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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Lessons for Nigerian Filmmakers from a Failed PR Stunt

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Every filmmaker dreams of breaking box office records and generating buzz for their film project and would pull out all the stops to achieve this.

With this desire, some even blur the lines between decency and acceptability, as a good idea on paper can be a disaster when executed.

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Celebrities and filmmakers depend on hype and PR stunts to grow their brands and project their films.

Some go as far as creating fictitious fights; some feign death to promote their work (think singers Skibii and Oladips), while others even create scandals in the quest for attention.

In recent years, a fresh marketing trend has emerged in Nollywood, promoting movies on the wings of publicity stunts, either orchestrated by filmmakers or the actors themselves.

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The thirst for attention and acclaim can lead filmmakers down a treacherous path, where the allure of buzz overrides the film’s integrity, which has become the case of Eniola Ajao’s N200 million movie ‘Beast of Two Worlds’ aka ‘Ajakaju’.

‘Ajakaju’ is just one example of a troubling trend sweeping through Nollywood, where the line between genuine promotion and gratuitous publicity stunts grows increasingly blurred.

Publicity stunts are strategic events or actions crafted to seize public attention and garner media coverage for individuals, brands, products, or organisations.

These stunts are often daring, eye-catching, or controversial, aiming to stir up chatter, ignite discussions, and boost visibility.

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This phenomenon was rife in the Nigerian music industry but has gradually taken hold in Nollywood, particularly with the release of what some might call ‘blockbuster movies’.

However, while initially effective as a marketing tactic, its impact is waning, often backfiring as the focus shifts away from the movie itself.

A notable example is seen in Eniola’s film.

Yet, ‘Ajakaju’ is not the lone ranger in this trend.

Take, for instance, Ayo Makun (AY)’s Netflix release, ‘Merry Men 3’ in January 2024.

During its release, AY and his wife, Mabel, unfollowed each other on Instagram, fueling rumours of marital trouble. Mabel also dropped some cryptic posts that further confused her followers.

Similarly, Davido and Tiwa Savage made headlines when they unfollowed each other on Instagram in early January 2024. This social media saga erupted as Tiwa announced her foray into acting and production with, ‘Water and Garri.

The social media stunts prompted speculation that the Davido-Tiwa feud was a staged publicity stunt to boost her movie’s promotion. But are stunts bad? Not at all if the execution and not necessarily the intent is carefully thought out.

The Movie

But the focus is on ‘Ajakaju: The Beast of Two Worlds’. The movie centres around a desperate king, portrayed by Odunlade Adekola, who faces the looming threat of banishment due to the absence of a male heir. In a bold move to ensure the continuation of his dynasty, the king takes a new wife, portrayed by Eniola Ajao, hailing from another realm.

However, her arrival triggers unexpected disaster within the kingdom, compelling the king to confront his deepest fears and wage a battle for his legacy.

The movie, which premiered in Lagos State last Sunday, garnered several Nigerian celebrities, each flaunting mysterious and attention-grabbing attire. Toyin Abraham, Iyabo Ojo, Denrele Edun, and Femi Adebayo were among them.

The stunt

Here is where the bait for the public stunt was set; amongst the several guests at the movie review, an award was set for the best-dressed guest, the best male and the best female.

However, Bobrisky, known for identifying as female, snagged the title and N1 million prize.

Meanwhile, former BBNaija housemate Groovy won the ‘Best Dressed Male’ award, but it went largely unnoticed for obvious reasons.

The selection of winners, particularly Bobrisky, known for his provocative persona, appeared to be a deliberate move to draw attention to the movie.

However, the intended publicity backfired. Rather than generating positive buzz, Bobrisky’s unexpected win as ‘Best Dressed Female’ at the premiere has sparked more controversy than celebration.

The backfire

Bobrisky’s surprising win, which was supposed to be a promotional PR for the movie, has stirred significant discontent among many, sparking some of the most recent feuds and controversies seen this week.

From heated exchanges between Femi Adebayo, Dayo Amusa, and Jigan Babaoja to a flurry of social media activity, tensions are escalating with no resolution.

