Malayalam cinema has come to be known for neo-realism, narratives rooted in local stories that break new grounds, and a wide array of genres. The new wave of Malayalam cinema, that started in the early 2010s, brought in fresh content and great technicians. These creators also seem to be more serious about the business aspect of film-making and so there was a marked difference in the way movies were promoted and marketed.
But before we dig into how things have changed in the past decade, let’s look at the traditional approach that existed before the new-wave. The traditional approach involved reaching out to a semi-targeted audience with various offline advertising methods. It was much like taking up a loudspeaker, getting up on a podium in a fairground, and shouting out your product information/messaging. There’s no guarantee that your voice will be heard or that the right message will be conveyed, but the best you can do is get up on the tallest podium and shout the catchiest words you can come up with using the best loudspeaker – essentially the most popular TV channel, magazine, or/and newspaper.
This one-sided affair usually consisted of location stills featuring on cinema magazines, release announcements in newspapers, a trailer, and posters printed in bulk from Sivakasi. Ones with more of a lavish marketing budget threw in a few superstar centric interviews in TV channels.
But all this changed with the advent of the ‘home page of the world’ – the internet. The internet is a sort of living entity that responds to your marketing endeavours and gives you reliable feedback. And this gave rise to innovative marketing strategies that enabled creators to Connect with the audience, Convert the audience to actual ticket buyers and Continuously Engage with them post the release, forming the 3 C Framework (Courtesy, London Business School)
The new-wave of Malayalam cinema embraced this change and went on to create some crazy marketing campaigns. Let’s look at some of the most notable ones.
Before we begin, do note that this is not an exhaustive list, and that not all of them might cover all 3 Cs. But these campaigns got their promotion game right and generated quite a lot of buzz before their respective movies were released.
Chaappa Kurishu was one of the first movies to come up with a promotional music video which did not get featured in the actual movie but helped set the mood for the movie. It was also one of the first movies to put up teasers on YouTube.
This was followed up with extensive interviews of the crew talking about the technical aspects of the movie and individual promo bits from the leads on YouTube. The infamous ‘kissing scene’ also helped amp up expectations for the movie.
Salt N’ Pepper, 22 Female Kottayam, and Da Thadiya
One cannot talk about marketing brilliance in Malayalam cinema without talking about Aashiq Abu for he has mastered the art of promoting a stand-out product. Be it his movies or even his announcements, he sure knows how to get the crowd buzzing.
The Facebook page for Salt N’ Pepper was created a year before release and was updated regularly with location stills, videos, and some brilliant posters to ensure that there was a build-up. He was also one of the first Mollywood directors who thanked his Facebook/Social Media friends in the title credits.
The publicity for the movie was handled by Papaya Media, and another notable aspect of this campaign was the use of Avial through “Aanakallan” which ended up topping the charts upon release.
Now, one might think that he kept reusing the same formula for his other movies. But no. 22 Female Kottayam had a campaign around extraordinary women, and an amazing promo video that made it the talk of the town.
Da Thadiya, on the other hand, had a campaign that offered free tickets on the first day to super-sized friends who weighed over 100kg.
As a token of love to our SUPER SIZED friends all over Kerala, all of you who weigh over 100 KGs get a free ticket for…Posted by Da thadiya (ടാ തടിയാ ) on Sunday, 9 December 2012
The Facebook community created for these movies still serve as media outlets for all upcoming movies and has a following of around 60k+ in total. Now that’s some great community building!
Big B and Sagar Alias Jacky Reloaded
Big B and Sagar Alias Jacky Reloaded were marketed with their official title track overlaid with dialogue bits. With brilliant cinematography and extra slo-mo, the promos immediately set the scene on fire!
Infact, the initial buzz for Sagar Alias Jacky resulted in it becoming the highest day 1 grosser in Mollywood.
And the 3 sec shot of Pravan and Mohanlal got fans hyped up big time!
Thattathin Marayathu was a simple love story that made Malayali youth go ga-ga over thattams, ummachikuttys, and ‘smart boyzz’! And the biggest hits were the beautiful songs that had a fan base even before the release of the movie.
But the real surprise move was an emotional video that Vineeth Sreenivasan shared before the release, thanking everyone who were part of the movie, and vouching for its goodness.
The movie went on to become a huge hit with positive word of mouth and catchy dialogues that found its way to tshirts that were all the rage.
Bangalore Days generated a pre-release hype with its star-studded cast. With DQ, Fahadh, Nivin, and Nazriya, the marketing could have taken the usual path.
