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The increasing role of social media for film promotion

A few decades ago, promoting films was a totally different ball game. Post-Independence promotion mainly involved creating hand-printed banners posters. This slowly evolved to include radio commercials. Eventually, the emergence of television allowed advertising films through short clippings. Another way films relied on was the ‘word of mouth’; that people would engage in discussions around their film. Fast-forward to the present, the rise of social media has added a completely different dimension to the marketing by eliminating geographical barriers and encouraging communication like never before.

The transition didn’t happen overnight. After the founding of YouTube, videos on the platform slowly began going viral. This presented a unique opportunity of uploading trailers and teasers online for viewers in thousands, if not millions. The rise of social media also saw a newfound level of connection between platforms. Facebook and Twitter started allowing people to share videos from YouTube, further expanding the reach of promotional material.

Today, film posters and trailers regularly appear on social media feeds and publishing agencies also tend to cover these, especially for mainstream movies. There’s also a different approach for each platform. For example, Instagram only allows videos with a maximum duration of one minute, so a full trailer would have to be uploaded on IGTV.  A study by Ormax Media showed that social media buzz accounts for about 40% of a film’s opening day box-office collection.

There’s also the thirst for getting ahead in the game. Most films post trailers and posters online, which it has become the norm. This has led many promotional agencies to think outside the box and constantly employ different tactics to ensure maximum exposure by creating campaigns with a wider reach than mere video footage or images.

For instance, a 2018 film titled Pad Man expertly used the various platforms for its unique campaign. The subject of the film revolved around how talk of sanitary napkins is considered a taboo in the nation. #padmanchallenge began trending on Twitter which saw various celebrities posting pictures with a sanitary napkin in hand. By combining a social issue with its marketing campaign, Pad Man was able to get eminent personalities as well as common people involved which considerably expanded its reach.

Similarly, the pre-release period of Bang Bang, the Indian adaptation of Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day, saw different actors carrying out dares to promote the film. One particular YouTube clip went viral on all platforms which saw mainstream actor Ranveer Singh dancing on the streets of Mumbai before removing his mask and being chased by fans. 

While the production companies associated with films and the social media pages specifically created for a new release unfailingly promote content, the process now also demands that the actors in the movie also play their part. To get a better understanding of this, A Social India contacted Suhail Nayyar, a budding actor who made his Bollywood debut in 2016 with ‘Udta Punjab’, where he played the cousin of Shahid Kapoor’s character.

While it’s hard to decipher how much of actors publishing film posters and trailers online is authentic, Nayyar revealed that it’s actually a far more structured approach as he admitted: “It’s generally in the contract that when the film promotions start, you will have to share the PR material. These are usually the trailer, teaser and handles that are tagged and you just have to repost.”

Image source: Suhail Nayyar

He also revealed that PR companies actually make WhatsApp groups where they send the actors of the films all the material which they have to share on Twitter, Instagram, etc. The actors themselves can’t experiment to a great degree. “You can’t really do the promotion on your own because they have a proper plan and you have to abide by their plan. It’s mentioned in the contract.”

After his debut, Nayyar has gone on to feature in the web series ‘Life Sahi hai’, which was picked up for a second season, and ‘Hotel Mumbai’, an international biographical thriller which starred Hollywood actor Dev Patel. Nayyar still confessed that today, social media presence matters greatly alongside the body of work. He said that it’s generally advisable to work on your social media presence because that means you can promote your content well. “There are some platforms that cast actors according to their social media presence, which I don’t really support but that’s the harsh truth.”

The actor also revealed which platform he prefers: “I’m the most active on Instagram. And I love using it.” And Nayyar realises how important it is for actors to be involved in promotions. “Nowadays, people don’t really wait for the newspaper or buy magazines. The trend has changed to what it used to be in the early 2000s or the 90s where stardom was like that; what Shah Rukh Khan had.”

He added that audiences today have very low attention spans and if they see someone getting popular online they think that person is a star. “Having a social media presence and being involved in the promotions on social media, it shows how relevant you are. This is how fame works now; how popular you are on social media.” Another aspect which social media has added to fame is in a way making it quantifiable. “Earlier, it happened that if you’re a star, how many fans you have, you couldn’t really count. Now you have your followers. You can see your likes.”

According to him, this is only going to grow in the future. Platforms are continuously innovating and making changes which change everything. He admitted: “When Udta Punjab came out, there was no concept of Instagram stories. And when stories came out, the promotion game changed overnight.” Nayyar added that stories allowed people to attach links to the teaser and if somebody mentions an actor’s performance somewhere, they could just repost that.

If you went back in time and told mainstream actors that this was the future of film promotions, they probably wouldn’t believe you. It has become drastically different, which has inspired innovative campaigns and encouraged actors to play more of a role in their film’s success. It’s an exciting new age, and who knows what new ways of marketing we see in the future. Any guesses?

(Featured image source: Alfred Derks from Pixabay)

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