Sherlock Holmes and the art of marketing

Jun 28, 2013, 07:24 IST | Vanita Kohli- Khandekar

Turn this page if you are not a Sherlock Holmes fan. For the 90 per cent of you who are, here is the bad news

Turn this page if you are not a Sherlock Holmes fan. For the 90 per cent of you who are, here is the bad news. The third season of BBC Entertainment’s Sherlock won’t be out till October 2013 or maybe January 2014. It will therefore be a full year or so before the next three episodes (and probably the last) of this hugely popular show are out. Since BBC Entertainment withdrew from India (boo-hoo) last year, people like me will have to wait for the DVDs to be sold on Amazon or for legal online streaming of the episodes. The impatience of the audience is evident online where everything from a secret picture taken on the sets to possible plotlines are being discussed.

Big break: The maddeningly long wait for Sherlock and the speculation around its next season tells you so much about marketing an entertainment product

The déjà vu is strong. The last time this kind of impatience was on display was for another English entertainment product — the Harry Potter films. The last film very nearly drove fans crazy and the online babble was deafening. For Sherlock’s third season, fans have actually created mock films and diagrams of how Sherlock, played wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch, could have faked his own death.

What does the popularity of this TV show about a quirky English detective tell you?

That sometimes silence is golden. Sherlock came out of nowhere in 2010, aired three episodes once and then went away. But it was so good that people were left gasping for more. The show is a brilliantly done contemporary take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s 120 year old creation. The stories, though completely different from the original, have the same names. A Scandal in Belgravia or The Hound of the Baskervilles have several allusions to the original that aficionados love looking for and sharing online. The characters are just like in the book, only they live in current times. The production, scripting, writing and acting is world class. In fact you wonder why this is not a film, considering each episode is about 90 minutes long.

By the time the second season hit the screens in 2012 both the lead actors, Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (who plays Watson) were stars. It wasn’t marketed much and even season 3 is not being sold. Why should it be? The audience is doing it anyway.

Three years ago the mention of another show on Sherlock (there have been several) would have drawn a ‘why bother’ look. But the lack of hype around Sherlock actually helped it. And that is the point of this column. In the age of huge noise and babble, sometimes just being quiet can help too. Especially if you have a great product.

Back home in India, look at a film called Vicky Donor (2012). This quirky story of a sperm donor, did not attempt to do any marketing. This wasn’t because it didn’t have a budget, since India’s largest film studio, Eros, was distributing it; it was because the film was such an unusual one. Some silly stuff around infertility clinics might have just spoiled the fun. Instead, Vicky Donor just came to the theatres and waited. It went on to become one of the most profitable films of 2012. There are other such examples like Kahanii and Peepli Live with low-key, relevant marketing.

Instead of overdoing the marketing bit and spoiling things for the audience, these films chose to be subtle or even quiet waiting for word-of-mouth, call it the Facebook of the real world, to take off. On the other hand some really big films such as RaOne and Agent Vinod overdid the marketing hype. The star interviews on news, music and entertainment channels, the posters, the online campaigns, the conferences and games, all got a little too much. Especially for films that were anyway getting a lot of publicity by virtue of having Shahrukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan in them.

The hype created unrealistic expectations with unfortunate results. Agent Vinod is a fun film that got totally panned by critics, who were expecting something else. So it never did take off. And Ra One’s marketing pegged it as a family film when it was a gadget film for children. The film was not very profitable considering its huge budget.

You could argue that for an apples to apples comparison Sherlock should be compared to a TV show. For that there is Satyamev Jayate from Star, which came in a extremely competitive market and was kept under wraps to the point where media and the audiences started creating the buzz for it.

ometimes it makes sense to keep quiet and let the product do the talking.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at  

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