But interestingly, Bangalore Days tried WhatsApp Marketing. The idea was to connect with viewers on a personal level to heighten anticipation. It clicked well and thousands joined the group for movie updates.
With Maangalyam topping the chart and the trailer trending on YouTube, coupled with positive reviews, the film went on to become one of the biggest hits of the year. And then there were “Making the Movie” videos that served as after-theatre engagement for the audience.
In marketing, there is a technique known as ‘Suspense Marketing’ where you put customers in a position where they are desperate to know what lies in store for them. But the trick is to be suspenseful enough so as to make the audience care, and that’s the thin line Alphonse Puthren thread successfully for Premam. There was no trailer, only the song “Aluva Puzha” which helped misdirect the audience and ensured prejudice-free movie watching without un-necessary comparisons with other movies. Churukkam paranjaa “Choru thappi chennavarkk, Biriyani kiitya avastha!”
All of us know of the controversy surrounding Dileep. The marketing team of Ramaleela came up with this teaser.
This ensured ample screen time in the form of debates and allegations on popular news channels; perfect PR & marketing for the movie.
If “hype” was a movie, it has to be Odiyan! From the announcement to release, the marketing team and the director relentlessly hyped up the movie with live sessions on Social Media channels, talking about Mohanlal’s transformations, and stuff like, “Narasimhathinu Aaram Thamburaniloru makan undaayal athaayirikkum Odiyan”.
The movie turned out to be a dud and the marketing strategy back-fired with angry fans spewing hate back at the director and the movie.
This just goes to show that no amount of marketing can save a bad product.
Where Odiyan failed, Lucifer delivered. With a steady stream of marketing, right from the movie launch to joint press conferences, Prithvi the master businessman took it upon himself to keep the hype in control with statements like, “ Lucifer is a small film; Lucifer is my first movie, please overlook the mistakes.”
Simultaneously, a series of character posters were released (a first in Malayalam cinema), with the last one being that of Abraham Qureshi.
A few hints at the Illuminati ensured that there were discussions across social media that prompted people to rewatch or recommend the movie. All in all, Lucifer played all the right cards to earn the title of “highest grossing Malayalam movie”.
C-U-Soon, Maniyarayile Ashokan, and Sufiyum Sujatayum
2020 wreaked havoc on all our lives, and for a time, it looked like it would do the same to our movie industry too. But amidst the pandemic, a few movies found their way to audiences through OTT platforms. Sufiyum Sujatayum led the way and was followed by Maniyarayile Ashokan and C U Soon.
While the marketing strategies depended on the OTT platform, campaigns seemed to lure a pan-Indian audience to watch these movies. Sufiyum Sujatayum had a well-constructed promotion plan that included press releases, trailers and songs. Tik-Tok challenges were also initiated by the leads to create audience interaction.
Netflix is known for its quirky campaigns and Maniyarayile Ashokan was no different. DQ and Gregory taught Malayalam with “Malayalam for Noobs”, a clever way to reach out to the multi-lingual DQ fan-base.
C U Soon, on the other hand, had cast and crew appear in interviews across channels like Film Companion, Behindwoods, etc., and positive word of mouth ensured a pan-India viewership for the film.
Honorary Mentions :
- My Dear Kuttichathan and Paadayottam: Both these movies were marketed based on their technical achievements. My Dear Kuttichathan had the tagline of “India’s first 3D” and Padayottam, “first indigenously produced 70mm movie with 6 track stereophonic effect”.
- Oru Adaar Love: Chakka veenu, muyal chatthu! Oru Adaar Love, synonymous with Priya Varrier, the wink girl initiated a nation-wide frenzy. What was planned as a cute teaser gave the movie an unexpected traction. This was followed by the ‘Freak Penne’ song which trended #1 hours after the release with the maximum number of dislikes for any Malayalam video song till date.
- Pulimurugan and Iblis: The marketing teams of both these movies decided to go the digital application way with playable games of titular characters. While the Pulimurugan game was popular for a movie based game, Iblis failed to create any ripples (kudos to them for trying something new though!).
But while we’ve talked about novel methods used, these are soon becoming the norm as observed by Tejas Nair who lists down 39 steps usually observed in a typical SM Promo cycle.
At the end of the day, every movie is a commercial product and like any other product, it has to be marketed. We hope to see more such creative marketing strategies that will help good movies reach out to audiences amidst all the noise on the Internet.
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Are there creative marketing campaigns that we’ve missed out? Share them in the comments section below!