I saw 'Page 3' the day after it was released. Tickets were easily available for the late night show at Mumbai's Sterling theatre. The following weekend they weren't. The movie is now officially a "hit" - purely with multiplex audience support.
Similarly, the verdict on 'Black' from the Bollywood trade pundits is 'mixed response'. Judging by the crowd on a weeknight at a multiplex in Vashi - a middle class suburb of Mumbai - I think by next week 'Black' too will be classified a hit.
Both movies are living examples of the multiplier effect of word-of-mouth.
As I noted in a piece I wrote for Businessworld magazine on the popularity of Instant Messaging IMHO IM rulz :
The evolved young moviegoer no longer cares what the mainstream media decrees; there are other sources they know and trust more.
The opinion of their own peers.
That's what drives young people to the theatres today - not reviews, not promos. I guess that has always been the case to an extent but 'always on' technology plays a big role too.
My 20 year old cousin smsed me from Delhi to check if The Passion of Christ was worth watching. A quick 'no' from me decided his dilemma (the many stars TOI gave the film be damned!).
A friend who went for the premiere of Black smsed me right after the show - "it's mindblowing - a must watch". I didn't even bother to read the reviews on Sunday.
Catch the buzz!
Now of course recommendations like this arise mainly in high involvement categories like entertainment. You won't hear of young people smsing or IMing each other about the fab new toothpaste they're using these days.
But in categories like music, movies, gaming, cellphone model choice - peer opinion rules. It could be a friend - but it could also be a total stranger who you only meet on the IM or on internet forums. Someone who you feel shares the same tastes as you or is extremely knowledgable about a particular subject.
Another category where peer opinion makes a big difference is higher education, esp. professional courses like MBA.
The decision of which CAT coaching class to join is almost always based on recommendations from a senior. There are forums devoted exclusively to MBA entrance such as Pagalguy where junta exchanges notes on cut offs, interview calls, which institutes are worth joining etc.
So for example, an institute which advertises heavily and urges students to 'dare to think beyond the IIMs' has, despite its massive spending, never succeeded in courting the creme de la creme of the student population.
The word-of-mouth on the institute is so poor that despite occasionally managing to feature quite high in B school rankings, said B school is never in the consideration list.
Instead, B schools which only release admission notices - such as Goa Institute of Management, IMI Delhi, TAPMI, UBS Chandigarh etc are the preferred destinations for those who don't get into the IIMs or other top rung schools like SP Jain, FMS, Bajaj etc.
The question youth marketers need to ask themselves is:
a) If I am in a high involvement category are my products the kind that will generate buzz and sell themselves?
b) If my product is not inherently high involvement can I still create a genuine buzz about it?
The answer to b) is yes, but it's not easy.
But then neither is a) which involves making great products which folks want to recommend to others.
More on this, in my next post.