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Rhythm correct How Kolaveri Di went from just another song to YouTube sensation and the lessons it holds for marketers

An analysis by

Flop song... Not quite! On November 17, 2011, ‘Kolaveri’, was added to the lexicon of commonly used Indian words. Meaning ‘murderous rage’, it was the title of a ‘Tanglish’ (Tamil-English) song written and sung by actor Dhanush for his film 3. A video of the song being recorded in a studio was uploaded at precisely 12.53 am that day on YouTube by Sony Music, which held the music rights for 3, and its agency, Jack In The Box Worldwide. This was followed by aggressive promotion on Facebook and Twitter. On the latter, the hashtag #whythiskolaveridi was created and the agency started posting quirky lines like “Iceland has not heard #whythiskolaveridi”, “Not called for 2 days #whythiskolaveridi”, etc, with the YouTube link. 4

Most people didn’t understand what ‘Kolaveri’ meant and clicked on the link to find out. The combination of a catchy song, a video that wasn’t staged and online ‘seeding’ worked. By the evening of November 21, the hashtag #kolaveri had topped Indian Twitter trends. Within a week of the video going live, it received more than 1.3 million views on YouTube and more than 1 million shares on Facebook. By December 5, it had become a rage, crossing 16 million views on YouTube. And it wasn’t just Tamilians driving the traffic – the song had become a pan-Indian phenomenon.

Photo credit: youtube

There was more proof that India had found a new pop anthem. Within 18 days, Kolaveri Di became India’s most downloaded song on mobile phones (2,10,000 downloads) and on November 24 it became the first Tamil film song to be premiered on a national music channel, MTV India. Imitators played the role of flatterers as versions of Kolaveri in various Indian languages sprang up. There was even a female version and one about the slapping of Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. Kolaveri found a mention in Time magazine and even on the Kolaveri Di female version more conservative BBC, even as the Indian Institutes of Management cited it as a viral marketing case study. Even the prime minister was bowled over. Dhanush and his wife Aishwarya – incidentally, she’s the daughter of Tamil screen icon Rajnikanth and the producer of 3 – found themselves part of a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda. Kolaveri found another unlikely admirer in the reticent Ratan Tata, who heads the salt-to-steel Tata conglomerate. He invited Dhanush over for a meal. Soup song, anyone?

Super mama ready... How Kolaveri went viral Here’s how big Kolaveri became – even a month after its release, it got more air time than Anna Hazare, who was spearheading an agitation for a strong anti-corruption law and was being supported by a mammoth cross-section of ordinary Indians. All the noise eventually led to a debate over how exactly the song achieved such a meteoric rise. Various reasons were attributed to it – from the irreverent Tanglish to the music video to an overzealous media, which, spotting an opportunity for eyeballs, blew it out of proportion.

The social connection


It all began with a rough cut of the video being leaked on YouTube. However, its subsequent success was anything but a fluke. If it was a leak, as Aishwarya claimed, it was quickly turned into a marketing masterstroke by Sony and the film’s makers.

Soon, the lyrics began to be tweeted around the globe – between November 1 and 10, there were 43,800 mentions of Kolaveri in the US, 7,000 in France and 4,000 in the UAE. Tamil movie diehards and non-resident Indians drove most of the traffic in the US and the Gulf, while Indian students accounted for most of the mentions in Europe. Kolaveri was well on its way to becoming a buzzword long before the official video was uploaded.

Licking the leak Aishwarya said she got to know of the leak via Twitter. “I do not know the source [of the leak],” she said in Mint. “Initially, I was upset, but I felt that people needed to hear the right version, so I wanted to bring out an official video. In two weeks, we put together the video as there was no time for CD covers or publicity. Something of this magnitude cannot be planned. It just happens.”

Social Hues, a social media analytics firm, found out that Kolaveri was being talked about two weeks before the video appeared on YouTube, reported the business daily Mint. It was a fan from Chennai, @arundanush, who told Dhanush’s sister-in-law Geetanjali Selvaraghavan and the composer Anirudh that the song was online on October 31, long before the official upload on November 17.

