A heart-shaped locket breaks. Actors Priyanka Chopra and Saif Ali Khan walk off in opposite directions, each with one half of the locket. Three years pass before they meet again. Only, this time, instead of the broken locket, Khan has another actor, Neha Dhupia, hanging around his neck.
Bollywood’s next big release? No, this is actually an ad for Pond’s, a brand owned by Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL).
Advertising and marketing folks call efforts such as these ad novellas—commercials that tell a story much like a novel does, chapter by chapter. They are a new phenomenon in India, although several global brands have used them occasionally in other markets.
Chapter 1 of the Pond’s campaign, designed around a Bollywood star cast and a fictitious movie titled Kabhi Kabhi Pyar Mein..., first aired on 1 June. It ended with a devastated Chopra noticing a Pond’s TV commercial for a skin whitening cream.
The campaign was aired on 46 channels including major Hindi general entertainment channels, niche as well as regional channels. The first episode is 45-second long, and new episodes will be aired every 15 days.
“Every episode leaves you at that point where you want to know what happens next,” says Zenobia Pithawalla, senior creative director at Ogilvy and Mather Pvt. Ltd, the ad agency that designed the campaign.
The rest of the story will play out over the next few months and viewers will be able to see, in true Bollywood style, how Chopra transforms herself from an ugly duckling to a beautiful woman.
Typically, an advertisement that exalts the benefits of its components helps the entire category and there is little scope for a brand’s message to grab consumer attention, say experts.
So, when HUL decided to launch its new Pond’s White Beauty range, it chose to go with an episodic format that would help the products stand out, rather than merge into the multitude of skin care product ads flaunting new formulations, technologies and benefits.
“The idea was to weave in the thematic concept of romance with the product proposition in a manner which is interesting for the consumer,” said a spokesperson for HUL.
While the average duration of a television commercial is anywhere up to 30 seconds during the launch period, ad novellas tend to be longer.
And Indian audiences are culturally completely tuned into Bollywood and, more recently, to prime time soap operas.
“You switch on the television to watch programmes, not ads, so there is likely to be higher interest in a similar format,” says K.V. Sridhar, national creative director at Leo Burnett India. “However, once they realize that it’s an advertisement, they will only forgive you for the disruption if it is entertaining. Otherwise, it could backfire very badly,” he says.
Still, ad novellas are a sure-fire way to prevent viewers from zapping out ads, especially those repeated often to promote brand recall.
Internationally, the novella format has been used extensively by brands on television as well as digital mediums such as mobile and online. In 2001, German car maker BMW AG released The Hire, a series of five short films by world renowned directors. Each of the films, made on ad film budgets, highlighted the performance of BMW automobiles.
Skincare brand Smooth–E won several awards, including a gold Cannes Lion in 2006, for its popular ad novella, which showed a sales lady offering a young woman advice on her love life. Telling a story can work in multimedia campaigns, too. Beverage maker Diageo Plc.’s campaign for its Johnnie Walker scotch whiskey brand featured an online graphic novel, complete with flash animation and interactive features to forward the theme of self-betterment.
However, experts have a word of caution for those hoping to use this format in India. “While the format is interesting, engaging and unique, the success of the campaign will lie in its ability to overcome challenges that are unique to the Indian market,” says Chandradeep Mitra, president of Mudra MAX.
Mitra maintains that in a market where co-branded promotions for films are a common phenomenon, it would be easy for a consumer to mistake the ad for a movie promo. And it would be difficult for consumers to piece together the entire story, considering the level of media fragmentation.
“Unless the campaign is really planned well, the message is likely to be lost in the overall confusion,” says Mitra.