Sohini Sen

The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs

Snapdeal's much talked about 40 TVC plan was a crazed race against time for the production house. And the media agency calls it "a media planning nightmare." We spoke to the people who made it possible.

How is an ad film created? Sleepless nights for creative agencies, production houses, media planners, and the brand team itself. And yet, ecommerce site Snapdeal decided to amplify the madness 40 times over... by planning a campaign with not one, not two, but 40 TVCs.

The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
Never minds lights. Diwali, it turns out, is the festival of noise, both off and online. In a move to outshout its competitors, Snapdeal decided to play the volume game - no pun intended - to lure pre-Diwali shoppers.

Thus, the grand plan to create 40 TVCs starring 28 celebrities (mostly 'GEC celebrities', if you will) was hatched. They include TV stars like Palak and dadi (popular characters from Comedy Nights with Kapil, Alok Nath (Bollywood's eternal Babuji), cricket expert Harsha Bhogle, and actors like Rana Daggubati, Radhika Apte, Krushna Abhishek, Pulkit Samrat, Rashi Khanna and Lavanya Tripathi.

Though most of the celebs are faces that rule the Hindi GEC space, the commercials are being aired on channels other than Hindi GECs. Snapdeal, we gather, has gone beyond targeting just the Hindi speaking markets. The brand's TG also includes the "upwardly mobile" from smaller towns across India - people who are just about beginning to shop online. This is why some of the ads feature faces otherwise seen on regional GECs.

Of the 36 videos already doing the rounds (the rest will follow), 21 are in regional languages (at least four each in Tamil and Telugu). None of the ads is dubbed; all have been shot separately. The production team hired the services of four professional "language supervisors" for this campaign.

Behind The Scenes: Looking Through The Production Lenses

The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
On the production side of things, it was "strategic thinking" that this feat possible, we learn from Khalil Bachooali, founder, Offroad Films, the production house that executed the mammoth campaign.

This, we believe, was the "fastest turnaround job for Offroad Films," which went smoothly enough to "have 15 films ready to go on-air even before the rest were shot."

"More than just the number of TVCs, it was the number of stars, with their different storylines, different sets and different costumes - along with the fact that everything had to be taken to market very quickly - that was a hassle," Bachooali tells afaqs!, in conversation about the effort.

And guess what. The team was being led by just one director, Punit Malhotra.

"The films have been directed keeping the characters in mind, not the actors," Malhotra says. The backdrop and costumes are Diwali-flavored, quite visibly so. And his team, we learn, used "high definition printouts," on a vinyl (plain) background, which were then re-coloured to give what he calls an "animated" feel to the video.

Real props and lights added to the flavor. Since the use of celebrities was the big draw, mid and close-up shots were used, explains Malhotra. However, he is quick to add that because it was equally important to show the ambience, "a certain number of wides (wide shots) were used too."

When it comes to a game of sheer volumes, it is easy to slip into autopilot. But the production company tells us that the team was very clear it could not afford to slip into what it calls a "machine-line thought process."

"The biggest challenge for us was quickly switching from one film and target audience to another completely different one," admits Bachaooali, adding, "At one point we were shooting with Rana (Daggubati, Telugu actor) and Alok Nath on four different sets, back to back. While one actor was changing his costume, we would go and shoot with the other, and then come back to shoot with the first one, on a new set, while the other one changed his outfit... We travelled 3,500 km from North to South within minutes!"

This technique allowed the production team to shoot all the campaigns within five days, and wrap up the post-production work over the next 20-25 days.

On an average, they took an hour to shoot each film. Compare this to a normal one-film campaign: it takes anywhere between an hour to a day to shoot a single ad film.

The campaign required new sets for almost all the stars. In all, around 33 sets were built for all 40 films put together. Though some sets were repeated across films, the props were changed.

The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
Each of the 40 videos was not based on an entirely new concept. Rather, the videos were crafted around few key points such as extra savings, buy-one-get-one offer, bumper sale and the promise of product originality. However, some of the bigger stars like Alok Nath, Palak and Rana Daggubati, appear in more videos than the others - Snapdeal's way of cashing in on their popularity.

"We wanted to talk about Snapdeal in an unprecedented way. Snapdeal is now in the big three. What we do now must match our ambition. While ideas floated around, we needed to do something that is not just informative but entertaining too," said Sanjay Tandon, chief operating officer, FCB Ulka, the creative agency behind the campaign.

A Media Planning Nightmare

Talking about the campaign, Ashish Bhatnagar, managing director, North, Omnicom Media Group, tells afaqs!, "It was a planning nightmare more than a buying one. If I say the challenge for planning two-three TVCs is at 100, this would have easily been at 180-200. Most of these challenges are related to algorithmic planning."

Bhatnagar explains that in a "multiple creative scenario" such as this one, planning and scheduling become the central challenges. Each TVC's effectiveness can be measured by a resultant increase in organic traffic/sales. Thus, getting the best messaging per geography becomes critical.

In all, over 1,300+ TV spots were booked (per day), of which around 200-300 spots (again, per day) were for the regional ads. The rest were for the Hindi ads.

The TV campaign was supported by digital, OOH and print ads.

View From The Outside

The Story Behind Snapdeal's 40 TVCs
Jitender Dabas, executive vice president, planning, McCann Erickson, says, "To me it looks more like a media strategy than a communication strategy... an attempt at media domination through celebrity faces and carpet bombing. Normally, when multiple TVCs are used, the intent is to extend a single message through multiple executions, but here it doesn't seem to go much beyond announcement. I don't see the continuity thread across these executions."

Of course, one can't deny the fact that such 'bulk campaigns', apart from being cost-effective, also ensure that maximum people end up catching at least few of the commercials. Others feel this might be the start of a bigger, flashier trend in the e-commerce space.

Still others decode this as a blind quantity-over-quality play. McCann's Dabas cautions, "Much of what is happening in the online retail space right now involves venture capital being burnt to outshout competition. May be it is bringing a lot of online buyers to the sites in the festive season, but I don't think it has started building differentiated brands yet. I believe this would be a very expensive strategy in the medium-to-long term."

Have news to share? Write to us