The Chronology of Modern-Day Film Promotion

One of the main purposes of my active social media use is to be on top of news and promotions related to the Malayalam film industry. I follow most film folks on Facebook not because I like to comment “Sir oru like tharumo!” (Sir, can I get a like (on this comment) please?) but to keep track of new ventures, industry stories, and collaborations. And over the past few years, I have observed few things in online film promotion. Things that turn me off.

A Trend in Online Promotion of Films

There is a new trend of digital film promotion in Mollywood and other Indian film industries. Bollywood does it too, in fact, even more strongly than its contemporaries. Most top-lining films usually start off their online publicity with sending a press release, planting a news story, or having some of the crew share status updates about the new project on social media. At the same time, most production houses choose to create and launch standalone pages on various social media platforms, notably on Facebook.

Thamasha Malayalam movies Vinay Fortt
The “first-look” poster of Thamasha / © Happy Hours Entertainment

An example would be the recent announcement of an upcoming film titled Thamasha, produced by Happy Hours Entertainment, and starring Vinay Fortt in a role that looks like it is spun off from his comical character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam. The announcement – which, as of 15 April, has engulfed a part of the Malayalam social media after it was shared and reshared by the people close with the cast and crew – came alongside a poster featuring Fortt. It’s a great announcement and one that achieves its intended goal: pique its audience’s interest. But the problem is that it may not be the first look poster even though the announcement says it is.

Unda malayalam movies 2019
The unofficial “first-look” poster of Unda / © Moviee Mill/Gemini Studios

Take the poster of another upcoming film, the Mammootty-starrer titled Unda (2019). This was released a few months ago when the filming was still underway. There were no major announcements and this poster somehow made an entrance into the social media, probably through its two Facebook pages (here: Unda The Movie and UNDATheFilm). The film’s IMDb page also sports this poster (because I added it and the film’s PR never bothered to take a gander). As someone who depends on the Internet to extract updates about new Malayalam films, I took this poster as the first look image. Because a first look (often abbreviated as FL by agencies who run the handles for these films for the sake of hashtagging convenience) does not have to reveal the first look of the main actors. It is not to be taken literally. Instead, a first-look publicity image should give out the unique vibe of that film, and this one by Unda actually did, again making me very interested in the project. Then, I don’t understand why there was a need for another first look (see further below).

All of this makes me wonder about the chronology of film promotion in this digital age. Here’s a list that I came up with recently, inspired by a comment by a Reddit user (u/nandusdas091) on r/Kerala, and exaggerated to stay true to the nature of this website.

Chronology of Digital Film Promotion

This focuses on the Malayalam film industry; a list of events that occur one after other in any modern-day promotional campaign for a film that has enough budget to produce and disseminate publicity materials.

  1. Rough first look or a media story planted in an unverifiable news site
  2. First look announcement (#firstlook #<title>loading #getready)
  3. First look (usually a hand of the lead star, a prop if it’s a sequel or a series instalment, or the title design)
  4. Motion poster announcement
  5. Motion poster
  6. Sneak peek
  7. Character posters #1 through #5 (of characters that have less than 5 minutes of screen time)
  8. Teaser announcement
  9. Promo teaser (also sometimes erroneously titled as prologue teaser), or
  10. Teaser (without any characters)
  11. First song (lyrical)
  12. Screenshot of the teaser video trending on YouTube
  13. Character posters #6 through #30 (the last one is usually of the lead actor or of a character that should have been kept secret)
  14. Promo poster featuring an inflated number of views that the teaser received in the last 24 hours
  15. Reshares of mentions in the media and by other actors not involved in the project
  16. Audio launch announcement/trailer
  17. Posters containing random birthday wishes for the cast/crew
  18. Teaser reaction videos (disseminated through unofficial, partner networks containing wannabe YouTubers)
  19. Audio launch at an Ernakulam 5-star banquet hall (usually owned by one of the crew members) with the highlight being a life-sized disc held by everyone excluding the music producer
  20. First video song
  21. Trailer announcement
  22. Teaser to the trailer
  23. Trailer launch at a Trivandrum 5-star banquet hall
  24. Trailer appended to major film releases of that weekend
  25. Trailer on social media by a popular actor not involved in the project (a day after it appears on the big screen)
  26. Screenshot of the trailer video trending on YouTube
  27. Trailer reaction videos
  28. Poster featuring an inflated number of views the trailer received in less than two hours
  29. Random stills posted by top cast and crew (with at least half a dozen hashtags)
  30. Poster containing greetings for an eligible festival or public holiday
  31. Cast and crew interview videos
  32. Poster featuring some unknown and useless record broken by the trailer
  33. Poster featuring a list of achievements by the teaser, the trailer, and the audio jukebox
  34. Final official poster with the ensemble cast appearing on it
  35. Film success trailer (two days after release)
  36. Film success celebration photos (at another Ernakulam hotel three days after release)
  37. Making-of videos to get some boost in the revenue of the production company’s YouTube channel
  38. Posters featuring inflated box office numbers
  39. Item dance video (optional)

