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NEW DELHI : Bollywood studios and producers are looking at resuming exhaustive marketing and promotional campaigns they’re known for as theatrical releases return after months of covid-induced shutdown. 

Producers are cutting no costs to make sure reality show appearances are back on television, as are print and radio advertisements and hoardings. The big change is the increase in digital spends and influencer marketing, in order to create content using the film’s trailer and music on platforms like Instagram. 

Multi-city tours and visits to malls and colleges to draw the youth still remain unsafe but teams are substituting it with virtual interactions with local language press meets across cities. The underlying theme of campaigns right now is to convey that cinemas are open and safe to visit and that these films are releasing exclusively in theatres first.

“The box office earnings of films like Sooryavanshi have brought a lot of joy and confidence and producers are not being conservative in terms of spends right now. The task on hand, is to let people know that cinemas are safe and open and that the experience of watching a film on the big screen cannot be replicated at home, so all the effort is going into that direction," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and events, Saregama India that owns a boutique studio called Yoodlee. 

The company that is releasing a Marathi film called Zombivli this February, is taking a soft and slow approach and starting early with hoardings to both let competing producers know of its theatrical plans and build enough excitement for its digital strategy which will involve working closely with influencers. “Television and radio have not been dropped but the dependence on them has reduced," Kumar added.

Jitendra Hirawat, director at digital agency, SoCheers Films pointed out that even for a mass-market film like Sooryavanshi, director Rohit Shetty visited YouTuber Ashish Chanchlani’s home in Ulhasnagar. “The pandemic has brought about a lot of awareness around the power of digital. At the same time, there was never a time that digital or OTT content was marketed as a substitute to theatres. Cinemas are seen as an outing for families," Hirawat said referring to the big promotional video for Sooryavanshi that brought lead actors Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh to welcome people back to theatres after a long gap.

Multi-city tours with the film's leads with events in malls and colleges are now a thing of the past, said Shruti Deora, head of client partnerships at Mumbai-based integrated digital agency White Rivers Media. “Any large public events, whether to launch a movie asset like a trailer or a concert to launch the music will be challenging in terms of health and safety protocols," she added.

In the new restricted environment, consumers and businesses worldwide started to move online, in turn changing the way content was marketed and promoted in pre-covid days, said Pradeep Dwivedi, chief executive officer, Eros STX. “Online and digital will continue to dominate the marketing mix. Analytics and understanding online consumer behaviour will become necessary. With smaller cities and centres becoming digital savvy, we will see another layer added to the existing digital marketing strategy. Messaging around the local culture will be used to ensure promotions resonate with the audiences making regional nano influencers’ role critical for the brand’s success," Dwivedi said adding that the pandemic has seen increased focus on influencer marketing, virtual events and new forms of partnerships to expand reach.

TV promises and delivers mass reach, especially amongst family audiences, while digital on the other hand, speaks to everyone, at different intensity, said Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and co-founder of digital agency TheSmallBigIdea. “Digital is clearly more real time, more measurable, more interactive, something which is very important for something like films, where destinies are written in a matter of days. Contextual marketing for regional markets on the back of creators or ancillary content, activating engagement through gaming, use of tech for disruption and collaborating with brands to amplify communication are the top trends," Pillai said.

Producer and director Vidhyaa B Reddy said even recent south Indian films like Doctor and Ratnan Prapancha adopted digital tools such as YouTube and social media tools for promotions. “With things slowly getting back to normal, offline activities will kick in. There is a lot of content out there waiting to grab attention, and a bigger and better marketing budget is a must," Reddy said.

To be sure, even as they attempt to remind audiences of the grandeur of big-screen viewing, filmmakers say a lot of marketing tropes may have been done away for good.

Film producer Anand Pandit said the pandemic has cut out the fluff from a lot of expensive marketing traditions. “A lot of stuff like travelling to multiple cities, flying the cast and crew to different venues does not necessarily make sense now as the buzz around a film is largely created on social media. Almost everyone has access to a smartphone though they may not be able to see a star in a mall during a promotional activity. The pandemic has taught me that a film can reach mind spaces without excessive emphasis on pomp and drama. Do we really need to organise crowded events all across the country? Hold multiple press conferences in multiple cities? The idea is to get people to watch your film and that can be done through promotional activities across social media, smartly, innovatively and with far less wastage of time and money," Pandit said.

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