Did the TV promo with Shahid Kapur abandoning himself to the punch-packed Dhan-te-nan compel you to watch Kaminey? That director Vishal Bhardwaj chose this charged number to kickstart the film’s promos was not happenstance.
Bhardwaj had two options: use the high-energy track first or closer to the film's release. For good reason, he chose the former.
“The first song is a very strong hook. It works as a reminder and is a great marketing tool,” says Rajeev Chuda-sama, creative director of Marching Ants, a leading film-marketing firm.
However, the decision doesn’t come easily. “It's a highly debated choice between the marketing team, the producer and even the music company,” says Mukul Misra, founder of Trigger Happy, a film-marketing firm.
Making trailers has now become so specialised that the marketing strategist could come in as early as script discussions — to figure out what the film’s marketing ‘ace’ will be.
Rewind a couple of years to Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Saawariya, which staged a much-publicised battle when both released on November 9, 2007. While the former’s promo flaunted Shah Rukh Khan’s surfboard abs in Dard-e-Disco, the latter had new kid on the block Ranbir Kapoor dropping his towel as he sang Jabse Tere Naina. The precise day that viewers would get their first peek at Kapoor’s bare behind and Khan’s carved cuts was decided by a bunch of movie marketing experts.
“One has to try and peak the publicity for the Wednesday before a film’s release. You can't have it peaking a month earlier because it won't translate into ticket sales,” explains Nabeel Abbas, CEO of Epigram Advertising, a movie-marketing firm.
In a bid to pull aces, few decisions are then left to instinct. “It's no longer the prerogative of a passionate filmmaker to cut his own trailer. A team of marketing professionals deliberates for months on a positioning strategy. There is a high degree of science and testing involved in the process,” says Abbas, who has worked on films like Lagaan, Ghajini, Jodhaa Akbar and Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na.
In the days preceding such scientific calculations, there were posters with big pictures of the leading stars and the ‘kitchen sink approach’ (cluttering the creative with as many of the film’s elements as possible). “If we loved those actors, we believed that the film would be great,” observes Misra, who has worked on the marketing for Om Shanti Om and the forthcoming Wanted.
The same applied to trailers. As long as they looked good and communicated the scale of the film, the purpose was served. “The promos were simply a compilation of the best-looking shots of the film,” notes Chudasama. The old-school trailer was also a giveaway preview of the film. “Little was left for the audience to unravel. There was enough for a person to immediately make up his mind about the movie,” he adds.
Many believe that the birth of the multiplex and the multiplex film, which catered to a more discerning audience, is when the film trailer became more specialised.
Others put it down to television. “With different channels doing shows with the same actors and similar story lines, the promos became the differentiation point. A TV promo is very difficult to make — you have to work with limited footage and yet make it impactful. Once the TV promo evolved, it helped make film promos more compelling too,” suggests Misra, former creative head of Star Plus and later, Sony.
With a movie’s first week generating as much as 70 per cent of its revenue, its marketing has become both expensive and crucial. “The shelf life of a movie is so small that you have to be absolutely precise about your communication,” points out Rahul Nanda of H One, a pioneering firm in print publicity for films.
With such high stakes, the heart has little say now in the art of trailer making. Research and numbers are pivotal in generating an impactful trailer. For Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na, says Abbas, “A young group was brought in for feedback on the four different approaches we had created. We also hosted screenings of both Jaane Tu... and Ghajini when the films were in a raw state.”
Having worked with Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowariker, Abbas admits that working with a thinking actor and director is half the battle won. “During Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh clearly communicated to us that the romance angle was paramount. He reasoned that romance has a wider appeal than the period epic aspect, so the trailers were cut to highlight the former,” reveals Abbas, who is currently working on the print publicity for Gowariker’s What’s Your Raashee? and the marketing of Raj Kumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots.
Nanda, however, adds a cautionary note: “The job of the promo is not just to create excitement but also to communicate the exact message. Whether you have a multi-layered script or a madcap story idea, you have to stay sincere in the message. If you simply capitalise on prized shots, the audience is bound to feel cheated.”
Here, Chudasama cites Shyam Benegal’s Welcome to Sajjanpur as an example: “It was a small, honest film and that’s pretty much what the trailers communicated. The promos were very well executed.”
Honesty doesn’t override intrigue, though; the trailer has to be sincere without giving away the plot, as with Love Aaj Kal. “Saif (Ali Khan) recommended that the first trailer showcase only a series of conversations. In the second, songs were introduced; in the third, the idea of two generations. These were teasers into the texture of the film but didn’t give away too much,” Misra says.
Which is really what the balancing act is finally all about.