Current State of Affairs

Here’s a peak example of what I’m talking about: a Facebook status update posted by the FB page of Unda, Khalid Rahman’s second directorial. It is true that I was triggered to write this article upon seeing this update on my feed. But I have been observing this digital film publicity chronology for some time now to validate the need for such an article.

Unda Malayalam movie 2019
A status update by the Facebook page of Unda

Every film – and not just Malayalam-language features – that is projected to at least foot its making cost is following this trend. And going by the volume of engagement on the above post from a page that has upwards of 5600 followers (at the time of publishing), it’s working.

But as a consumer of cinema who is at the receiving end of these brazen, tasteless promotions, it turns me off hugely. You may suggest that I start unfollowing these pages of films and film personalities and production houses, but then what about the downside? It’s a catch-22 situation all right and I can alternatively choose to change the settings on Facebook to receive only highlights. But if I did that, who exactly are they trying to attract and engage?

If everyone thought like me, the engagement would automatically go down, save for the pages of those films with actors who have fan associations so big and powerful the title of these associations are known in Kerala and neighbouring states by their acronyms (e.g.: Prithviraj Sukumaran’s POFFACTIO). It would not really work.

The Risk of Overpromotion

They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not true anymore. Look what happened to a recent upcoming biopic of a politician. It had all the right ingredients, and also received a mass of negative press because of its association with a political party, but it was still stalled for release because it would potentially violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which is in motion till the end of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Overpromotion – which is quickly influencing the Kerala film industry – does not always work. It can act as cannibalization after a certain point, turning off the discerning audience to the point where he stops caring. After a while, the promotions will stop having an effect on its target audience as people will shun the digital campaigns and consider movies based on star value, interest, and word of mouth. (The last one is still one of the biggest factors in global cinema, with examples from Bollywood like Stree (2018), Tumbbad (2018), and Andhadhun (2018) loud and clear.)

I do not agree with executing a 39-point marketing strategy on social media because it is dumb. It can act as a deterrent more than it can as a magnet. Of course, an active official profile on Facebook or Twitter would do good to educate the audience about an upcoming project, especially to act as a standalone profile for when someone searches for it to find more information if the film is not yet live on Wikipedia and IMDb, that is. But going overboard with it can sometimes be risky and cost-ineffective.

It may be a tactic used by social media management agencies (who usually work remotely) to bill their clients extra (for all the man hours), but we must look at the bigger picture and see where exactly this type of promotions is going. Is it some kind of a groundbreaking marketing strategy that demands a deeper study? No. Is it a novel approach? No, everyone does it and has been doing it for some time now. Is it effective? Maybe. In 2019 so far, films like Lucifer, Oru Adaar Love, and Madhura Raja succeeded in pulling it off and getting the seats filled, notwithstanding their consequent critical or box office successes. But there are others – like 9, Praana, and June – that deployed similar but largely ineffective campaigns.

Bringing It a Few Notches Down

Same goes for films that think out of the box, do something unusual, and still fail without even getting credit for trying. A case in point: When Rohith VS’s Iblis (2018) launched an online game as part of its promotions, it did not aid much in attracting any more audience than it would have without the game. Its Facebook page had over 20,000 followers and yet the game-related posts received measly engagement, and Asif Ali is still an actor with some fan following. It fared comparatively well with its series of posters, one of the best we saw in 2018.

The splash screen of the game titled World of Iblis / © nologomedia

Which is why it is important to also attribute the success of such granular marketing campaigns to a film’s star value. In fact, this star value has more to do than the stunts themselves. You don’t see such campaigns being run for films that feature an actor who doesn’t have an official fan association. Think of the marketing tactics by the PR team of a film starring Mohanlal and then compare it with another having lesser-known actors like Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, and Soubin Shahir. Even though the quality of a film eventually decides its success rate, such viral social media promotions help the producers mint more money during the deciding first weekend. And it is evident that it is working. Which is not the right way to do business.

Then there are films like Premam that make do with a few characterless posters and a song to market itself and break some actual records. TN.