However, the ongoing feud between singer Portable and Bobrisky escalated to new heights, with Portable releasing a diss track titled ‘Brotherhood’ that mercilessly mocks the controversial crossdresser.

As it stands now, no one’s attention is on the movie anymore; these controversies have gradually stolen the spotlight.

None of these events were part of the original plan when the filmmaker decided to award Bobrisky the title of ‘Best Dressed Female’. Despite the controversial cross-dresser’s attempts to clarify the situation, his explanations seem to have fallen on deaf ears and worsened the situation.

From spats among actors, social media has been agog with no end, with fame-hungry celebrities wading into the discussion for clout chasing and reviving their dying careers.

The aftermath of this decision has spiralled into a series of unexpected feuds and controversies.

Lessons

Within all these sagas from the recent unfolding of events, there are several pertinent lessons for Nigerian filmmakers and creative industry stakeholders to learn.

Firstly, when promoting art, whether music, books, movies, or any other creative work, it is essential to select a celebrity carefully.

The choice of personality is very crucial.

Afterwards, incorporate their personality around the film to avoid negative repercussions, especially if the celebrity has a controversial image or a history of scandals.

Bobrisky had no business with the film; using him to generate attention because of his controversial personality is just a misfire. If he had a minor role in the movie, it could be understood to an extent.

While leveraging well-known personalities can be an effective marketing strategy, it’s essential to maintain a clear distinction between the person endorsing the product and the product itself.

The danger lies in blurring this line, where the personality overshadows the actual content being promoted.

When this happens, the integrity and authenticity of the art can be compromised, leading to a disconnect between the audience and the work itself.

Secondly, another lesson is that controversy can grab attention and not necessarily translate into success in selling the product.

While controversies may temporarily increase visibility, they often overshadow the promoted content.

For instance, when Toyin Abraham featured Emeka Ike in Malaika in December 2023, it read like a solid PR plan, at least on paper.

But in execution, it flopped. I’ll tell you why.

Emeka has been away from the screen for over 13 years. So, in his comeback interviews, ordinarily intended to promote the film and his role, the focus shifted to his marital crisis.

I mean, who doesn’t love good gossip?!

The media interview overshadowed the film’s publicity, leading to a media war between the actor and his ex-wife, Suzanna Emma and their son, Micheal, and with little or no attention paid to the movie.

The above examples, though not intentional by the filmmakers, show how controversy can be a wrong seller.

In the aforementioned, everyone remembers the messy media fight between Emeka, his wife and his son, leaving the filmmaker scampering to salvage the PR stunt gone wrong.

Although it can be tempting to consider ambitious or controversial publicity stunts to gain attention for a movie, it’s essential to remember that what may seem like a great idea on paper can be a disaster in reality.

Understandably, mistakes can happen, but it’s necessary to take a step back and evaluate the situation to learn from any missteps and avoid repeating them in the future.

It’s essential to be cautious not to mislead the audience during publicity stunts. In the case of ‘Ajakaju: The Beast of Two Worlds’, there needs to be more information available about the movie itself, as attention is diverted towards industry conflicts and controversies.

Issues like Femi’s drama with colleagues, Portable’s ongoing feud with Bobrisky, and the broader crossdressing controversy have taken centre stage, overshadowing the actual film.

However, the saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ or ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ often emphasises that something should receive bad publicity rather than no publicity. This has become the case for the movie ‘Ajakaju: The Beast of Two Worlds’.

Despite the attention drawn by controversies and publicity stunts, the audience’s response and ticket sales ultimately determine its worth.

As the movie hits cinemas on 29 March, the box office figures will indicate whether the marketing tactics effectively drove audience engagement and translated into commercial success. Only then can we assess whether the buzz generated was worth it.

Conclusion

Public relations stunts wield a double-edged sword, capable of securing the attention sought or inflicting unexpected damage.

Their backfiring can be attributed to various factors, including the unpredictability of the audience, particularly in a dynamic society like Nigeria.

While controversies may momentarily captivate attention, they often fail to convey the intended message effectively. Thus, navigating the thin line between attention-grabbing tactics and maintaining the integrity of the message is crucial in PR strategy.

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