My first exposure to village life was at the age of 7 when I went to stay with an uncle, who was an Asst. Station Master of a small station near Gooty on the Mumbai -Chennai route. It was also my first exposure to a touring talkie where the villagers saw old movies sitting on rickety chairs or simply lying on the ground, in front of the screen. Every day there were two shows in the evening and every Friday the movie was changed.
The publicity for the new movie started a few days earlier. A bullock cart or a horse carriage carrying the posters of the film would move slowly around the streets of all the villages nearby. The driver of the cart would make announcements through a portable public address system and an assistant would distribute leaflets on the new movie to passersby and houses on the way. If the touring talkie could afford it, a band would also accompany the cart playing music to attract the audience. In addition posters of the new movies giving show details would be pasted at all the vantage points. Cinema slides featuring the forthcoming movies would also be shown in the touring talkies during breaks.
Over a period of time resourceful producers have used imaginative ways to promote their films. S.S. Vasan of Gemini Studios was a giant among them. He was the first to introduce the concept of big banners and hoardings to promote his multi lingual extravaganza – Chandralekha. It was also one of the mostly highly publicized movies of its time through various media. He is considered the father of Giant Film Hoardings on Mount Road with which Madras was associated for a long time.
Apart from experimenting with vertical posters for his movie; “Gumasthavin Penn” he also used the direct mailing idea for his movie `Sansar`. For his film `Avvaiyar` he printed special invitation cards with highlights of the film and distributed the same door to door; accompanied by a band. It was like an invitation to a wedding and he ensured that the novel idea was written about in all print media which generated a lot of interest in the movie.
Playing the songs of a film outside or in the foyer of the cinema hall and distribution of song books containing the lyrics of the film songs were other methods used to publicize a film those days.
The concept of showing Trailers (trial part) was introduced in the mid fifties to promote new English films. The idea was quickly adopted by Indian movies in later years. Projecting trailers of a new movie in the group cinema theatres and in multiplexes is done even today.
Over the years the press has been the primary media through which new movies have been promoted. While paid advertisements are common, plenty of stories about movie and its stars begin appearing in the media, starting with the `Muhurat` of the movie, generating free editorial publicity. Gossips about the leading pair, tit bits about happenings, on and off the shooting floor are used for this purpose. Sometimes even a controversy between the producer and director or a director and the Stars etc. are passed on to the media, both newspapers and magazines to keep the movie in the news.
With the advent of music cassettes, Audio launch of the film (tape/CDs containing the songs of the film) held a couple of weeks / months before the actual release of the film at a glittering function has become the launching pad and a regular publicity effort of the movies to follow. Between the audio launch and actual release interesting stories about the making of the film, interviews with the stars and directors also appear in all the media in an effort to create curiosity about the film. It helps to keep the title of the movie at the top of the mind of potential cinema goers!
While most of the producers use the time tested methods for publicizing their movies, Kamal Hasan tried an interesting experiment to promote his movie Virumandi in `B` and `C` markets.(semi-urban and rural areas). It was a two in one concept aimed at publicizing the highlights of the movie and at the same time fighting the unauthorized DVD menace.
Local cable TV Channels, featuring local news and events are very popular in the districts / mofussil areas across the country. He entered into a deal with several cable operators in Tamilnadu, providing them a 30 minute capsule of a special programme. The capsule featured the highlights, selected sequences, songs etc. at the end of which he would appear on the screen, appealing to the audience to see `Virumandi` in regular theatres and not on a DVD, if they really wanted to enjoy the visual experience of the movie. He supplied such free capsules to the cable operators every week for a fixed period. The cable operators were delighted to get a free programme and were telecasting the same several times during the week creating a huge awareness for the film in B & C markets. Even paid publicity would not have got this kind of awareness and interest that this novel method got for this movie!
Another idea which has caught on in recent times is the concept of promotional tours featuring the director, stars and other important technicians going around big cities, promoting the film through road shows to audiences- at the theatres screening the film, Big Malls and even colleges. This helps generate a lot of free editorial publicity in the print media. The impact is greater when the shows are co-sponsored by popular TV channels. Many Reality shows are used for this purpose.
In these days of multiple shows in multiplexes and the instant communication through twitter, face book and social media has helped create a new form of word-of-mouth publicity, which can make or mar a film`s success! There are `sms kings` who keep `tweeting` their views to friends even while they are watching a movie! Small budget films with good story but limited budgets for publicity have found the social media generating such instant and widespread word-of-mouth publicity helping them hit the bulls-eye in the Box office!
Proving the age old theory on advertising that while good products will survive and grow, (albeit slowly with a limited advertising budget), a bad product will get killed faster even with good and impactful advertising! The world of brands and films have enough examples to prove this point!
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