Have you noticed posters that say 'Missing' with a hand-sketched picture of a man called Arnab Bagchi in your neighbourhood lately? If yes, did you ignore it as another search for a missing person, or did you actually care to read the fine print? Either way, you helped the poster achieve its purpose.
In case one did not notice and does not already know, the poster is part of a promotional campaign for Kahaani, an upcoming Hindi movie, directed by Sujoy Ghosh, and starring Vidya Balan. The missing element stays true to the movie's story about a seven-month pregnant protagonist (Vidya Bagchi) who arrives in a strange city, looking for her missing husband (Arnab Bagchi).
The promotional campaign of Kahaani has been designed taking care that it stands out from the usual movie marketing strategies; betting much on social media for ensuring maximum reach, and at the same time, keeping it relevant with the movie's basic concept.
Vikram Malhotra, chief operating officer of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures (distributors of the movie, along with Pen India and Boundscript Motion Pictures) tells afaqs! that the marketing strategy emerges from the core of the film, and how it could engage and connect with the audience.
"Kahaani is a unique film, which brings back the suspense genre to Bollywood storytelling. While the regular movies are usually with a male protagonist or are women-oriented, here is a unique story about a seven-month pregnant woman looking for her missing husband. Our marketing strategy being true to the movie's core, had to be unconventional, innovative, and hard hitting," says Malhotra.
The first look of the movie conveyed to the audience what to expect, and raised a sense of eagerness to know more.
Malhotra says that communication was designed to contain elements of suspense as well as a sense of warmth, so as to make the audience aware and keen, and at the same time, genuinely feel for the missing person.
"We followed the first look with the Missing posters. The device we used looked real (with the hand-sketched posters). The idea is that in today's cluttered space of entertainment, the best way to stand out is through innovative creative presentation," he says.
"We have a belief that it is not enough if a product is conventionally advertised. The audience is getting smarter these days. You need to think out of the box," Malhotra adds.
The posters directed people to the Facebook page of the movie with the message - 'Please share any information with Vidya Bagchi at www.facebook.com/kahaanithefilm'. For a campaign such as this, it is but obvious to turn to social media in order to create awareness, enhance reach, and evoke discussions, and that has been the chosen route with social media being a crucial part of the promotions.
Sure, people soon realise that it is a promotional campaign, but by the end of it, they are aware of the movie and the communication puts the movie in context.
Says Ratan Ginwalla, director, Digit 9.0 (the agency handling the digital promotions of the movie), "To work on a film that is unique, your strategy has to be different. The digital medium is the best space to engage and communicate with the audience because of the immediate real time feedback that one gets. And, digital is the primary medium in this campaign because the communication had to be interactive."
Coordinating with the Missing poster, the campaign went viral on Facebook and sparked a major reaction. Ginwalla insists that the campaign has been a huge success with the number of 'likes' the page has, and how almost half of the same are actually 'talking about' the movie.
"Facebook is a huge tool. Most fan pages have a huge number of fans with only a few people actively being engaged in discussions on the page. Our average engagement level is almost 50 per cent. Maintaining this level of engagement is a challenge," he says.
At the time of filing this report, Kahaani's Facebook page had 57,041 users liking it with 27,072 talking about it.
The campaign does not end with Facebook and the posters. It has been followed up with text messages and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) messages, all of which directed people back to the Facebook page.
A message - 'Please help my friend find her husband' was drafted that was forwarded through text messages and BBM.
Ginwalla says the strategy that was used here was a simple behavioural trend that was identified. "We have observed a certain mentality when it comes to forwards. Often, people do not even bother to read and blindly forward a message that urges them to do so. Many people also try to shift responsibility by just forwarding a message, and not really actively doing anything about it. Take the example of forwarding an appeal to donate blood. We used this to our advantage. We sent messages from personal IDs trying to keep it as authentic as possible and many people forwarded the same as it is. Our reach increased. We got people inquisitive, and we saw a huge jump in the number of likes on the Facebook page," he explains.
Interaction still remains the key. And, that engagement has been ensured with actual user interaction with the protagonist on the Facebook page.
The phase two of the campaign consisted of BTL activities such as the protagonist appearing at railway stations of Mumbai suburbs looking for her husband, or 'pregnant' women dressed like Vidya Bagchi approaching people at malls asking about their missing husband.
Similar activities have been planned in New Delhi next week.
However unique the campaign is, the whole idea (though in a different context) of a missing person to promote a film has been attempted before. Think of 3 Idiots and the whole campaign of Aamir Khan going missing and roaming the country in various disguises.
When quizzed, Ginwalla says that the Kahaani campaign is very different with it being true to the actual story.
"The Kahaani campaign is very true to the story. It gives the audience an experience of the same. It allows them to feel the plight of the protagonist. There is no celebrity that is missing here. It is an unknown person, an unknown face," he says.
Malhotra also adds that to up the engagement levels, the campaign will strike a personal chord with the audience wherein people will be encouraged to share their individual experiences.
"This is not superficial communication. According to numbers, around 17 lakh people are officially missing. Today, our society is so alienated that we are not even aware of our surroundings. Terrorists live amongst us, and we don't even realize it. This communication raises the question of whether we are actually aware of things around us. Keeping in mind the tone of the movie, going ahead, we are using the campaign to get people to share experiences," he says.
The next phase of the campaign before the movie releases on March 9 will include heavy use of the web and two new mediums that the agencies are still tight-lipped about. Kahaani's creative mandate for the campaign is being handled by Marching Ants.
The movie's music will be launched in Mumbai this weekend at the Kalaghoda Arts Festival.