lot to do with them. The latest innovations have added to Khan’s already vast repertoire of clutter-breaking marketing techniques over 10 years and seven films that have made nearly Rs1,450 crore in box office collections.
“I think Aamir Khan actually created the concept of film marketing in India,” said Anand Chakravarthy, managing partner at Maxus India, a GroupM India company. “He’s the first actor who’s really gone beyond using just traditional media—outdoor, print ads, music promos, which were the standard norm. He realized very early that the conversation currency created around a film is a very critical driver of its popularity. In a slowly digitized world where people are conversing through chat and social media, I think he saw that opportunity and started building on it.”
As early as 2007, for his directorial debut Taare Zameen Par, Khan did a live chat with parents and children across 45 stations of the Big FM network over nearly six hours. A year later, for action drama Ghajini, he attended events shaving people’s hair off, a strategy to build on his own iconic look in the film. After touring colleges for 3 Idiots and visiting nine cities across India with nine famous local reporters for Talaash: The Answer Lies Within, Khan only took things a notch up with Dangal.
“Aamir is very closely involved with the creatives of all his films, whether he’s producing or acting in them,” said Amrita Pandey, vice-president, studios, Disney India, the producer of Dangal. “His focus, which is what sets him apart, is the film and its content. It’s about creating appeal, not noise. For instance, many months before the release, he does press screenings and asks people what they liked or didn’t. The marketing process starts right there. Then with the first trailer, the idea is that you walk away with the story, not what he’s doing as a hero in it.”
That explains Dangal’s first poster with an aged, overweight Khan, and four young girls in boy cut hair, or PK’s first look with the lead only wearing a stereo. Also crucial for Dangal was the “Fat to Fit” video, detailing Khan’s weight gain and loss to play the real-life wrestler that went viral garnering over 36 million views.
“One of the unique things Aamir Khan does for marketing his films, since he is the biggest brand there, is he starts to live the role much before the movie is released, and in real time,” said Saurabh Uboweja, brand expert and chief executive officer, Brands of Desire. “To market a movie, you have to use techniques that are low on shelf life but high on impact. His look in the films is a big factor in creating curiosity and people are constantly talking about it. You don’t see any other actor doing it, that is where he breaks the clutter.”
The other stars, he added, are essentially just using traditional, conventional methods—from releasing posters and trailers to music promos and reality shows.
Marketing spends of a top star-driven product are generally in the range of Rs5-25 crore, Uboweja said. For most movies, the bigger chunk comprises media buying including reality shows, advertisements and placements in publications and cinema halls, besides digital marketing.
“For most movies, say 97% of the marketing budget was spent on buying media; for Aamir, it would comprise 90-92%,” Uboweja said. “Aamir plays a significant role as the key driver of marketing, he becomes the marketing guru himself.”