Update: Updated information about the two different Facebook pages for Unda. (15 April 2019)

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Random Questions I Ask Myself

These are the questions that I shouldn’t be asking myself because I almost never get an answer. I figured I should start asking my friends but then I still want them to be friends with me. So, here goes to the Internet…

  • Why in my four years in the organization have I never bumped into that person (male) in the washroom who sits on the end of the left side of the forth aisle from the entrance?
  • Why do some people press the call button of an elevator even when it clearly has been pressed before by someone who then thought it’s better to take the stairs? (More related.)
  • Why are work meetings still a thing?
  • Why don’t Mumbai local train travellers buy an ATVM Smart Card instead of having to stand in long lines to get a ticket?
  • Why do some people get up as soon as the aircraft hits the tarmac?
  • Do air hostesses ever NOT get the lecherous stare while on duty?
  • Why do some people think that seats in Mumbai local trains can accommodate four adults?
  • Why do bus conductors/drivers and some general public in Mumbai address entry/exit points in buses/trains as ‘gates’?
  • Where do auto-rickshaw drivers gather the courage from to refuse a passenger a trip?
  • Why is it so difficult for some people to follow traffic rules? (More related.)
  • Why do people still get offended by expletives?
  • Why is charity not compulsory?
  • How many successful organizations were/are there in the world that do business ethically?
  • How to address a stranger on the street who is of almost the same age as you? (Excuse me? Excuse me?)
  • Where do you draw the line when it comes to separating the art from the artist in the era of #MeToo?
  • What to do when you accidentally offend a stranger?

I have many more questions to ask but those can be saved for later. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Unsplash/danielcgold

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Types of People Per the Number of Tissues They Use

There’s an interesting message placed on top of the tissue dispenser in the washroom at my workplace in Lower Parel. It but it goes something like this:

One tissue is enough to wipe your hands. Three tissues are enough to wipe your ego.

Urmi estate bathroom message
The message put up inside the washroom at my work place in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

I need to find the person in my agency’s HR/Admin department who was behind this message and congratulate them. While I gather the time and courage to do that, I thought I’ll point your focus to how this little placard and its holy message has been received by the people who use the washroom.

I don’t think I have seen anyone – at least when I’m in the washroom too – respect the underlying point of that message. It’s like almost invisible to them or they have reached a point where they have started to ignore it with the help of the workings of their ego. Whatever it is, all I know is that the number of hand tissue strips that one uses can help us identify the type of person they are.

(Note: This article counts a paper napkin of the size of approx. 18 x 22 cm as one tissue strip. The type that comes off a dispenser near the hand wash area which is now being slowly replaced by electric hand dryers. For the worse.)

So, here’s a list of types of people according to the number of tissue strips they use. It is possible that you might realize you are one of these people. Apology not delivered.

  • Zero Tissues – Does not mind that their folded handkerchief has created a slight protuberance over their pocket. Does not get annoyed when they accidentally step on a watery surface with socks on. Is okay with stuffing the wetter version of their handkerchief back to where it came from. Will die by age-related complications.
  • One Tissue – Knows that climate change is not a hoax. Takes part directly or as an armchair activist in discussions involving waste management, land fills, and environment conservation. Aspires to switch off the fans and lights in Mumbai local trains when they are not in use but forgets or has not yet been able to do so. Does not get offended when the server at a McDonald’s outlet does not automatically gives tissues along with the order.

I am between these two types of people.

  • Two Tissues – Uses a lot of water to wash their hands and face. Keeps a kerchief handy but does not use it because they don’t like the feeling of a wet cloth living in their pocket. Thinks their use of things made out of paper over those made out of plastic almost qualifies them for an “environment conservationist” prize. Would be categorized as the next type (on this list) if they had three hands.
  • Three Tissues – Has a rich first-generation family member. Does not have a tissue dispenser at home. Makes use of all the free stuff at work religiously. Is usually one of the first five people to arrive at a party. Did not follow the news when the Maharashtra government banned single-use plastic materials in mid-2018.
  • Four Tissues – Bad at statistics. Does not greet people before a meeting. Still uses a saucer to drink tea but does not use a coaster when the cup does not come with it. Suffers from some kind of ailment that limits their performance on bed.
  • Five Tissues – Can be seen shouting at an empty tissue or soap dispenser. Fought with their school management and failed to get all the washrooms equipped with mirrors when they were in 9th grade. Abhors opinion articles like this.
  • Six or More Tissues – Monster.

