Last week, Ittefaq, a mid-scale Bollywood film, released at the theatres. The film has been the talk of the film trade for the last four weeks for its unconventional marketing strategy. Karan Johar, at the helm of the project as its producer, decided to execute a campaign that relied more on the film’s trailers and posters, with a specific focus on the digital media. Importantly, the campaign stayed away from the usual routine of stars giving multiple interviews and appearing on countless reality shows.
It’s a considerably less-taxing marketing plan for everyone involved. It costs less, and does not take a toll on the stars, who otherwise have to be perpetually on the go for 3-4 weeks. There’s a lot of common sense in it too. You want to maintain the intrigue around a murder mystery, than over-explain its concept. And in any case, there is, by now, sufficient data to suggest that reality shows and city visits may prop up a star’s brand, but do very little for the film itself.
The film opened to an average response at the box-office. Given its niche genre and its modest starcast, the film’s 4crore opening was a notch above par. But that’s not how everyone would see it. Over the last week, both schools of thoughts have been doing the rounds. One that suggests that the film didn’t open well, which means its marketing strategy was flawed. And the other that suggests that this marketing strategy could alter the set template, being followed ad nauseam by Bollywood for at least half a decade
In either case, the mindset is one of trend-following. You could follow the trend set by Ittefaq, or reject it and continue to follow the trend set over years. But the mindset is the same – follow what has worked.
This is not a mindset unique to Bollywood. The television industry is equally oriented this way. Whenever a show becomes a hit, disproportionate time is spent on discussing what worked for it. Much as that understanding has value of its own, the problem begins when this understanding is used as a base template to create more programming in the same direction.
That’s a trend-following approach that has a major flaw, one that marketing strategists would call a me-too strategy. The original may have worked for various other reasons, but it is almost certain that an element of freshness would be at the center of those, i.e., the program could offer something that was not being offered by other content existing around it. The moment you make replicas, that freshness is compromised.
We have had countless me-toos of hit TV shows like Diya Aur Baati Hum and Saathiya, many of which have not even taken off, forget hitting the bull’s eye. Similar examples exist in Bollywood. When Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Mary Kom did well, sports biopics became the next big thing. Now that Judwaa 2 and Golmaal Again have worked, everyone is talking about reviving the slapstick comedy genre, which was sliding over the last few years.
A lot of this analysis is over-simplistic and reactive in nature. The true skill of a good marketer would lie in spotting a trend, than in following one. If you look at the world of consumer products, most big successes over the years have been created around insights that were not obvious, and needs that were not being fulfilled.
One of the villains here could be an obsession with data, whereby ratings and box-office numbers can make you follow the curve, instead of charting your own. But that’s true for any industry in today’s data-loaded world. In fact, a sound argument would be that more data should actually enable sharper trendspotting, because trendspotting is about joining the dots, and more data provides for more dots, or better dots, to join.
So, in reality, it’s a mindset trap more than anything else. There are many sharp executives in the media business who would question a trend-following approach. But they are probably outnumbered, and hence outshouted, by the followers brigade.
With the arrival of the digital piece, the media landscape has become more dynamic than ever before. In such a scenario, trend-following can only be described as hara-kiri. Trendspotting may not be easy, but for enduring success, it’s the only option for content creators and marketers today.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.