When you watch the 3D ad for the Audi A8L, the latest offering for India from the German car maker, there are a few things to keep in mind. To begin with, barring the George Clooney lookalike, and his fancy suit, nothing in the film is real.
In fact, when work started on the ad last year, there was no car to speak of either. Just some computer–aided design data from the Audi AG plant in Germany, and inch-by-inch photographs and videos of a prototype model in a warehouse several countries away. That’s when the folk at the London-based production house, The Mill, their partners CreativeLand Asia (CLA) in India, the creative agency on the account, and Mumbai-based production house Crocodile Films, knew they had a job on their hands. Not only did the car have to be put together digitally, it also had to be shot in 3D. But with over five months of work, hundreds if not thousands of man-hours, two high-speed phantom cameras and having to source everything from 3D glasses and brochures to technology from five countries, the fully integrated campaign—The Advanced State of Mind—was launched in February by CLA.
At 3 crore, it was an expensive ad by Indian standards, though significantly lower than the $1.5 million (or around Rs7 crore) quoted by a Los Angeles film production company. An average Indian TV commercial costs Rs50-70 lakh, but the film was actually a steal, says an ad film-maker on condition of anonymity. This was because each agency lowered its rates. The Mill, for instance, had worked on some Indian projects before, such as an ad for Saint Juices with CLA and Nirvana Films where trees seem to be sprouting packets of juice instead of fruit. According to Darren O’Kelly, managing director, The Mill, it made sense because it was an opportunity “to work in a new territory with some of the best people in the business”.
The upscale production house has been receiving scripts and projects from India regularly. The frequency has increased—what used to be one script every two months in 2008 has become two or three scripts a week today, he says.
Experts attribute this to a change in the way advertisers approach their projects. “The first priority is not cost, as much as it is ‘what will do justice to the idea’,” says Sneha Iype Varma, executive producer, Nirvana Films, which created the popular Zoozoo commercials for Vodafone. With escalating media costs, advertisers are more than willing to invest in an idea, she explains. “If you invest Rs40 crore on buying media on a property such as the Indian Premier League, the one thing you want to ensure is that your ads get you that attention,” she says.
K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India, agrees that “clients don’t fall off their chair when you discuss a Rs2 crore ad film any more.”
A case in point is the robot transformers ad by Leo Burnett India for Bajaj Auto Ltd’s DTSi bikes in 2009. The film was shot by Hollywood director Tarsem Singh of The Cell fame. It took over a year to complete and cost approximately $1 million (around Rs4.5 crore now). “When we started, we knew the ad had to be better than the Transformers movie,” says Sridhar. The film shows Bajaj bikes morphing into robots that play basketball.
Advertisers and agencies are increasingly sourcing the best available talent from across the globe. Production house Bang Bang Films flew in hairstylist Max Pinnell from New York and make-up artiste Collier Strong from Los Angeles for a L’Oreal shampoo ad with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
In some cases, brands are keen to invest in ads as a way of standing out in a competitive market. JWT India got action-adventure ad film-maker Bob Gordon to shoot its new Dar ke Aage Jeet Hai campaign for Mountain Dew in New Zealand. The ad features brand ambassador Salman Khan jumping off one of the highest peaks in New Zealand as part of an extreme adventure sport called wingsuit flying and cost an estimated Rs4 crore.
“At the end of the day, when there is a multi-crore project riding on this one thing, or one person, you just have to go out and get it done,” says Roopak Saluja, managing director and executive producer, Bang Bang Films, which recently shot the ad for the Slice mango drink with actor Katrina Kaif. The production house made six trips to Dubai to source mangoes, which were out of season in India. The ad cost around Rs2 crore, says an ad film-maker on condition of anonymity.
So how far would a production house go to get it right? Very far, as it turns out. One ad film-maker narrates how an American director, who had been brought in to shoot for a beverage brand, ate nothing but sushi. “So every day, someone would trek to the Four Seasons (hotel) to pick up these premium sushi bento boxes, each priced at approx. Rs8,000.” And it didn’t end there.
“During a recce in Pune, the sushi was escorted all the way there in an ice box.”
Appearing true to life is another aspect that film-makers and agencies are placing a premium on. While working on the ad for Saint Juices in 2009 with Nirvana Films and The Mill, Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of CLA, says they spent the first two months on the project “watching fruits and flowers grow”. The footage was sent to London for special effects which would show packets of Saint Juices sprouting in place of fruits. But much got lost in translation till finally, in a bid to explain exactly how the texture and process would look, Kurup flew a 1.5kg banana flower from Kerala to London. “They said they were yet to meet anyone who was so anal about detailing,” smiles Kurup. “I take it as a compliment.”