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The Crorepati Ra.One

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It seems like a lift from many Hollywood hits. G.One's battle with the evil Ra.One resembles Sam battling CLU in the virtual world of Tron Legacy; and Tom Wu's leaps across lines of smashed cars chasing little Lucifer Prateek is akin to the strides of The Terminator. Or Ra.One's director-writer Anubhav Sinha could have been inspired by Rajinikanth's Enthiran. Whatever be the source of Ra.One's thin storyline, the hotch-potch entertainment by Shah Rukh Khan is a marketing success.

One review described Ra.One as an "insult to geek-dom", but that did not prevent the film from raking in Rs 18.5 crore net on the first day and Rs 24 crore on the second. The 5-day weekend collection is estimated to be Rs 100 crore, as compared to Bodyguard's Rs 82 crore.

One should not miss the wood for trees. It is not the geeky tale or Akon's Chamak Chalo item numbers or the Shah Rukh magic that made the movie. It is all that and more. The selling is the secret of its success. "Ra.One is a mishmash of everything aimed at bringing people from our world to a different one. But to make it a success, we planned the monetisation of as many as 13 streams of revenue," says Kamal Jain, CFO, Eros International, which co-produced the film with Shah Rukh's Red Chillies Entertainment.

The long-gestating, two-year project had a marketing window of 10 months starting January 2011, wherein the release of the music, the gaming and merchandise, and Shah Rukh's road shows followed a detailed time-table. For gaming, the producers hitched up with Sony. Similarly, they had a tieup with YouTube for promoting trailers. (But this has not prevented pirates from getting to YouTube with the full, unadulterated movie within a day of release!)

Brand Wagon
But the movie's biggest success has been to get a slew of advertisers and brands to underwrite its hefty marketing and promotion costs. Marketing an expensive blockbuster is a complex affair. Ra.One's production cost is estimated at Rs 90-95 crore, though Shah Rukh in media conversations has presented the figure of Rs 110 crore. Bollywood's thumb rule is: marketing spends need to be 50-60 per cent of production costs to make a film a viable business proposition. Ra.One's producers too set their sights on that goal, but with deft entrepreneurial skill managed to pass the bill on to brands that wanted to ride Shah Rukh and Ra.One.

"We teamed up with as many as 25 brands ranging from Videocon, Western Union and Star TV to Cinthol and Gitanjali Gems. They bought the media for Ra.One in pre-arranged formats. Some of the newspaper jackets that Videocon financed cost about Rs 85 lakh in smaller publications and Rs 4-5 crore in Times of India," says Jain.

As much as Rs 45-50 crore worth of media across print, television and on-line was bought by these brands for marketing the movie. They were investing on co-branding or riding Ra.One's success. Brand managers are confident they backed the right horse and Ra.One provided the right fit for their brands. Company executives of milk-food beverage brand Horlicks that tied up with Ra.One, say G.One, played by SRK embodies the "taller, stronger and sharper" brand benefits offered by Horlicks. "This will also help us engage with kids in a more exciting way," says Puneet Das, general manager, marketing, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, which owns Horlicks.

break-page-break
Mobile handset maker Nokia and HCL Infosystems, too, have solid reason to back Ra.One. Nokia could use Ra.One to demonstrate the use of near field communications (NFC) technology on its new smart phones. Consumers buying a handset could get exclusive content from the film such as images, apps, games, on-set exclusives and promos by just accessing the RA.One NFC tags on their devices.

Because of the cutting-edge technology used in the making of Ra.One, executives at HCL decided to launch their new range of high-definition laptop series on the back of the movie. Princy Bhatnagar, vice-president, head-consumer computing, HCL Infosystems, says the company also built on the movie theme by offering a "Ra.One protection pack" on its new range of laptops where consumers get McAfee anti-virus for three years.

With the movie release timed to coincide with Diwali, for the consumer durable brands it was an opportunity to get that extra bit of attention in a crowded market. "Ra.One cuts through the clutter for these brands," says Jain. Still, with 25 brands associating with Ra.One there could be a case of consumer fatigue.

How much bang did these brands get for their bucks? Nina Pathak, 35, a Mumbai-based professional, is a huge fan of SRK, and will not miss even a commercial break on television that features her favourite star. But ask her to recollect the names of the consumer brands that have associated with SRK in Ra.One and Pathak will reach for her mobile to phone a friend. After much discussion, she comes up with just six names, convinced that it is the complete list. The jury is still out whether the 25 brands riding on Ra.One got their money's worth.

On the other hand, Ra.One's marketing success would have probably come a cropper had it not been for chief publicist Shah Rukh Khan pitching in body and soul. Shah Rukh was everywhere in his flashy, blue G.One suit. For the super-hero, it was a 60-day road show before launch. He was available to every newspaper and television channel; one day he was in Dubai for a promo, the next day in Vancouver for the premier. He was at malls and schools, extracting every bit of his brand equity to push the film. "If we put a value to his time, it was worth Rs 30-40 crore in marketing spends. He teamed up with every television channel. He could have made another film in the 45 days he spent in high-decibel marketing," says Sanjay Bhattacharjee, promoter of Cinema Capital Venture Fund.

Jain sees a competitive edge behind Shah Rukh's methodical madness in promoting Ra.One. Both Aamir Khan and Salman Khan have crossed the Rs 200 crore-revenue target with several projects such as 3 idiots and Dabangg. Shah Rukh was yet to reach that pinnacle, and with Ra.One, he hopes to do it, says Jain. Agrees Bhattacharjee: "Bollywood has been hit by a hurricane called Salman Khan. You have to do twice as much to stay in the race."

The numbers point to Shah Rukh doing well in the race. With marketing and promotion paid for, 60 per cent of Ra.One's production cost was in the kitty before its launch. Satellite rights sold to Star India realised Rs 35 crore, T-Series, which bought the music rights, paid Rs 15 crore. In-film advertising raised Rs 10-15 crore. "The first two days of collections will cover the rest of our production cost (Rs 100 crore); thereafter it is net profit," says Jain.

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(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-11-2011)