How Many Ad Films are too Many in a Campaign?

28 Oct,2020


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Brands make multiple television or digital video commercials (TVC/DVC in short,  referred hereafter as ad films) to engage their audience and deliver the message. They are mostly various expressions of the same idea. So, how many ad films should a brand make? Or, how does the team decide how many should be made? Or, why create a series of ad films? That is not counting the edits and adaptations into regional languages.



Why Multiple Ad Films?


There are possibly so many highly logical reasons that may push the client and the creative to look for multiple ad films:


• The client believes in iterative expressions.

• There is a budget to make multiple ad films.

• The creative is of the point of view that the concepts need clarity.

• The media agency needs it to keep the audience engaged when the ad frequency is high.

• The campaign runs aggressively across a property like IPL, and hence audience gets bored faster.

• To take advantage of economies of scale in production.

• To justify the high fee of a celebrity.

• The communication aims to change behaviour and hence more ad films.

• The concept is so disruptive that we better have more ad films to explain.

• The idea is so strong that it demands multiple ad films.

• The idea is weak, and with multiple ad films, we minimise risk.


I am stopping listing reasons knowing that there could be many more for such a strategic decision. But the questions kept bugging me, and soon I found myself with my dear friend, consultant Vermajee, the Management Guru. Last Friday, over Antiquity Blue topped with chilled No 1 club soda, served in steel glasses, I got enlightened on the subject. Being Navratri, drinking was banned at home. So, we parked his SUV under a banyan tree on the Western Express Highway within sight of a ‘No Parking Zone’ sign and chewed on the subject along with Faldhari Chiwda. Vermajee shared his gyaan and opened my eyes. He usually does have that impact on me.


Ad Films Earlier – Vermajee’s Time


Some few decades back, when Vermajee was part of the agency circus, the brands were happy with one TVC at a time. Maybe one TVC per season. Some TVCs lasted many seasons over TV, Cinema and Rural Vans.


It was not the creative teams lacked ideas. The act of making a TVC was time-consuming and very painful. You had to really work hard. Work in detail. Post work was astronomically costly. Budgets were sacrosanct and less clutter in the media. The clients as usual finicky and khadoos, wanting a Merc at the cost of a Maruti.


The client today is no different. Even then, they did not understand that creative and advertising was an investment, not an expense. They fail to see, it is better to invest in good creative even at the cost of the media budget and expose it a less number of times. Cutting production budget, making an average TVC and exposing it more number of times is a bad idea.


Yes, some clients made TVC throughout the year. If you made a judgmental error in one, there was not much to worry as the next TVC was on its way.


However, we were absolutely sure of our craft but a bit unsure of consumer understanding. The research was used as the master key for campaign support and approvals. The scripts and even at times the edits were pre and post researched. It was too costly to change anything at a later stage, not that changes did not happen.


Vermajee Gyaan


Vermajee explained the difference between episodic series (procedural) and serialised ad films. He reiterated the need to judge an ad film more on strategy and impact, likeability, memory and engagement than anything else. He empathised on the law of marginal returns. Vermajee said: “the client and creative along with media must risk raising the question about the number of Ad films and must stop when they stop adding value to the campaign”.


The Case of Multiple Ad Films


Here, the same story is repeated with a slight twist or a change of character. Each of the films is complete, and you don’t lose much, not watching all of them collectively or in a particular series.


The recent Cred communication is an example. Film celebrities like Anil KapoorMadhuri Dixit and Bappi Lahiri audition for Cred. They perform in their signature styles but are rejected. They are so overexposed that one completely forgets the Cred ad of last year, which is more explanation-based.


People question the creativity in the Cred campaign. There is a huge awareness buildup for Cred, and the single-minded message is clearly established. I don’t have data for app downloads and usage. Recently, we saw  Alka Yagnik– Udit Narayan auditioning, which makes me think that the brand missed an opportunity in using influencers and UGC.

In another version of this, you have the same proposition and intent but the playground and the story changes. The episodes remain independent and complete in themselves. It works brilliantly with a simple message and some emotional engagement.

Dream11 seems to have been successful in campaigns in this style of multiple ad films. Dream11 last year #YehGameHaiMahan with multiple fils – Bush or pipelineDhobighatold friends etc. pr the campaign #kheloDimaagsey. This year the Dream11 campaign #YehApnaGameHai features DhoniShikarRohit and others.

One of the best examples of it is Thanda Matlab Coke. Here Aamir Khan played different roles from the Punjabi farmerPahadi guide, to Bengali babu and some more. Well, one can not forget the ZooZoos.


The Serialised Ad Film

Here the multiple ad films that are following a pre-defined narrative. There is a link between them. Sometimes subtle and sometimes overt. They are best watched in series or totality.

The story moves forward with each ad film, keeping the audience engaged in the campaign. There is a surprise packet of what next. The character layers get unravelled with time.

Some years back we saw Amazon  Chokpur cheetahs; India Ke Sapno Ki Apni Dukkan. A small town bunch of cricket players and their coach. The ad films are still remembered with films like Dhyani’s BirthdayIntroduction, Kab Khelenge 2020 and official song among others.

Nowadays we are seeing something of serialised ad films by PhonePe ads featuring Aamir Khan and Aliya Bhat. The Chaiwala,  Kiskepass, safety and more. This time, the functionality is overpowering, it is making its point, and the interplay of characters is excellent. However, will it really become a true serialised ad film set is yet to be seen?


The best I have seen in the Indian context is Tata Sky Chota Recharge. The campaign kept the audience glued. In fact, they were rooting for the teenagers to meet and love to blossom. The brand message delivered simply. In such cases, when the audience gets hooked, they want more of it.

 The attempts of true serialised campaigns have been far and few. Such creative requires commitment and a willingness to carry the collective risk. But like gambling, the response and gains are equally large. 


Reminder: How Many Ad Films?

:: Always look at multiple Ad Film from Brand and the strategy point of view.

:: Always evaluate the content and multiple ad films in the context of the newness of the message, brand, service, media budgets and complexity or simplicity of communication.


Invest in creative development even at the cost of media budgets. An excellent creative product exposed less will always pay back far more than a bad/mediocre/average creative exposed more number of times.

Evaluate from consumer interest engagement point of view than the jury and judges at the awards point of view.

No need to make more films just because you have a good script. As you may end up hitting marginalised returns and underexpose other films.

Go ahead and do multiple ad films if they really add to the brand message understanding or clarity, emotions and association.

Maybe Dream11 did not need all the films and Cred could benefit from serialised rather than a series of films. Perhaps, the client-agency-media teams on these brands know better the reason for multiple ad films, and when did they hit the curve of marginalised decreasing returns or maybe they can do with some more films.

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