Last week, social media was abuzz with comments from those who saw Pathaan on Amazon Prime Video for the first time, questioning how on earth did such a mediocre film become the top grossing Hindi movie of all time? This piece in the Mint digs into what possibly could have been the factors driving the success. The answer lies in some very clever marketing which was devoid of the traditional media blitz associated with Bollywood launches over the years.
“It all points to a wise, low-key, targeted marketing strategy that capitalized on Brand Khan, his enormous fan base, social media buzz, well-timed teasers and songs plus some smart publicity gimmicks that were less splashy but kept the excitement bubbling till the release. And yes, almost zero media interactions, too. In short, it was a gamble that fully paid off.
…The spy entertainer, backed by Yash Raj Films (YRF), invested in a marketing campaign that nixed media interactions, city tours or TV appearances, which is the norm. Instead, the producer mobilized Khan’s massive fan base, especially on social media. They also cashed in on nostalgia around his absence from the screen for over four years, to create buzz and anticipation, making it seem organic and seamless.
Given that Pathaan was becoming the ultimate water-cooler conversation, a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) built up—so much so that it appeared uncool to not watch the movie, even if some only came back to say they hated it. Theatres even witnessed hooting, whistling and dancing in the first few days—a phenomenon that has become rare— confess cinema owners. One, because most recent Hindi movies have failed to strike the right chord especially with mass-market audiences, and secondly, because the pandemic and streaming platforms have kept people away from theatres.
…Pathaan’s marketing plan worked on the principle of “less is more”, says a senior executive at a digital agency that designs campaigns for Bollywood films, on condition of anonymity. Adding that Khan is one of the few actors with maximum number of active fan clubs, unlike the younger actors, the executive adds, “The fans are super loyal to him and proactively reach out to plan activities around his releases. All that the production house needs to do is channelize this energy.”
Khan, who has fan clubs in geographies ranging from south America and Indonesia to Kolkata and Bengaluru, saw his film benefit from bulk bookings especially on the first day of its release. Some of these clubs, like the Shah Rukh Khan Universe Fan Club, have over 500,000 members on Twitter alone.
…“They believe in a deep, fruitful and meaningful relationship with fan clubs and a lot of things are done in tandem,” says Nikhil Taneja, co-founder and chief executive officer of Yuvaa Originals, a Mumbai-based youth media, research and impact organization. Taneja has worked with YRF in the past. The idea is to give access to pictures, trailers or songs to fan clubs on an embargoed basis in advance, and seek their feedback. Even after the theatrical release, special screenings were held for verified fan clubs to build loyalty, industry experts say.
…As part of a designed strategy though, the team was conscious that Khan’s fan army was going to get activated and they needn’t do anything beyond that, he adds. Also, addressing press queries may only have put the actor in a piquant situation. “So, while he remained scarce to the press, he made himself available to fans (through social media interactions). That, in turn, was captured by entertainment portals or content creators who made umpteen Reels on him,” explains Pillai, adding that extensive media interactions are losing charm.”

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