New Delhi: The release of Rajinikanth’s 2.0, a Rs400 crore project, is still several months away, but its makers have already kicked off a massive marketing campaign, including a two-minute video released last week on YouTube on the making of the movie. The science fiction film, directed by S. Shankar, will showcase never-seen-before technology, said the video that clocked more than 6.5 million views at last count.

The film, starring Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar, is only the latest to use the digital platform at the core of its marketing campaign. Industry experts said the contribution of digital innovations to the overall marketing budget of a film has gone up from 5-8% to nearly 15-18% over the past two-and-a-half years. Since the organic reach of most of these platforms is limited, much investment goes into pushing the content and often buying likes and views.

“There has been an increase in the total (marketing) budget because digital has disrupted the traditional media plan and created specialized jobs and functions like a content creator, digital publishing team and social media expert. The environment has become dynamic and creative and you’re paying all those people," said Prerna Singh, chief marketing officer, Eros International.

At the same time, given that traditional media like television and print are not being phased out, filmmakers now have to cater to both media to battle the pressure of opening weekends. The marketing spends can now make up almost 30% of the entire budget of a big-ticket film, from the previous range of 12-15%, said experts.

“Film marketing is becoming very expensive, it costs an arm and a leg to actually market a film today," said Manan Mehta, vice-president, marketing and merchandising, Yash Raj Films. “Marketing budgets have gone up by 15-20% because media has become costly, fragmented and specialized. So you have to make your investments to get your returns going."

Increasingly, industry experts say, for most films in India, it’s the first weekend where either you make the money or you don’t and therefore driving footfalls into theatres in that period is very critical.

“Word-of-mouth and social buzz are very critical in driving the first day and first weekend footfalls," said Anand Chakravarthy, managing partner at Maxus India, a GroupM India company. “If the window for a producer to make money is coming down, he has to create even more excitement and awareness for his film and therefore spend more money."

Traditionally, Chakravarthy said, the entire marketing strategy for a film was to run promos on music channels, besides investing in large-format print advertisements and outdoor promotions. The fact that most television channels have their inventories full of advertising leaves less room for entertainment spots now.

Today, the three stages of a movie campaign—poster or first look launch, the long-form trailer launch and stunts (such as Aamir Khan’s fat-to-fit body transformation video for Dangal) closer to the release of the film—are all carried out on social media. Plus, as Mehta said, majority of a film’s theatrical revenue today comes from online ticketing sites such as BookMyShow and Paytm, user reviews on which make a massive difference to booking decisions.

“Digital is the centrepiece of our marketing strategy as opposed to being a single channel offering reach and engagement. The audience is present across multiple touch points in the digital universe, opening up deep opportunities of engagement and experience through the life-cycle of a film," said Shikha Kapur, chief marketing officer, Fox Star Studios. “Television is a robust medium that augments reach and is a strong pillar of promotions, while digital is a medium that compliments TV by offering engagement and interactivity to an audience that is constantly online for a multitude of reasons spanning entertainment, information, lifestyle, education and an entire gamut of activities that shape our daily life," she said.

There are other advantages of the digital medium, said Ajit Thakur, chief executive officer, Trinity Pictures, the franchise division of Eros International.

“For small-budget films, digital is creating more of a level playing field now. Without having the big bucks, if you’re able to activate your influencer network on digital platforms, it may not impact your Friday which still depends on things like star power, but it can change your Saturday and Sunday," Thakur said. “So it’s making marketing more accessible for smaller films and producers."

And the increasing costs seem to be worth it.

“The idea is to be able to have a multimedia strategy. Of course there are costs attached to so many tools but because of the science of being able to micro-manage and target an audience, the returns on investment on the campaign are far more effective," Kapur said.

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