New Delhi/Chennai: Last weekend, the viral video of the song, Why this Kolaveri Di?, reached two milestones that confirmed its arrival in the YouTube hall of fame. It reached 15 million views—the target that Ashok Parwani, the associate director at Sony Music, which promoted the song, set for it on 25 November. It also got its own “Hitler gets angry about...” video—an essential accolade for any Internet meme and also the first for any Indian music video.
(For the uninitiated, Hitler gets angry about is a series of videos featuring a scene of Adolf Hitler ranting in German from the 2004 movie Downfall. Subtitles are changed to make it seem like the subject of his rant is the meme in question.)
That Kolaveri Di, which will feature on the soundtrack of the forthcoming Tamil film 3 starring Dhanush, has found success beyond anyone’s expectations is obvious. Almost a month after its release, it is still being given more airtime than Anna Hazare.
Tamil film actor Dhanush.
But despite all the noise, nobody is sure exactly how the song’s meteoric rise happened when so many others have failed to catch audience attention. Was it the irreverent Tanglish—a local dialect that blends Tamil and English—lyrics written by Dhanush (the studio said he did so in just two hours)? Or the self-consciously rough-cut music video showing the offspring of three Tamil acting dynasties hanging out in the recording studio? Or was it, as some have suggested, the result of a breathless media that saw a story they liked and blew the whole thing out of proportion?
The social media explosion supposedly started when a rough version of the song was leaked on YouTube and became an Internet phenomenon in just a few days. But the notion that Kolaveri Di was an accidental success is somewhat misleading. Just as plausible is that the unfortunate leak on social media was rescued by a well-executed marketing manoeuvre or even that the whole thing was the result of a taut plan backed by the marketing muscle of Sony, the star presence of Tamil film industry’s Shruti Haasan, Dhanush and his wife Aishwarya R. Dhanush, who is also the director of 3.
According to social media analytics firm Social Hues, the song was being talked about up to two weeks before the video appeared on YouTube on 16 November. A fan from Chennai, with the Twitter handle @arundanush, alerted both Dhanush’s sister-in-law Geetanjali Selvaraghavan and the composer of the song, Anirudh, to the fact that the song had been uploaded to YouTube on 31 October. His tweet, which read “Kolaveri song from 3 again uploaded in YouTube, pls inform Dhanush”, suggested it was not the first time such a leak had taken place.
Over the next few days, people began tweeting about the lyrics of the song and other details of the film. The publicity was global. Between 1 and 10 November (even before the official launch of the song), there were 43,800 mentions of Kolaveri in the US, 7,000 in France and 4,000 from the UAE. Tamil movie fanatics (mostly male) and non-resident Indians drove most of the traffic in the US and the Gulf, and students studying abroad made up the majority of mentions in Europe.
Kolaveri already had a significant following days before the official video appeared on the 16 November.
It just happens?
Aishwarya Dhanush said she was alerted to the leaked version via Twitter. “Even now I do not know the source (of the leak),” she said. “Initially I was upset, but since I felt that people needed to hear the right version, I wanted to bring out an official video. In two weeks (we) put together the video as there was no time for CD covers or publicity. Something of this magnitude cannot be planned. It just happens.”
That might be so, but even if the leak wasn’t planned, it’s clear that Sony Music India was quick to capitalize on it and turn it into a marketing advantage. Parwani told NDTV that the video accompanying the song was recorded at 2am, the night before the release on the 16 November, and edited the next morning.
But he also insisted that “we wanted this song to go viral in cyberspace. We marketed aggressively to make the song a national rage”. Parwani said that his team had been posting the song on Tamil, Hindi and international Facebook pages to drive traffic. From 16 November on, according to Social Hues, the rate of Twitter mentions of Kolaveri increased by nearly 200% every day, starting at 179 and peaking a week later at 14,907 tweets on 24 November—the day after it became the first Tamil film song to be played on MTV and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan had tweeted about his admiration for the tune.
It is not easy to send a video viral, despite the claims of myriad Web pages touting lessons from Kolaveri on how to make a viral video. The publicity has to be spread across all forms of social media. In Kolaveri’s case most traffic was driven by Facebook, which accounted for nearly 80% of social media mentions of the song, followed by Twitter and YouTube, according to Social Hues.
Dhanush’s song had something else going for it. The novelty of the word kolaveri was a great driver of interest. Twelve per cent of all conversations on Kolaveri were about the meaning of the word, generally translated as murderous rage.
Then, a series of serendipitous news events drove the #kolaveri hashtag (a hash sign followed by a tag word to indicate importance). When agriculture minister Sharad Pawar got slapped by a youngster on 25 November, tweeters cheered Kolaveri and a Punjabi version of the song known as the Sharad Pawar slap song appeared on YouTube the same day. It has logged over one million views of its own. The following week, when bail was finally granted to Tamil Nadu member of Parliament K. Kanimozhi in the 2G spectrum case, the felicitous assonance of her name with Kolaveri did not go unnoticed.
Overseas, the selling point seemed to be the Tanglish lyrics; the Huffington Post tweeted: “Adding a ‘u’ sound to the end of English words is the latest trend in India.” London radio presenters Sunny and Shay raved about the novel lyrics to the song on air when they broadcast it on BBC Radio 94.9 on 26 November.
Nearer home, Sony Music was trying to decide how to encash the Internet buzz. It hadn’t originally monetized the YouTube video, because, according to Shridhar Subramaniam, president of Sony Music Entertainment India, “We initially wanted to release it through Vevo, which is a video platform owned by Sony, but there was some delay because of Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to release it on YouTube.”
The tipping point
In order to make money out of the swarming viewers, Sony needed to become a content partner with YouTube, which it eventually did on 30 November. Since then, Sony has taken 50% of the revenue generated by the video, Subramaniam said.
Viral popularity might be great publicity for the song, and, therefore, for the film, but it isn’t necessarily an immediate money maker. The nine million odd views that had accumulated before Sony monetized the video would remain unharvested, but the loss would only be an estimated $4,000, he said. “It is a $1 CPM here. The same on Vevo would have been a $40 CPM.” CPM is short for cost per thousand impressions, a term used in digital marketing.
Still Kolaveri’s popularity online must be attractive to marketing gurus looking for inexpensive ways to promote movie songs. Kolaveri marks a tipping point in the industry, after which the social media will emerge as a mainstream option alongside the television and radio, says some analysts.
It is only fair to point out that Kolaveri is not the first movie promotion to be launched on social media first—makers of the movie Peepli [Live], the hit song Sheila ki Jawani and music band Euphoria, among others, have in the past experimented with releasing bits and pieces of their work on Facebook and other social networks.
Nothing on this scale has, however, been attempted before. Don’t be surprised if you find film makers hoarding social networking sites trying to recreate the buzz and popularity of Kolaveri, says one analyst.
“If something is a hit on social media, then your fans become your ambassadors and it goes viral in no time,” said Jehil Thakkar, executive director, KPMG India. “No one can really say what works, so replicating it (success of Kolaveri) is next to impossible.”
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