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Zee Studios' promo drive for ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a lesson in film marketing

Dev Patel-starrer ‘Hotel Mumbai’ was recently in the spotlight due to its unique promotion strategy. The film, which was released on November 29, 2019, recounts the 26/11 carnage that shook Mumbai in 2008, focusing on the terrorist attack inside the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel. The film is directed by Anthony Maras and produced by Thunder Road Pictures.

Zee Studios acquired the distribution rights to the film in India and launched a marketing campaign in select markets to raise awareness about the film. On the opening weekend, the film made Rs 4.81 crore despite a limited release.

Neeraj Joshi, who heads marketing at Zee Studios, elaborated, “The entire objective of the campaign was to salute the courage and bravery of the kitchen staff of the Taj Hotel at the time of the attack. While the issue in itself was grim, we wanted people to have a positive takeaway from the film.”

Joshi and his team conceptualised a campaign, called ‘Bharat Salaam’, ahead of the film’s release in India. Since the film was originally in English, the idea was to bring the Hindi speaking audiences to watch the dubbed version of the film.

Zee Studios roped in Sunidhi Chauhan, B Praak and Mithoon to compose a song and created a music video to resonate with audiences.

They partnered with digital agency Digi Osmosis to heavily promote the film across social media channels. Digi Osmosis leveraged influencers to engage with the music video organically to reach wider audiences.

Since the film has been made internationally, the trailer was originally in English. For the Hindi release, Zee Studios created a Hindi trailer that was launched before the English trailer and two weeks ahead of the main campaign launch.

“What tends to happen to such tragedies over time is that the film focuses entirely on the tragedy while the heroics get lost over time. We created engagement by distributing armbands as a sign of solidarity towards the people who went beyond the call of duty,” said Joshi.

He further said, “The day we started the Bharat Salaam campaign, we also kicked off a micro-influencer campaign.”

Zee Studios held private screenings of the film across 5 cities in India, where they engaged with digital influencers like bloggers, film critics, social media creators and celebrities. This was to organically create a buzz about the film via positive word of mouth.

“Social media was the bed of the entire campaign. Our biggest evangelists for this film would come from Mumbai, who have witnessed 26/11. We activated our 300-strong employee base who went on social media and spread the word about the campaign,” Joshi informed.

The film had a limited release, which, Joshi said, was a deliberate decision taken by Zee Studios based on past experiences.

“This year we have seen films like ‘Tashkent Files’ and ‘Article 15’, which are not your mainstream variety, do well. Their formats are different and the topics they address are also different. Taking learnings from those films, we built a data bank on where such films would work and where audiences are receptive. More than limited release we like to think of it as a very sharp focused release, where we utilise micro-WhatsApp marketing and ticket push marketing,” Joshi explained.

Radio was also an essential part of the promotions for the film. ‘Contextual promotion is what radio allows you to do,” opined Joshi. Zee Studio partnered with all the major radio stations in the country to pay tribute to unsung heroes from all walks of life in the context of the ‘Bharat Salaam’ campaign.

Over a 10-day launch campaign, Zee Studios got 50 million impressions on digital media alone. The engagement for the film led them to make the decision to dub the film in Tamil and Telugu as well to cater to select audiences in the South markets.

“If not immediately, we definitely believe that there will be a demand for the Tamil and Telugu content on our ZEE5 platform and satellite channels in the future. The economics of a theatrical release do not always work out but that’s why a release through digital or satellite channels is effective,” Joshi concluded.


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