Whether you believe that the leak was planned or not, Sony Music India was quick to seize the opportunity. Ashok Parwani, associate director of Sony Music, said their team recorded the song at 2 am on November 16 and edited it that same morning. “We wanted this song to go viral... We

marketed aggressively to make the song a rage,” he told NDTV. The Sony team posted the song on Tamil, Hindi and international Facebook pages to generate interest. The results were stunning – Social Hues reported that the rate of Twitter mentions rose 200% every day, starting at 179 and peaking a week later at 14,907 on November 24, the day it was aired on MTV and screen icon Amitabh Bachchan tweeted about it. That apart, the word ‘Kolaveri’ was intriguing – 12% of all conversations centred on its meaning.

Luck by chance 6

One man’s fortune is another’s misfortune. This was never more true than for what happened on November 25 – Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was slapped by a Punjabi youth in Delhi. Soon, a Punjabi version of Kolaveri hit YouTube, logging more than a million views of its own. Suddenly, there was more than one reason to look up the #kolaveri hashtag. Kolaveri Di Punjabi version

The song was now an international phenomenon. It was played on BBC Radio 94.9 and the Huffington Post quipped on Twitter: “Adding a ‘u’ sound to the end of English words is the latest trend in India.”

The big push For a video to go viral, it’s not enough to tweet about it. All forms of social media must be leveraged and complemented by traditional marketing. It was Facebook that emerged as the main driver for Kolaveri, accounting for 80% of social media mentions, followed by Twitter and YouTube, according to Social Hues. With the objective of making the song a national rage achieved, Sony Music decided it now needed to make money off it. The company inked a content partnership with YouTube on November 30, taking 50% of the revenue generated by the video since then. Ironically, YouTube wasn’t Sony’s first choice. Shridhar Subramaniam, president of Sony Music Entertainment India, told Mint: “We initially wanted to release it through Vevo, a video platform owned by Sony. But there was a delay because of the Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to release it on YouTube.” It might seem that Sony acted fast, sealing the deal within 13 days of the video’s upload. But, by then, the song had already clocked 9 million views. Had Sony managed to monetise those views, it would have made an additional $4,000 (Rs 2 lakh), based on YouTube’s $1 cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM). On Vevo, Subramaniam said, the yield would have been $40 (Rs 2,000) CPM.

First on the bandwagon Kolaveri was not the first song or movie to be launched/promoted on social media. Sheila Ki Jawani, from Tees Maar Khan, first made an appearance on YouTube. Makers of the film Peepli [Live] and the band Euphoria have released parts of their work on Facebook and other social networks.

Sheila Ki Jawani

Peepli [Live]


Holy cow-u... Lessons for marketers An anthem for managers?

» Money isn’t everything: Kolaveri is a great example of how promoting a song – and by extension a product or service – need not always involve huge budgets. Don’t be surprised if social media now finally takes its place as a mainstream option alongside TV and radio. “If something is a hit on social media, then your fans become your ambassadors and it goes viral in no time,” said Jehil Thakkar, executive director, KPMG India, in Mint.


» Have a great product: It could have had the best marketing plan, but if Kolaveri wasn’t entertaining, it would have flopped. Social media is not a magic wand – if your product isn’t great, it won’t succeed.

The renowned Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are studying Kolaveri as an example of successful viral marketing. IIM-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) planned a session on the song as part of its Contemporary Film Industry: A Business Perspective course.

» Keep it simple, stupid: The video is unpretentious, not bothering with the melodrama and kitsch associated with most Indian films. Brent Coker, a marketing professor at the University of Melbourne, pointed out that videos or images “congruent with our existing notion of the brand” are well received. In the case of Kolaveri, Dhanush, known for his boy-next-door image, sang the song as an innocent, heartbroken lover. And it worked.

The song, which all of India is singing along to, was played during classes by professors in the IIMs of Bangalore, Rohtak and Lucknow, and its marketing strategy discussed threadbare.

» Touch hearts: Croker says that ideas with strong emotional appeal do better than others. Kolaveri was about an emotion we’ve all experienced – heartbreak. Besides, the song was fun. The nonsensical lyrics and the foot-tapping beat had people hooked.

Rajeev Kumra, a professor of marketing at IIM-Lucknow, was quoted as saying: “Companies have to be serious about viral marketing now... We were discussing in class how the strategy used by Kolaveri can be used by a company to leverage its marketing activities...”