The best argument against this list will come from people who say the number is need-based. I tend to disagree with that unless they are dealing with a post-vomiting session.

Also check out these wonderful messages (Hinglish language in English script) I found on the tissue holder at the popular roadside snackbar Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar.

  • Comic strip #3 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar
  • Comic strip #2 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar
  • Comic strip #1 at Blossom in Khau Galli, Ghatkopar

In another part of the world, I wish someone created a version of this list involving the length of toilet paper one uses after answering any one or two of nature’s calls. TN.


Image courtesy: Pixabay/bluebudgie

Update: Added my identification + description of a tissue strip. Fixed typos. (22 March 2019)

Update #2: Added image of the message + a gallery of comics related to the cause of less tissue usage. (31 March 2019)

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Gazing at Hands in Mumbai Locals

I have recently increased the frequency of my commute to work through the local Mumbai Suburban Railway line. And during this transit and because of my higher-than-average height, I end up spending most of my time in the trains standing, looking at hands of hundreds of straphangers. Hands that tell stories. Hands that are descriptive enough to be videographed into a short film.

Strong hands, hairy hands, inked hands, frail hands, bony hands, sweaty hands, hands with two watches, dirty hands. So many different types I could add a new type every day. This has given me a lot of insights into what people do with their upper limbs while travelling and how they take care of them. Especially because I think they are a vital part of one’s ability to travel in Mumbai locals. I observe hands because there is nothing else to do while travelling in these trains, considered the crowdest in the world.

So, here are brief, broad takes on what I think about the hands of people who travel in Mumbai’s local trains. Especially in the Central and Harbour lines.

  • Most people still wear wristwatches. And they wear it on the left hand. Not that either of these is not obvious but I find it amusing how years ago some people had predicted that mobile phones would make wristwatches redundant. To their advantage, most – including me, sometimes – still look at their mobile phones to check time
  • Almost everyone is glued to their mobile phones, sometimes using both their hands, to either text on WhatsApp, play games like Ludo and Candy Crush, or read/watch fake news stories. I know this because ever since I have increased my frequency of local train travel, privacy has taken a backseat. Also the reason why I avoid using my phone. Another issue with this mobile usage in trains is that it prevents people from holding onto something, which increases the chance of an unfortunate accident
  • Hand tattoos are more common than I imagined; even more than the green-colored inking that some religious/superstitious mean wear on their arms
  • Very rarely do I see people standing hands-free and without holding onto something. These people also use the “crowd energy” to board and deboard the train where they slyly become a part of the whirlwind and flush in and out of the bogey with little effort, let alone the use of hands. I once tried this and immediately regretted it
  • People who lean out against the entrance doors evidently do not care a dot for their hands as I often see them flinging their limbs out, especially as a way to woo women while the train is slowing down at a station. I do wonder if this strategy has ever helped them find a partner

There may be a lot more such things that I have observed about commuters’ hands over the last few months but I do not remember them. To conclude, in all of this, what surprises me the most is how travellers have very little regard for their hands. It reminds me of that adage: You only realize the importance of something when you lose them. TN.

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Indian Websites Take the #10YearChallenge

Although I’m a little late to the meme party of the viral #10YearChallenge, I have an interesting list to present. How some of the most popular Indian websites changed in the last 10 years. It’s fascinating to see how and what these websites have transitioned into.

Of course, this list if inspired by an article of the same type by US-based designer Arun Venkatesan. It contains universally popular sites like IMDb.com (with which I share a great bond), Amazon.com, and Facebook to name a few.

Here goes! In no particular order. And best viewed on a wide screen, possibly a desktop or a laptop.

You can directly view the images in this slideshow below or go through the entire article and read my comments.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Flipkart.com

Flipkart.com in 2009
Flipkart.com in 2009

In 2009, Flipkart, like Amazon.com in its infancy, just sold books. Who knew it would raise funds and turn into an ecommerce behemoth? The text logo as well as a strictly HTML interface look so ordinary compared to the extravagant consumerist UI that it boasts of now. (Note: Alia Bhatt appears twice on this list.)

Flipkart.com in 2019
Flipkart.com in 2019

Cricbuzz.com

Cricbuzz.com in 2009
Cricbuzz.com in 2009

Not much has changed for Cricbuzz in the last 10 years except it finally realized the power of visual media. In a way, it shows how little has changed in the world of cricket (in India), except for a few odd incidents that forcibly blur the line between the players’ professional and personal lives.

