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Can a 3-min 'Prison break' imprison viewers?

23-April-2013
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Can a 3-min 'Prison break' imprison viewers?

Urging customers to go ahead and ask questions about the brand’s offers through the ‘Poochne mein kya jata hai’ campaign to Aamir Khan donning a new avatar ranging from Sodhiji to the milkman, Tata Sky’s ads have been a perfect blend of humour and worthy insights. In an attempt to break the clutter, Tata Sky has launched a new commercial titled ‘Prison break’ that is on its way into the Limca Book of Records for being the longest TV commercial to be telecast in the history of Indian advertising, with a run-time of 210 seconds or 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather, along with Vivek Kakkad, Director, Curious Films, it is a fast-paced commercial shot with an international cast and crew in an actual prison in Hungary.

After extensive research, it was found that working professionals do not have time to watch TV because of late working hours. Hence, it was challenging for the brand to provide an engaging story to help customers get glued to Tata Sky. The brand wants to target new customers in the 38 cities wherein digitisation is taking place.

Commenting on the new commercial, Vikram Mehra, Chief Marketing Officer, Tata Sky said, “Advertising is all about storytelling that has to be engaging, interesting and compelling. It made us choose a script of 210 seconds. The campaign idea was based on the insight that people these days do not find any time to watch television. Tata Sky+ HD, with its recording feature allows busy people to record their favourite programmes and watch them at leisure. In other words, it’s ‘For those who don’t have time to watch TV’.”

Tata Sky is promoting the campaign through digital and on-ground activations such as product demonstrations. It is an appropriate time to launch the commercial because of the IPL cricketing fever and the upcoming vacations.

The story revolves around a bunch of foreign convicts imprisoned in an Indian jail. These convicts conspire to escape when they realise that a cricket match is being played between India and Pakistan, assuming that the match would keep the Indian guards and the jailer occupied. But when the jailer and his men intercept their escape, the convicts are fumbled by what kind of Indian doesn’t watch such an epic match. That’s when the clincher kicks in – ‘a hard working Indian’, who with Tata Sky+ HD can record it and watch it at his own time.

The ad crosses the traditional 30-second mark but there are doubts about the response of the audience to the campaign that is expensive in both, production and broadcast terms. Critics have raised questions such as: Will the ad be able to grab audience at a time of narrowing attention spans? When marketers are cutting down their ad spends, is it a safe bet by Tata Sky? What is the need for a 210 seconds ad when the story can be conveyed in 30 seconds?

Abraham Koshy, Professor, Marketing, IIM Ahmedabad said, “This kind of a communication is done to reduce customer attrition and to gain new customers from switching to more attractive packages. With digitisation emerging as the compulsory mode, the market is forced to expand so it might help the brand gain newer customers.”

On the feasibility of launching a long commercial, he added, “If a brand can tell a story in 30 seconds, it should stick to the format rather than having a 3-minute ad because it becomes boring and will not have repetitive viewership. This will force consumers to switch to other channels deliberately. However, people watching it for the first time might like it.”

According to him, people don’t mind viewing these short films because the cost of swapping the channel is higher. “By the time a viewer switches to another channel to skip the 20 seconds ad, the programme might start. In that way, the viewer is forced to see the commercial in a passive manner,” he explained.

He believed that as the market has opened up and digitisation has become compulsory, it is an appropriate time to launch this kind of a commercial. It is a logical move by Tata Sky to spend money on this ad. However, 3 minutes or 30 seconds remains a debatable point.

After airing the full film for a week, 60 seconds to 75 seconds spots will run for two to six weeks on various channels including Star World, AXN, NDTV Good Times, Zee Cafe, Zee Studio, Fox Entertainment, Fox Crime, etc. The TVC will also be screened in theatres.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm said, “Brands are constantly trying to do something that makes them different. This ad has certainly attracted attention and created a difference from the usual 30 seconds spot. In this highly cluttered space, advertising is a point of differentiation between one product and the other. Given that it is an interesting gimmick because they have their own Channel 100 that will play the commercial. Hence, their problem is not as severe as any other category launching a commercial of more than 3 minutes. It’s probably a safer bet for them than someone who has to buy the media because they can keep playing it on their own platform whereas any other brand can play such a long commercial only on YouTube.”

“However, a brand doesn’t need a 3-minute ad to tell a story. Do you think Surf Excel doesn’t have a story when it says stains are good in just 20-second to 30-second spots or Idea hasn’t told a story ever in 20 seconds,” he added.

Though it is a smart move by Tata Sky to launch the ad when digitisation is around the corner, but even a 30-second spot can be equally compelling and engaging. So why not keep the pockets tight and ride on the 30 seconds flight?

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