Was a well-thought-out marketing strategy behind the success of Malaysia’s top-grossing film?
The Journey had begun even before shooting for the film started – publicity-wise, that is.
In mid 2012, auditions were held at shopping malls in major towns across the country, recruiting everyday Malaysians to star in the film.
“We didn’t ask people to come to Astro, we went to them and held open castings. And not just the malls, we went to schools to audition kids,” said Astro’s vice president of Chinese Customer Business Choo Chi Han.
Auditions were organised in five secondary schools, creating awareness among some 5,000 students, while the open casting in malls attracted 300 quality participants.
These auditions were then captured on camera and streamed live on its website for the public to watch – making it the film’s first promotional initiative.
Choo said the very idea of the film itself was a marketing tool: “Before it was called The Journey, we called it ‘The Nation Movie’ where everybody can participate in the making of this movie. We’re saying, ‘Malaysia, this movie is yours’.”
Except for Australian actor Ben Pfeiffer, the rest of the cast had not acted in a film before.
“But we didn’t just cast actors. Anyone who had an interest in making this movie was invited. Videographers, cameramen, make-up artistes and tea ladies came. (That’s why) the end credits of this movie is so long,” he continued.
By getting the public to participate in even the most formative stages of the film, awareness of the project started to spread.
Astro roped in even more people during the film’s production stage. “One of the film’s most iconic objects is the hot air balloon. It was actually made by the public and it’s real. We told people on TV and radio that we needed help to make this balloon and many signed up,” Choo said, adding that the prop was not only a way to engage the audience, but to get them to look forward to seeing the fruits of their labour when the film premiered.
Also, two scenes from the film were shot during real-life events: the Chingay festival in Johor and the Bai Ti Gong procession in Penang, each of which drew in tens of thousands of people – scoring significant public involvement yet again.
But The Journey hit a speed bump when its initial mid 2013 release date (in time for Mother’s and Father’s Day) coincided with the high-profile General Elections, and had to be pushed to early 2014 instead. To sustain the hype, a two-hour documentary, End Credits, showing behind-the-scene footage of The Journey, was screened on cinemas around the country to selected audiences.
As the release date approached, traditional platforms such as TV and radio ads were utilised.
“As priority was given to our clients’ ads, we slotted in ads of The Journey on our channels only when we had extra air time, an average of at least once every hour,” Choo said, on the frequency of ads aired, adding that though the Chinese channels were targeted first, eventually they were spread out to non-Chinese vernacular channels.
“We knew it would attract the non-Chinese but it’s very important to focus. If we had marketed across the races at the start, our marketing efforts may not have been as successful. We may have lost focus,” he said, stressing The Journey is a Malaysian movie at its core, but told in Chinese.
On the day of the premiere, Jan 30, emphasis was placed on on-ground events, with tickets and merchandise given away to the first 100 moviegoers at 11 locations around the country. On top of that, the cast and directors visited selected cinemas nationwide to thank audiences at the end of the screenings, as well as visiting colleges and universities to inspire students.
Despite all of Astro’s publicity efforts, Choo believes the film’s success is ultimately attributed to word-of-mouth marketing.
“It didn’t do so well on the first week of its release actually – we had to compete with foreign Chinese films, including two Chow Yun Fat movies, From Vegas To Macau and The Monkey King. But the few that saw The Journey started to tell others about it and then it took off from the second week onwards,” he said, adding that social media was also instrumental to its success, with over 200,000 “likes” on the film’s Facebook page.
Choo also acknowledged it was the strength and quality of The Journey itself that drove the film’s success. “We thought it might be a box office hit, but RM17mil was ... very unexpected,” he concluded.
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