Storytelling Unlimited?!

03 May,2017


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Who doesn’t love storytelling? I love the stories, where a chapter is closed in duality compounding the ambiguity. It forces the reader to acknowledge the power it wields, and the reader ends up turning the page for more. How many times have I been held captive by such narrative, ending up finishing the it in one seating!

In marketing, a few adventurous brands have taken the plunge and have braved the risk of storytelling through definitive episodic chapters, revealing the story through a series of films exposed in a  slow pre-determined gaps. They try to  hold the audience, tease a bit, have fun, create that extra bit of engagement and involvement to extend the campaign.

After the advent of digital and fast buildup of a video addicted audience, I expected brands to create web-alone series. It did not happen. You can’t blame the marketing head, the brand manager or the agencies in isolation for not taking the expected step in natural evolution.

Few brands ventured into this space of serialised or sequential storytelling campaigns, where each standalone episode (AV*) is part of a larger social reflection or a bigger story. The recent campaign by Amazon ‘Chonkpur Cheetah’ is an example of such thinking. The story of the team getting its supplies, finding a female wicket keeper and a lucky charm has its own share of smiles. There is also a  series Chonkpur ke Chowk se where you find interview with Bret Lee , a Rap face with the coach and the team meeting with the nutrition specialist.



I think digital will push the creators and the curators towards simplified storytelling format and highly rich video content. Sequential approach of story telling will soon have its glory.

At this stage, I must differentiate between ‘Sequential Advertising’ and ‘Multiple Execution’. Sequential advertising is when each of the advertising messages (episode**) builds on the last episode and lays the foundation for the next. Like a novel, each episode is part of the same story. Sequential advertising is multiple executions with character and storyline continuity. The characters evolve with the audience and have a continuity in their expression, attitude and behavior.

The one brand that has experimented with sequential communication is Tata Sky. And they got it largely right with Chotta Recharge. Here is the compilation of ads that slowly revealed the story and naughty innocent playfulness between a shopkeeper’s son and a girl who would come everyday for the eight-rupee recharge.



If I am right, this was primarily a TV campaign. In a digital space, such communication may seem like slowburner but most likely will get the relevant revenue generating clicks.

On the other hand, the ZooZoo campaign of Vodafone can be termed sequential because it involved central characters that were same. Even as they were very standalone.



Here is another very sequential communication from Airtel and the life of the now-famous Airtel Girl. The same ads demonstrate part of her life and interacts to deliver the brand promise of widest network, MyPlan, One app to the fastest network….



Here is my favourite. Voltas Murthy. The loveable South Indian who is transferred across India. He is exposed to different climatic conditions, but he is not let down by his all weather Voltas AC. Slowly with the episodes (TVCs) you get to know the family, including his in-laws. It is very ‘slice of life’ presentation that makes you love the character, and the message gets delivered.

He is a character who has survived seasons. This year, he is riding the low-power consumption message. And by the way, he is now president of the housing society.

There is another Aamir Khan campaign with Gul Panag for Tata Sky, an example of a sequential campaign.

Multiple Executions is the standard default mode for the agencies. It has been the safest and the easiest way out. Here the same brand proposition or promise is presented in different episodes. These episodes stand alone, and they do not inform, establish or impact the next one. They are conceptually same. The characterisation changes. They are like an anthology; the central theme or proposition remains confined to narrow possibilities but the episode / incident, incident or story celebrates widely different framework.

Here is a legendary communication that enthralled audience when it was released. The ‘Thanda Matlab Coke’ campaign. Aamir Khan acts as Bengali Babu, Manu Bhabhi episode, Jat and Japanese and others bringing a definitive smile in the face of audience and helping establishing the brand proposition.



Sequential storytelling in advertising can be effectively used for brand awareness, and perception built up. It can be very effective for action driven or conversion campaigns.

If crafted rightly it can leverage huge engagement and involvement for a new brand entering the communication and audience-relationship space.

Today, everyone is a storyteller, a content creator and/or curator. Most of them are conversant or rather addicted to the audio-video format.

Sequential ads can have more impact. However, to get them right, needs a deep focused understanding of the target audience, prosumers and influencers. The opportunity lies in slowly unveiling multiple layered brand promises in a collective conspiracy with the audience.

The art lies not allowing a sharp funneling of audiences. You cannot afford for a slice of consumers to drop at every new episode. In fact, new audience must be added to the franchise.

It is only possible if each episode is complete in itself and yet makes you want to know what happens next. It is like TV soaps that leave you with an ending which pushes you to come and watch their next episode.

To create this magic, the advertising creative and media agencies and the client need solid in-depth understanding of their audience. Then only will the audience will enjoy and move with the story.

I am aware that sequential campaigns need smart creative execution and media budgets to back it. I believe that impact of such media and creative constraints can only be softened and not eliminated completely.

Digital platform gives you multiple advantages in this space of the sequential campaign.

It allows for a sequential static campaign that could be developed with still frames. The sequential campaign can be targeted geographically and filtered on attitude and physiographic segmentation. Proper execution can profitably prime the audience before reminding them of hard sell on social platforms. You can control the sequence of episode exposure. So, the audience can see the nth episode only if they have watched the n-1 episode. Moreover, you can control the twist in the story as per segments and / or mood of the audience. Is this freedom really a constraint?

There is no straight answer to the question whether a sequential campaign is better than multiple execution campaigns? Will it work or not? And the risks associated with them are poles apart. In multiple executions, one can control the exposure of the versions according to the audience reaction, whereas in the sequential campaign you are almost committed on the front foot. Hence, the brands with better understanding, kind of self-assured and willingness to experiment will be the first one to use sequential campaign to its fullest advantage.

There are no set rules and templates available for sequential advertising. One needs to experiment with it. Every brand, and category will have to find the format, storylines and patterns that is engaging the audience. Meanwhile, the brand will have to remain true to its promise. This requires the brand to speak the same language across mediums.



* I am using a term AV to overlap between TVCs of 30-45 or max 1 minute and Digital Films, which normally are of a longer duration. ** episode represented separate pieces of communication. They may or may not be f the same duration. 

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