Sanjeev Kotnala: Tell A Story to Deliver The Brand Message Right

10 Sep,2014

By Sanjeev Kotnala


India has three religions: Cricket, Cinema and Religion, not necessarily in that order. All of them are full of stories, characters and personalities. The viewers and followers (audience) fall in love with the story and the characters in them. Yet we have been more focused on the message than the story. Once we correct this anomaly, the brand message and brand cut-through will automatically happen in our communication.


Look at Sholay, Kabhi Kabhie, Dabang and even Bheja Fry. Look at the last ball win and the tandav of an inning by Sehwag. Try understanding the matches you remember. Feel the engagement of blockbuster Mahabharata and the power of a dramatic message delivery in the Gita or the well-crafted real life characters in Ramayana. Look at your own first love and may be your last love. They are all characters brought alive with memories and impactful small stories (episodes). An integral part of our relationship with them and it logically should hold true for the ads we produce.


The scenario is not so bad. Some brands do reflect a brilliant understanding of it. We smile with All Weather Voltas AC Murthy. We debate the Airtel; ‘Boss Can Cook’ and share a smile with Airtel ‘Soon to be Married’ TVC.


Is there something special about them?


And the answer is simple. They don’t overtly sell a brand proposition, message or benefit. It gets delivered silently and effectively. We don’t have to exert to relate to the situations. They bring smile to our face without intellectually challenging our thought process and social norms.


They are a treat to watch. We savour the mood enhancement delivered by them and fall in love with the characters. We react violently if the future script fails our expectations. Remember the famous K serials and their art of reviving dead even after cementation.


These story-centric TVCs give us a ringside view to the episode in the life of the character. Take the Murthy example. He is our next-door neighbour with a south Indian tone. He has been transferred many times over and every time his Voltas AC saves him from the weather and other elements including his father-in-law test. The stories are all about his experience and the advice is woven into it. He leaves the thought with us and waits for the BUY penny to drop. So much so, that few Non-Voltas AC owners can be expected to seek or recommend ‘Murthy wala’ or Voltas AC.


We have been friends with Murthy for long. Slowly his wife and then his father-in-law made were introduced. We are slowly coming to know of this endearing family. Maybe later his sister-in-law, his mother-in-law, brother and sister will join. The south Indian pronunciation and slow dialogue delivery add trust to message delivery and comprehension in North India too. Hats off to the creative team, casting director, the scriptwriter and the client. There is a lot of juice still left in Murthy for creative to exploit. And on top of that Murthy and wife are a loving couple, who can lend themselves to newer roles.


The simplest of the stories address the Smallest Consumer Unit (SCU) around which the life of the customer revolves. It is not an individual but a complex set of relationships defined as family. They are like the Kilo Bots. The individual mind, taste and experiences fighting, pleading, debating and trying to convince at the same time. Every SCU (family) member takes on roles as per the demand of the situation. They are the opinion-makers, influencers, customer, consumer, early/late adapters and the buzz creator. Our story and characters must be friends with them to go past their logical and emotional test.


Life after all is a long story comprising many short episodes.


Unfortunately, the creative process is usually trapped in discussion of under and over delivery of brand message(s), the pack shot, the flowing hair, the hold of soap, the revolving mobile and so on. It should give equal focus to the character, relationships, story and dialogues.


Kurkurey, Maggi, ZooZoos and Jago Re do this brilliantly. Add the Airtel ‘couple ad’ to the list, where, we voyeuristically become part of their love talk. We smile when she with a perfect expression says ‘Hum Raat Bhar Baatey karengey’ or the doubt ‘Ha sahi kar rahey hai’ question at the nth hour. Such relationships are rich in language, cultural and even play with stereotypes allowing for a creative riot. Airtel brand has an opportunity to build on the story with episodic unveiling of their experiences. Show us the life progression as a story ( the soap of TVCs) while strongly delivering the desired message & experience. You tell the story right – to deliver the brand message right.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst, P1P2Solutions. He can be reached at


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