A casual browsing of news websites or the newspaper throws a flurry of press ad campaigns your way. There’s an Ayushmann Khurrana and Kriti Sanon ad of Magic Bricks that convinces you that changing address can change your life, while the other ‘attention-grabbing’ ads sink without trace. What makes this ad stand out and etch in your memory, even if you haven’t watched its TVC (television commercial)? Nope, it’s not a masterpiece of sorts, but still stands out. Why?
There’s a ‘story’ there. A couple who is probably looking for their own space and they find solace in a new address (deduced this before watching its TVC). Or is it just the stars’ magic at work, hence the higher recall value? Methinks, we as an audience have evolved beyond being star struck and identify more with the stories and characters. In fact, Ayushmann Khurana’s skyrocketing career graph vis-à-vis the Khan films in 2018 is a testimony to the fact that content rules the roost and characters are bigger than stars.
Ideally, press ads are follow-ups to the TVC, a sort of reminder, just like the hoardings and radio spots, reminiscent of the greater narrative. Having worked in the advertising industry for over 16 years as copywriter, one often wonders why we don’t get to do storytelling in press ads, as a medium. We begin with a hurriedly written brief by postmasters; nope we don’t have the luxury of having client servicing execs, but postmasters who shuffle between the client and the studio with the sole purpose of ‘getting things done on time’.
Sadly, most of the advertising agencies believe in timely delivery than the right communication. Creative Brief formats are almost alien to most of the advertising agencies, often avoided like plague. Pardon the rant, but the point I am driving home is that copywriters often double up as a client servicing execs, furnishing the brief to explain oneself and then begins the work. The visual is just a line, again admittedly written with a vague idea that reads as ‘A smiling family against the backdrop of a home’.
This visual reference is meekly adhered to by the design team, as they know exactly what is required to be done. A pun here and there, a few ‘luxurious’ amenities thrown in good measure as bullet points accentuated with some fancy illustrations to accompany (Not in the body copy, mind you – Nobody reads body copy and it’s just a design element to ‘balance’ the layout).
Lo and behold, the ad is ready. A perfect family smiling the perfect smile residing in the perfect home and selling you the perfect dream at a perfect price. Client is happy, client servicing is all smiles and the creative team relieved, despite knowing it quite well that the ad will go down the annals as yet another real estate or any sector ad for that matter, with a half day’s shelf life (Who reads papers post lunchtime?). All in a day’s work, every day, with the sole motivation being of ‘Salary credited’ message every month.
Now the elusive question is: What’s your ‘story’? Who is this perfect family? What are their likes and dislikes? Is this their first home, and how much does this decision matter to them? Do the young kids really care, or are they already applying for a New Zealand visa? Does the grandfather have any ailments? Is there anything called a perfect dream home? The stock image offers no such answer. Heck, I have seen ‘darkening’ the ‘white skin’ of stock images to make the model seem Indian (Indian pics aren’t free, you know). The headline doesn’t bother itself much. The body copy doesn’t matter anyway. The bullet points and ‘call to action’ are salesmen awaiting the reader’s call. The ‘story’ has no place for existence.
Truth to be told, every stock image looks exactly the same, just the faces change. Is there an untold ‘story’ behind that stock image face? What if we dig a bit deeper? Well, the client’s budget may not grant us the luxury of doing a TVC, but would it hurt if one weaved a story around the press ad campaign and tell stories instead of creating templates? Will the client servicing ever bother to go that extra mile? And the million dollar question: Will the client approve?
John Caples, the author or rather ‘prophet’ of the Copywriting Bible, ‘Tested advertising methods’, when wrote the ad, 'They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play!' for US School of Music, knew that the ad wasn't just about selling piano lessons. It captured the imagination of his target audience with a promise of enriching experience at an emotional level, something that others would like to emulate and experience. More importantly, despite having a ‘too long headline’, the ad is still revered and celebrated by every copywriter worth his/her ink. What makes it still resonate with the readers? You guessed it right – It’s the ‘story’.
Before starting out as a copywriter, I used to work with Barista and vividly remember the Store Manager telling us – Remember, we are not selling coffee here. We are selling a concept and creating stories. It’s time the advertising fraternity turns into storytellers from salesmen. After all, every good salesman is first a good storyteller. We need to understand the difference between the two.
While writing advertisements for jewellery, real estate, car, mobile phone, spectacles, apparel, tourism, let’s not forget to up the emotional quotient, perhaps the story of how a sales staff keeps saving for a particular jewellery item that he avoids showing his customers, so that he can buy it for his future daughter-in-law, of a son and daughter-in-law jokingly threatening their parents to send them off to an old age home, only to surprise them with a special home for the senior citizens so that they can enjoy their privacy ala Ayushmann Khurana and Kriti Sanon, or maybe a group of male friends cheering up their heartbroken friend and encouraging him to show up at his ex’s wedding in a casual wear to drive home a point.
Guess what, you don’t always need the elusive big-budget TVCs to narrate such stories. Why not a five-minute radio spot at the same budget of front page ads to tell a story of a guy whose life changed with a new hearing aid?
So, what’s your story?
(The author is a copywriter by profession, a poet by passion, an author by chance, a weekend filmmaker by choice. He can be reached on email@example.com)
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Rao is currently CEO of dentsuMB Group India