Bollywood takes its movies to market, and finds a digital diamond in the traditional rough

Today movie marketing is as important as the film itself. Ritika Saxena charts the evolution of film marketing in Bollywood and finds that the battle for hearts and minds had just begun.


Can you even imagine how films were marketed when, in 1913, the Father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke released the country’s first feature film, Raja Harishchandra? Well for starters, only four prints were released.  Today a film releases approximately 4,000 prints!

Today, we have all forms of marketing stunts being undertaken – from merchandize and social media to promotional tours to corporate tie-ups. The limited market space is now overcrowded with the number of films releasing rising. Hence, marketers are jostling for a dwindling space.

You can trace the commencement of marketing in Bollywood to the 1950s, where films like Awara, Mother India, Pyaasa, etc relied entirely on hand-painted posters and billboards. Back in the day, there were few Public Relations professionals and paparazzi and launch parties were virtually non-existent. The media covered all the big film events and that was it.

In the 1970s when radio hit the country, marketers used it as a tool to reach out to their target audiences as spots were sold for commercial advertisement. And then in 1974, when VCRs landed, there was a considerable increase in the number of movie watchers (one must remember that in the 70s the only channel available on TV was Doordarshan).

But it was in the 1990s and the dawn of the cable TV era that really spurred a film marketing goldrush. Suddenly audiences were spoilt for choice with movies of all genres being screened on the box.

The whole corporatization of Bollywood came about in 2001, when it was recognized as an industry by the Indian government. With new age films like Total Siyappa exploring newer marketing techniques, we know this is here to stay.

Sasikiran Reddy, AISFM MMBA faculty

Trailers for upcoming films became ubiquitous, and not to mention the music videos from Bollywood hits being played on a loop on TV music channels. Bollywood not only embraced TV, but it gamed it too.

Television, ostensibly Bollywood’s biggest competitor became the industry’s mass medium of choice. Even today we see how actors host reality shows and are guests on talk shows to promote their films.

The cost of making a movie and the cost of marketing it now almost equal: when a movie is expensive, you need more prints and need to make sure you spread awareness.

Bollywood filmmakers today, have taken a leaf out Hollywood’s playbook and started looking at films as products that need to be sold to a target audience.

One just has to look at the transmedia blitz that preceded the release of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise to understand the power of marketing.

Today’s films use everything they can lay their hands on to try and get audiences into cinemas.

Social media has spurred a revolution in film marketing. Films of all budgets have jumped on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon to get their message across.

Shah Rukh Khan spent Rs 15 crore on online promotion for his movie, RA One; a first for Bollywood. He was also the first Indian celebrity to conduct live chats using Google Hangouts to interact with his fans.


On the other hand, even a low budget film like Gangs of Wasseypur used social media extensively. The makers of the movie, published ‘Wasseypur Patrika‘, a fictitious newspaper available online, giving audiences an insight into the world of Wasseypur.

Sasikiran Reddy, a faculty member for AISFM’s popular MMBA programme, expounded on the evolution of film marketing: “From the Nickelodeon age to the present, film marketing has come a long way. Earlier theatres were based in storerooms but when the demand increased, the marketers invested in cinema infrastructure. Another thing we notice is how theatrical trailers once so big, have lost their importance in India. Also, earlier the success of a film would be measured by the number of days it ran. But now, the films make their money in a week or two and are out of the theatres. The whole corporatization of Bollywood came about in 2001, when it was recognized as an industry by the Indian government. With new age films like Total Siyappa exploring newer marketing techniques, we know this is here to stay.”

The extensive marketing for films started with Bollywood star, Aamir Khan going out of his way to promote his film, Ghajini. With the staff of a popular multiplex, during the preview, sporting his haircut, Aamir got it right with his innovative marketing approach to his film.

The list of what movies do today in the name of promotion is unending: Public relations, gamification, merchandizing, promotional tours, etc. Marketing in Bollywood is here to stay and as the industry grows alongside technology, the future is bright, digital, and hectic as hell. Are you ready?


Speak Your Mind