Cricbuzz.com in 2019
Cricbuzz.com in 2019

IRCTC.co.in

IRCTC.co.in in 2009
IRCTC.co.in in 2009

It is good enough for me that the IRCTC website loaded quickly both in 2019 and in 2009 through the Wayback Machine. The minimalist approach at the moment is a welcoming gesture. So is the overall confident look.

IRCTC.co.in in 2019
IRCTC.co.in in 2019

Jeevansathi.com

Jeevansathi.com in 2009
Jeevansathi.com in 2009

With an ad copy that goes “India’s most trusted site, easy to use for parents too…”, Jeevan Sathi really tried hard to market itself to parents looking mainly for brides for their sons. See the default selection back in 2009 and then compare it with the sleek, cleaner look of the website right now. Would be interesting to see how, if, and when the matchmaker mostly does away with gender specifics.

Jeevansathi.com in 2019
Jeevansathi.com in 2019

Jio.com

Jio.com in 2009
Jio.com in 2009

With Jio all I am thinking of is the fat paycheck the original owner of the domain must have received from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries.

Jio.com in 2019
Jio.com in 2019

Yatra.com

Yatra.com in 2009
Yatra.com in 2009

Yatra’s website looked like it took notes from the IRCTC of 2009. And it amazes me to see that the default site loaded for the US market with an option on the top navbar for the Indian version. (Note: Wayback Machine wouldn’t give me a snapshot of the Indian website.)

Yatra.com in 2019
Yatra.com in 2019

99acres.com

99acres.com in 2009
99acres.com in 2009.

Apart from the iconic logo, 99 Acres also changed its interface. This one for good. The highlighting for ‘NRI Home’ back in 2009 is reminiscent of a period where NRI folks toiled in a foreign country (the Gulf, anyone?) to invest in real estate in India.

Justdial.com

Justdial.com in 2009
Justdial.com in 2009

Justdial is the one of the few websites on this list that did not change its logo (apart from doing away with the trademark and beta signs). But it did change its Google-like interface to move to a more visual one similar to how all the ecommerce websites that it now competes with do.

Justdial.com in 2019
Justdial.com in 2019

OnlineSBI.com

OnlineSBI.com in 2009
OnlineSBI.com in 2009

The digital boom really did some good to SBI’s Net Banking portal. In 2009, it had to list its products and services in the menu. And today? It is more about convenient banking and digital applications. No need to even talk about Yono SBI ads of which are just about everywhere on the internet.

OnlineSBI.com in 2019
OnlineSBI.com in 2019.

Rediff.com

Many people still don’t know why Rediff exists except for its email service. Both in 2009 and in 2019, its homepage hosts a list of links that will take you to anything and everything available on the internet including info about stocks. But the SEO guys handling Rediff.com will tell you that the heatmap is currently focused on the first option beside its logo that has silently changed from just ‘rediff’ to ‘rediff.com’.

Shaadi.com

It’s interesting to see how the ‘world’s largest matrimonial service’ did away with an orange sindoor from its logo and adopted a heart sign to express its focus on lasting, romantic relationships than about the conventional institution of marriage. Not much has changed except the homepage now boasts of a cleaner look, just like its competitor Jeevansathi.com and other in-vogue Indian websites.

Naukri.com

Job portal Naukri.com maintained its relevance by not changing anything from its key homepage design. From the logo to the sections – everything look reminiscent of a time when BPO jobs were all the shiz. Look how the focus shifted from streams of professions to ‘best places to work‘. Hints at how the employment-wanting public think. Today, Naukri.com is not just for people looking for jobs. It’s much more than that with all these spammy-looking links below the first visible space..

MakeMyTrip.com

In 2019, the ad-less interface is taken up by MakeMyTrip’s brand ambassador (Alia Bhatt again, here without her beau) talking about wanderlust and discount offers. Not so crazy to see how the aggregator focused on flights more than anything in 2009. And they had to put a splash screen for people to guide to the US/India website. Web technology has evidently advanced but still no change in the website’s draconian cancellation rules and ridiculous processing fees.

BookMyShow.com

In 2009, BookMyShow (BMS) was just an infant with an interface that looked like a college dropout had got it designed for $5 from Fiverr.com. No huge posters of popular films running in theaters, no flashy ads about Sunburn, no other choices than movies, sports events, plays, and parties. And they had to mention ‘it is SAFE to transact with us’ at the bottom. All hinting at how far BMS has come. It’s good to know that all the internet handling fees that we paid over the years helped.


What other websites do you think demand a feature on this list? Let me know in the comments and I will try to add them. TN.

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  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »