A lockdown is imposed and a movie has to be released on a streaming platform. Pre-pandemic, a huge hoarding announcing the release date of a movie would be enough ideal as a promotional tactic. But with the audience cooped in their houses, the age-old tropes of advertising may not work anymore. The star of the movie may have to carry the message of the film release to the audience in unconventional ways. Enter, social media influencers on Instagram and Youtube. Today, even a well-known actor, a production house or a streaming platform needs an influencer to further movie promotional activities.

Celebrities tag along for a bike ride with an automotive vlogger, have a meal with a food blogger or sit for a free-wheeling chat and fun games with a fashion influencer subtly mentioning the date, theme of the movie and peppering it with a few anecdotes from the movie sets will do the job. Celebrities these days go the extra-mile displaying on-screen camaraderie with social media influencers, now that is the power of social media platforms and it is winning. While producers and promotional companies may call it an additional expense, the role of social media influencers in determining the fate of any product being a hit or miss is giant. Their influence on masses is such that film producers in few instances have squarely blamed certain ‘youtube’ film reviewers for box office flops.

A galaxy of stars
In a small town in Madurai, for the inauguration of a coffee shop the owner brought in influencers as chief guests. He asked the agency taking care of the event to identify influencers who could vlog about the coffee shop and take the product to its target audience. The selected influencers have not appeared in movies, still on the inaugural day, crowds thronged waiting to catch a glimpse of these Youtube or Instagram stars and if lucky, get a selfie. Favouring a virtual influencer over a movie celebrity and ditching the traditional methods of advertising seems to be catching up for several reasons. Industry analysts say this trend will continue to stay; the only change expected is migration to newer platforms, such as Metaverse. The art of Influencing- the new world of advertising where someone like you and me are selling us products, not a celebrity or a model. This journey born on social media platforms has shaped consumerism. A survey says that 72 per cent of Instagram users making purchase decisions based on something that they saw while browsing the App. In 2021, Instagram recorded that the platform is estimated to have 1,074 billion users worldwide in 2021. This explosion in numbers is also due to the coronavirus pandemic as it is a whopping 73.5 million users more than its number of users in 2020. This is a milestone analysts and experts hoped Instagram to hit in 2024.

M Jey, who runs a digital Media Agency, ‘Movie Bond’ feels that since 2015, the social media game has changed. “Until Instagram became big and undeniable, we followed the traditional method of advertising. Promoting a movie pre-Instagram boom was simple. If the star was huge or the movie was launched by a big banner, the job was easy. People would flock to theatres hearing their interviews or reading about them in promotional activities like interviews, posters and hoardings. We had to make the content for it. It was just a week-long work.”

Today, he says, the promotional gig begins from the announcement of the film’s pooja and we maintain the euphoria till the release date. The announcement should be trending in order to satisfy the producer. Social media influencers are today’s paper boys. “Don’t think they do it for free. It is all paid”, Jai commented.

All for the gram
A study concluded that 7 out of 10 hashtags on Instagram are branded. And more than 80 per cent of businesses consider Instagram engagement as the most important metric. 50 per cent of Instagram users follow at least one business page meaning that businesses have a great opportunity to increase their reach through Instagram. This has led to a direct influence over a person’s psyche and 80 per cent of Instagram users decide to buy a product or service.

So who is considered an Influencer? An active social media user with considerable reach and a minimum of followers between 2 lakh to 5 lakh. “We take a lot of a time to decide when it comes to giving movie promotional gigs. We do a lot of research on their content. Some of them buy followers, likes and comments. How much do followers like the content is reflected on the comments and engagements. The likeability, subject knowledge and approach of the influencer is very vital,” states Jey.

The power of their message is a game changer. For example, a movie reviewer on YouTuber who goes by the name ‘ItisPrashanth’ gives shoutout to small and mid-size businesses such as new websites or Apps. A regular viewer said, “These Apps have registered so well with his audience base. The catch here is his reviews are well received and highly anticipated by his viewership base. They decide on whether or not to watch a movie based on his take on it.” In few instances, film producers have blamed him for their film tanking. That is the power of an influencer today. They have also been made a vital part of press conferences. Their budget is high, yet, those investing say, it is worth every penny.

Dharma adds, “I spend close to five hours on Instagram. One of our most used promotional activities is to make a trend related to the movie; one that gets people of 14-40 participating, for which we make use of influencers to set the ball going. One of the latest successes is the Tum-Tum song from Enemy.”

One of the major challenges, Abhijeet (name changed), who works for a top branding agency said is to differentiate between organic influencers or those strategically placing themselves with a non-organic growth through paid followers. However, he said, “It is not that there is much difference between the two. It is anyways a separate burden on producers.”