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How going back to the basics of movie marketing played a role in the success of ‘Gadar 2’

Unlike the digital heavy movie marketing typically seen today, the makers relied on OOH and on-ground activations to drive curiosity around Gadar 2 says, Neeraj Joshi of Zee Studios.

The recent successes of films like ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ underscore the profound impact of marketing on a movie’s success trajectory. Despite India’s deep-rooted fascination with film stars and Bollywood, not every film achieves the staggering success that ‘Gadar 2’ attained.

The success is even more notable considering the prevailing Boycott ‘cancel Bollywood’ sentiment and the disenchantment with Hindi cinema witnessed over the past few years. Despite the odds, ‘Gadar 2’ shattered records by crossing the monumental milestone of INR 400 crores.

Gadar- Ek Prem Katha, released in 2001 was a monstrous hit, it is ranked among the top 3 Indian films with the highest footfall even today. The movie halls had people dancing and crying in the theatres. Two decades later in 2023, people are doing the exact same for Gadar 2. There have been a number of sequels to successful Bollywood movies but few have come close to replicating the same degree of success.

A lot can be attributed to the nostalgia factor associated with the film, but it was the movie’s marketing that ensured people continued to line up in the cinema halls.

Back to the basics

The landscape of movie marketing has evolved with time. A decade ago, we had film stars appearing on big-impact shows like Indian Idol, KBC and Bigg Boss. Today, digital marketing and influencer marketing also eat up a considerable share of the overall marketing budget of the film.

However, ‘Gadar 2’ stood out by banking on traditional methods. While it did leverage digital to a certain extent, the film relied on outdoor advertising and on-ground activations to skew the audience’s attention.

In the words of Neeraj Joshi, Head of Marketing at Zee Studios, they treated the promotions of the film as an election campaign. Consequently, they strived to present these actors in their respective characters as often as possible. He says this is one of the longest promotional campaigns he has worked on.

As per Joshi, it has been more than two decades since the audiences saw the actors play the roles of ‘Tara Singh’ and ‘Sakina’ on the big screens. Hence, they ensured people saw these actors in their skins as much as possible.

“For the first three months we did as many on-ground activations as possible, we spent almost 70% of our time, money and energy on activations,” says Joshi.

Positioning of the film

Joshi asserts that marketing a film like Gadar was intimidating considering it was so close to people’s hearts. They had to ensure they positioned the film as something fresh but also rooted in the values of the original film.

“We positioned the film as a patriotic film and not a love story because the love story already happened in 2001, taking that approach would have a soft landing. We positioned it as a true Bollywood film,” says Joshi.

Avoiding controversy was another challenge. To address this, they allowed the film itself to convey its narrative. Another challenge was to avoid controversy and for that they let the film do the talking for itself.

“We wanted it to remain a pure Bollywood film in its true Bollywood avatar. We were very sure of not encouraging hate mongers or the trolls. For the same reason we stayed away from influencer campaigns, we kept it pure and organic. This has been a rare case in Bollywood, very few Bollywood films actually have worked purely for the film in the last few years,” he adds.

Joshi emphasises that a lot of thought has gone behind every small detail of the promotions. Everything from the first posters to the teaser was designed for people to be excited about the character of ‘Tara Singh’.

“The first imagery that we put out was Tara Singh with the huge hammer, and it became the defining imagery for the film.”

The target audience

Zee Studios worked at a very hyper-local level to promote the film and banked on data science to understand which pockets of the country would actually pull in audiences.

“Our primary audience was small towns. Even in Mumbai, the audiences from South Mumbai, suburbs and north Mumbai are very different. We went hyper-micro in our approach to approach the audiences. While South Delhi and South Mumbai may not be my approach, Central Delhi and Central Mumbai were on our radar,” explains Joshi.

Joshi says one should look beyond Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore because films are as massy as they can get. “We were trying to get into a zone where one size fits all approaches for all the content which is wrong. I think that’s what needs to come in and the realisation that it’s a much bigger market than we previously thought it was.”

The teams also used a bit of radio marketing to ride on the iconic songs and dialogues of the film. 

As per Joshi, while a lot of marketers ensure the theatres are filled in for the first initial days, they forget about the film after it reaches a certain point. “Most marketers fail to realise how to ensure a marketing gig that communicates and repurposes the content for a longer period of time in cinemas in a consistent manner. This comes from the place of honesty. For us, it could have been either way, we could have sensationalised the film and reached success in a very different way, which we have not. The idea is for campaigns to be liked and appreciated and revisited over and over again because we are in the lifetime value generation business,” he explains.

He calls for a shift in perspective, urging to realise the lifetime value that a film brings with itself not only for the makers but even for the other parties involved like streaming partners, music partners and satellite partners of a film.

“I think that worldview is lacking from a marketer producer and studios because everybody just kind of passes on the ball when it comes to film marketing. For that reason you’ll see a lot of these films do not become long-tailed epic profit spinners for everybody because our eyesight is very myopic,” he says.