» Have an idea that connects: Apart from talking about a familiar emotion, the song used words that are used by young people every day. ‘Soup boys’ (those who failed in love), ‘bouw-u’ (rejection) and ‘life reverse gear’ were part of South Indian slang. Now, the words are pan-Indian. » Use all social media channels: Sharing is critical and the viral ‘surface area’ should be all the channels available. Tweets and likes are akin to viral currency; eventually, you can charge for traffic that they drive to your content. The great advantage with social media is that it makes content easy to consume and, more importantly, easy to share. Finally, take ownership of your content. Kolaveri generated a buzz when it was leaked, but it really took off once the official video was uploaded and a sustained marketing effort followed. Don’t forget, quality content is always in demand – if you have it, people will always want more.

The students are taking it pretty seriously too. Sajal Kumar, a first-year postgraduate student at IIMKozhikode, did a case study on the song, sending out an online survey and analysing its marketing success.

Maintain, please... The Kolaveri story

Composer Anirudh and producer Aishwarya at the Kolaveri recording


October 31, 2011 A fan from Chennai, @arundanush, tells Dhanush’s sister-in-law Geetanjali Selvaraghavan and composer Anirudh that the song has been leaked online. November 1-10

43,800 mentions of Kolaveri in the US, 7,000 in France and 4,000 in the UAE

November 16

Song is recorded at 2 am in the studio and edited that same morning

November 17

Official video of the song uploaded at 12.53 am. Song posted on Tamil, Hindi and international Facebook pages. #whythiskolaveridi hashtag created

November 21

The hashtag #kolaveri tops Indian Twitter trends. Video crosses 1.3 million views on YouTube and 1 million shares on Facebook

November 24

Kolaveri becomes first Tamil film song to be premiered on a national music channel, MTV India

November 25

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar slapped by Punjabi youth in Delhi. Punjabi version of Kolaveri hits YouTube, logging more than one million views of its own. The song becomes an international phenomenon, is played on BBC Radio 94.9 in the subsequent days and the Huffington Post tweets about it

November 30

Sony Music inks content partnership with YouTube, taking 50% of the revenue generated by the video since then

December 5

Video crosses 16 million views on YouTube, becomes India’s most downloaded song on mobile phones with 2,10,000 downloads

December 21

Dhanush is invited by reticent industrialist Ratan Tata for a private dinner. Kolaveri flash mobs over the next few days in places as diverse as Mumbai’s Churchgate train terminus to a mall in Auckland

December 28

Dhanush and his wife Aishwarya are special invitees to the state dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his Japanese counterpart Yoshihiko Noda. Kolaveri crosses 29 million views on YouTube

January 11, 2012 Kolaveri crosses 34 million page views

Yo boys, I am singing song Soup song... flop song Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Rhythm correct Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Maintain, please Why this kolaveri... di Distance la moon-u moon-u Moon-u colour-u white-u White background night-u night-u Night-u colour-u black-u Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di

And here’s what you really wanted

White skin-u girl-u girl-u Girl-u heart-u black-u Eyes-u eyes-u meet-u meet-u My future dark Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Maama notes eduthuko (take notes) Apdiye kaila sax eduthuko (and the saxophone in your hand) Pa pa paan pa pa paan pa pa paa pa pa paan Sariya vaasi (play the music properly) Super mama ready Ready 1... 2... 3... 4... Whaa wat a change over, mama Ok mama, now tune change-u Kaila glass... Only English... Hand la glass-u Glass la scotch-u Eyes-u full-aa tear-u Empty life-u Girl-u come-u Life reverse gear-u Lovvu lovvu Oh my lovvu You showed me bouw-u Cow-u cow-u, holy cow-u I want u here now-u God, I am dying now-u She is happy how-u This song for soup boys-u We don’t have choice-u Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di Flop song!

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Why Kolaveri Di Went Viral - Lessons for Marketers  

How Kolaveri Di went from just another song to YouTube sensation and the lessons it holds for marketers

Why Kolaveri Di Went Viral - Lessons for Marketers  

How Kolaveri Di went from just another song to YouTube sensation and the lessons it holds for marketers