How we made a Viral-ad on a Shoe-String Budget
How we made a Viral-ad on a Shoe-String Budget
The Whole Truth of our first ever brand-ad
Our first ever Brand-ad. Click this pic if you haven’t seen it yet!
The Brand Ad
Perhaps the biggest, most expensive, and most carefully crafted piece of marketing communication that a brand manager ever creates.
Big stars, beautiful (overseas preferably) locations, famed directors and a budget that can run into crores — the brand ad is literally the main (and sometimes only) visual asset that the defines the brand for its consumers.
And in big FMCG companies, it can take over a year to go from concept to final product!
The entire TV advertising ecosystem revolves around this one format. Creative agencies bring their best copy writers, lyricists and creative visualisers to create that iconic ad that’ll win them a Cannes Lion. And in the process, hopefully sell a ton of product.
That’s how the smart marketeers do it!
Thankfully, no one ever accused us being either of those. So, when it came to making our first ever brand-ad, we chose to break each and every rule of ad-making.
Because one, we had to (no budgets). And two, only we could.
Come, let me take you behind the camera and lay bare of how we made this viral-ad on a shoe-string budget.
Concept & Script
I wrote the script. Sorry, scratch that. The script wrote itself.
This ad is literally ‘why we exist’, converted into a screenplay. We exist because for far-too long, food-brands have been lying to consumers. And the brand-ad of yore has been a big weapon in their arsenal.
So, we decided to use our ad to neutralize their main weapon.
My task was cut out. I just listed every trick they use — the slo-mo shot, the fake computer graphics (CGI), the sexy-lady licking drippy chocolate — and wrote a screenplay where each food-marketing myth we busted, also busted a visual trick that’s used to bring it alive.
It took me one day and zero iterations.
And no expensive scriptwriter or story-boarding software. You need those when you need to work around the truth. Not when you intend to get straight to it.
Yours truly. And his wooden face.
We couldn’t afford a star even if we wanted to. And that forced us to think about why brands use stars in the first place.
The answer — big names and famous faces are used as a distraction. When you want to shift focus from what’s being said to who is saying it.
Voila! Suddenly my meagre acting skills, wheatish complexion and receding hairline were all an advantage. Because chances were that the viewer would ignore me and focus on what I was saying!
Oh, and for the hot girl, I got my dear friend Mika to do it pro-bono. You might remember her from Gully Boy!
Mika practicing her lusty chocolate eating shot.
Mika on set with her cute baby boy, Jahaan (sorry folks). Me, my bald patch and Rachna (our Head of Product) in the background.
Btw Mika, along-with her husband Karan, also happens to be the co-founder of Harkat Studios. The most alt, alt performance space in Mumbai (perhaps India).
And oh, btw, Karan is the one who directed the video. Their entire team from Harkat pitched in. To be clear, Harkat doesn’t do brand ads. But then this isn’t a brand-ad.
Being directed by my best friend.
And did I mention, Karan happens to be my best friend from school. You see how the cosmos aligns when you set out to do something right!
Me acting confident in front of the camera. And my wooden face.
Next time you see a product-ad on TV, just notice the number of cuts.
Let’s say it’s a shampoo ad. You’ll go from:
Shot of Bollywood star with dandruff (right) → Shot of product → Shot of scalp → Shot of product removing dandruff from scalp → Shot of happy star with no dandruff → Shot of please buy now and get 20% discount.
Clearly, we couldn’t use any of these as inspiration. Instead, we turned to the Dollar Shave Club ad.
There’s something so refreshing about a normal dude talking straight to the camera in one continuous, unbroken narrative. It reeks of the truth. No embellishment, no trickery, no distractions.
We loved it. And we chose to be inspired by it. Proudly so.
Director Saab doing his thing, as our staff looks on in the background.
Car ads are shot in the Swiss Alps. Soap ads are shot under a scenic waterfall in Bali. Cola ads are shot in Barcelona by renting out entire football stadiums!
And we shot ours at Gala № 26, Samhita Complex, Saki Naka, Mumbai. That’s our production facility (or kitchen, as we like to call it).
Why? Because we were going to talk about food. What better place to shoot it at than where it’s actually made!
Not to mention, we already pay rent for this place (45k/month), so might as well milk it!
We wanted CG for just the opening shot. To, within the first 5 seconds, setup the visual trickery people use, and also dismantle it.
So, we found a cheap, dual green screen way of doing it. Check out this YT video that we learnt our ‘trick’ from.
In the same frame as the Gully Boy star. But no time for retakes 🙂
Extend a shoot beyond a day and the cost (including stay, equipment rental, staff salaries etc) more than doubles.
We shot our entire video in one long 12-hour shift. Of course, it helped that we weren’t searching for the perfect shot. We were all just speaking into the camera and saying the truth.
The entire Harkat crew
Ad films usually spend over a month in post-production. Ours took less than a week. And that too because we didn’t have an army of people working on it.
Unlike normal ads which need to play on TV and pay top dollar for IPL ad-spots, we didn’t have a 30-sec cut-off to meet. We were just telling a story. One, continuous, distraction-free story. However long it took.
Eventually it ended up taking a little under 2-minutes. Which would’ve been sacrilege in a big company. We, though, didn’t even discuss it once!
One of the 5 frames where we added a brand-touch
Infact, the only ‘brand-touch’ we added in post-production was the doodles to 5 frames (the folks over at Thought Over Design, who’ve helped us craft the brand, did this bit). That’s it.
Apart from that, the entire video is…well…just a video.
Release and Promotion
Our 2-day teaser campaign
Finally, our labor of love was ready. We’d gone from concept to end-product in 3 weeks. It was time to release our baby to the world and see how consumers reacted to it.
In a big-company this would mean a big-premiere, a PR blitzkrieg, the Bollywood star tweeting from their handle, and crores and crores spent on buying ad-spots.
For us, it meant doing a 2-day teaser campaign on Instagram where we have a small, tight-knit family. And then uploading the video on IGTV and YT a week ago. Done.
And then, it exploded
Here’s what’s happened in the week since we launched:
- 80K organic, unpaid views in the first 3 days
- >2000 organic shares on Instagram alone. And countless more on Whatsapp etc.
- Five big news outlets (including Business Insider, Business World & afaqs) have written about the ad (all unpaid)
- Karthik Srinivasan and Sreekanth Khandekar, folks we really, truly respect, have all organically posted and spoken about it.
Not to mention, the sea of lovely messages and emails that continue to pour in from across the country. Our customers writing in about how it’s the most-refreshing ad they’ve ever seen, and how they saw (this 2-minute ad) over and over again. How they even shared it on their family groups!
We’re just amazed by all the love. And are eternally grateful.
Also, if this doesn’t prove to big-FMCG that consumers are intelligent, thinking beings (not dimwits you can keep lying to), I don’t know what will.
It’s a wrap folks!
Thank you. For proving that the truth still works.
An Aside: Why could we pull it off?
More importantly. Why isn’t this a ‘repeatable model’ that every big company can replicate? Who wouldn’t want the same viewership outcomes at a fraction of the cost and time?
Well, I think you know the answer by now.
They can all do it, once they start speaking the truth. Then they won’t need the talent and the sets and the CG and the post-production budgets. Because then they won’t need the distraction.
But if they wish to continue lying to us, well then they better pay up for it.
PS: In all the pics where you see masks down — it’s either because folks were smiling for the camera, or because the people in frame have been in a social bubble with each other for months. We take COVID precautions very seriously at our production facility. We have over 50 staff members and we’ve had zero infections till date. Read about our food safety best-practices here.