A marketing masterstroke called Social Cause

Whatever be the opinion of the detractors, everybody agrees that Medianet has completely transformed Bollywood.

For the uninitiated, Medianet (the term is not officially used anymore) is a practice of buying or trading in editorial space on entertainment (Bollywood) supplements of the national newspapers. Invented by the Times of India, the marketing model has been adopted today by every leading newspaper in India. This form of business has been criticised much but on the flip-side, Medianet ensures that the films or its stars (who are also technically brands) don’t end up getting free publicity from a newspaper.

Long after Medianet became a successful business model, the television channels continued doling out free publicity if the stars decided to walk into the studios. The system continues as some channels regularly invite stars and their producers to promote their films at their studios. But there are some channels who have discovered the futility of it as they got some or no spike in their viewership for these spots.

When these channels realised that a few stars walking in and out of their studios are not helping them, they too started asking for money.

Then the producers changed the tactic. They said, “We won’t come and directly promote the film. Let us do it indirectly…” 

The channels obliged again.

So, the stars and star directors started taking part in debates, talks and dialogues.  Leading news channels hosted special talk shows centering around the star to promote his film.

Here’s an example of Prannoy Roy – who has retired from regular anchoring – hosting a talk show with Shah Rukh Khan when he was promoting his film Fan. Notice how they talk about a range of topics but don’t forget to promote Fan.

This is a recent video used just for illustration only and there are scores and scores of them on Youtube.

This idea is now so hackneyed that it not really working.

With the newspapers out-of-bounds and walking into the studio of a TV channel not a viable option anymore, some producers (and Film Studios) have been desperately searching for a better marketing plan to promote their movies.

The solution was definitely boosting their online presence, but how to capture the attention of the fickle-minded online audience remained a challenge. The producers (thanks to surveys) discovered that people connect with their favourite stars easily but there needs to be a bigger connection than that for a content to go viral.

Boom came a brilliant solution! The social cause.

Taking up any social cause is a potentially viral proposition for a Bollywood star. If you talk about animal cruelty, female foeticide, educating the girl child, woman emancipation or even cleaning up the neighbourhood roads etc — people are bound to listen intently.

For example: Amitabh Bachchan’s open letter to his grand-daughters have already notched up 4.8 million views on Facebook, a few lakhs have commented and shared the video without even thinking why he made this a public announcement meant for all grand-daughters when communications like these are supposed to be intensely private.

A few tweets by some “detractors” later, Amitabh Bachchan told Quint that there is indeed some connection with the video and his forthcoming film, Pink which also advocates feminism. In his own words,

“…So, yes it was an emotional experience (working for Pink) and moved by such, I felt like putting those words out! (in the Facebook video)”

Bachchan didn’t say anything about why he gave vent to his feelings just before the release of the film and not when he was shooting for the film.

Screenshot of Amitabh Bachchan reading out his open letter to his grand-daughters. Note the views on left-hand top corner as of Thursday evening.

Screenshot of Amitabh Bachchan reading out his open letter to his grand-daughters in the Facebook video. Note the views count on left-hand top corner (as of Thursday evening).

There lies the masterstroke. Today a celebrity commands the attention of millions with a click. This was unthinkable a few decades back.

If anything goes viral on the internet, the media cannot sit back and watch from a distance. They will have to join the chorus. The same content now got more muscle from the media houses too which otherwise won’t promote for free. The open letter was published on The Times on India and every news website was forced to write articles on it.

With this one “letter to the grandchild”, Bachchan garnered so much publicity for Pink that even the biggest production houses won’t be able to afford. The timing of the letter and its carefully crafted content is a marketing masterstroke which only geniuses like Amitabh Bachchan can come up with.

I was recently watching a video of a lecture by Pradeep Guha (who headed Times of India as President when I was a senior journalist there). He was saying how each one of us have become a part of a larger media universe through our social media handles and how Bollywood superstars have become media powerhouses themselves with millions of social media followers. Today, the Bollywood stars don’t need a media house to back them up. One click and a little love from their fans, their social media content goes viral.

If they know how to put out the right content, then it doesn’t take much to go viral. In fact, celebrity social media handles come guaranteed with a certain degree of virality.

Now, Bollywood has suddenly found another super marketing idea on social media which can force the entire online news media to follow suit. This brilliant idea is called promoting a “social cause”.

Trust Bollywood now to overkill this idea in the next couple of years till somebody like Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan comes up with a path-breaking innovation yet again that will change the way movie marketing is done in India.

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