The South Indian film industry is largely traditional when it comes to marketing and promotions, opting for tried-and-tested mediums such as print, radio, television, social media, outdoor hoardings and planned events. Just a few promotional teams look for out-of-the-box strategies. It's also rare for producers to be open-minded and willing to participate in something novel. This was not the case with Baahubali, which had large-scale merchandising as part of its marketing and public engagement initiatives. The film's larger-than-life nature and sheer popularity made the idea a success, ensuring the team earned extra brownie points for their innovation.
On the other hand, superstar Rajinikanth's films are seen as 'events', always showcasing something exciting. For Kabali and the more recent Kaala, the respective producers roped in an official merchandise partner (Cover It Up) which customized special-edition products like T-shirts, posters, mobile cases, laptop sleeves and mugs.
Since Kaala is more 'massy' compared to Kabali, our products are also flashy. Rajini fans are sure to love them, says Ronak Sarda, founder of Cover It Up
Ronak Sarda, founder and design strategist of Cover It Up, told us how the firm landed these big-ticket films and what the public response to the products were:
"All our work happens in-house, at our design and production units in Chennai and Mumbai. Rajini sir has a huge fan base, and we haven't seen such a craze for any other film. When we presented our design ideas to Wunderbar Films, they were very enthusiastic and supportive. For Kabali, printed mobile cases were our primary product. For Kaala, we added more items and the T-shirts are selling particularly well. Since Kaala is more 'massy' compared to Kabali, our products are also flashy. Rajini fans are sure to love them. In line with the movie's vision and theme, we used just three colours – red, black and grey – for most of our designs. We innovated within this limited scope and our team tackled the challenges well."
He said that director Pa. Ranjith and the production house were happy with how the merchandise had turned out.
"For Kabali, the maximum sales happened in the week before its release. We are waiting to see how Kaala does in its final pre-release phase. Apart from online sales, our products are also available in Venfield outlets across Chennai. We've also sold internationally to customers in Dubai and Paris."
Ronak also spoke about the merchandising scene in Kollywood. "Not every producer is open to the idea of merchandising; we've been trying to get licenses for the past six months. A lot of fake, non-licensed products are available in areas like Ranganathan Street. The only way to fight this is to rope in an official merchandise partner. Some producers think they can come up with products on their own. But, the process has a lot of hassles and I would rather see them focus on the movie. They should leave the task to specialists like us. On a positive note, more producers are open to official merchandising now. The media is growing exponentially and with it, awareness about merchandising is also on the rise. "
The team behind Fully Filmy, the most prominent film merchandise player in Chennai, would agree. Having been in the business for the past three years, the brand has developed a substantial fan base. Raunaq Mangottil, founder and creative director of Fully Filmy, spoke about their strategy.
"We don't explicitly advertise that all our tribute merchandise is the official merchandise. Our T-shirts on Mani Ratnam, A.R. Rahman, Rajini, Kamal and more, gained popularity after many celebrities wore them. Our ideas, design and art work are all done in-house; we also stick to copyright guidelines."
Why do producers prefer T-shirts? "They are a high-selling, fast-moving product line. A person sporting our tee is like a walking billboard," he says.
The company also has a line of phone cases and other niche items. It has designed tribute merchandise for Kaala and also had official tie-ups with production houses for films like Chennai 28 Part 2, Thupparivaalan, Maari and OK Kanmani.
Three years ago, there wasn't much awareness or understanding about merchandising, particularly among old-school producers. It was difficult to convince them. The scene is a lot better now, says Raunaq Mangotill, founder of Fully Filmy
Raunaq sees merchandising as an extension of a film's marketing campaign and not necessarily as a revenue stream.
"Serious revenue comes into play only for big-ticket films like Baahubali. Three years ago, there wasn't much awareness or understanding about merchandising, particularly among old-school producers. It was difficult to convince them. The scene is a lot better now. Ultimately, our products should add some value to the film. We should be able to relate to the film; there should be a catch phrase and a USP. The common theme running through Maari was 'thara local', which our designs reflected. Our products for Maari, Kabali and Naanum Rowdy Dhaan gained huge traction."
He also sees in-film product placement as a potential marketing avenue. "With the growth of the digital space, makers are looking at more marketing and user engagement avenues. In Balaji Mohan's recent web series As I'm Suffering From Kaadhal, two or three of our products – like tees and posters – were showcased in each episode. Similarly, in-film product placement definitely has potential."
Raunaq also says that the emergence of more players in the merchandising space is a sign that the field has scope, that awareness is increasing and that producers are more likely to consider an official tie-up.