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It is the script, not the star, stupid!

By Sandeep Goyal
November 15, 2019 10:00 IST
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'Virat Kohli features in 25 campaigns, Ranveer Singh in 24, Akshay Kumar in 22, Deepika Padukone in 20, Ranbir Kapoor in 13, M S Dhoni in 12, Amitabh Bachchan in 12, Alia Bhatt in 11... but not one celebrity campaign is a sizzler,' says ad guru Sandeep Goyal.

IMAGE: The Oppo ad featuring Katrina Kaif, Ranbir Kapoor and Badshah. Photograph: Kind courtesy Oppo

Everybody and anybody that you speak to in the communications business invariably tells you, 'content is king'.

If content is actually king, why is so little attention being focused onto its creation?

How come there are no real big ideas in advertising these days?

No great campaigns everyone is talking about?

No long-form digital ads that charm and engage?

No social media memes that have us chuckling?

No television serials that are becoming an addiction?

No over-the-top (OTT) content everyone is raving about?

Instead, the formula to instant success seems to be to hire a famous film star or cricketer; assemble a collage of pictures or string together some slice-of-life situations; overlay a liberal dose of 'evocative' poetry or a song; have the star say a few inane dialogues or better still dance.

And you have a lazy quick-fix.

Virat Kohli currently features in 25 such campaigns, Ranveer Singh in 24, Akshay Kumar in 22, Deepika Padukone in 20, Ranbir Kapoor in 13, M S Dhoni in 12, Amitabh Bachchan in 12, Alia Bhatt in 11... but not one celebrity campaign in media today is a sizzler.


Because we in the communications business have conveniently forgotten that it is the script that makes great advertising, not just the presence of a star.

In the script versus star trade-off (if one is possible), the script wins every time, in fact time after time.

There are some basic lessons agencies and clients need to learn about script-writing, simple rules that need to be adhered to whether you are writing an ad or creating content, including branded content -- the Five Ss -- 1. Story; 2. Storytelling; 3. Structure; 4. Sequences; 5. Spine.

Sometimes a sixth S -- Spin.

First to the story.

A progression of events is called a plot.

How the main character or the hero/heroine encounters this progression of events, supporting-negating-challenging his/her ability to overcome the odds and achieve goals -- the internal triumph and the external struggle -- is what essentially constitutes a story.

Storytelling is how the story is told.

This is more a process, less a formula.

Storytelling hinges on first deciding what is the story about; where does it begin; what is the genre; and who is narrating the story.

The structure is simply the form.

The set-up, which is telling everyone who the main character is, and the dramatic situation is the first building block.

Then, the primary story of the protagonist versus the antagonist; then the antagonist gaining an upper hand; the protagonist slipping to the lowest ebb.

Finally, the protagonist overcoming fear and failure, and defeating the antagonist.

Now to the importance of the sequence.

Each scene is made up of a series of shots.

Each sequence is made up of a series of scenes.

Each sequence builds upon the next sequence to create story progression.

Story progression occurs when story sequences build upon one another in a logical way, moving the story forward through character conflict.

Spine is about creating a unifying depth within the story, character by character, action by action, sequence by sequence, layer upon layer.

Last but not least, spin is the proverbial twist in the tale.

If one were to use this classical model of script-writing as a benchmark, 95 per cent of all creatives being done today would fail the test.

So, one shouldn't be surprised that most ads or other content ends up being listless and uninteresting.

Wherever the basics of script-writing have been understood by, and adhered to, by the creative person, the communication output has rarely fallen short of expectations.

IMAGE: The Holi Ke Rang Surf Excel ad. Photograph: Kind courtesy Surf Excel

Take the Holi Ke Rang Surf Excel ad.

The story is all about the young girl overcoming the odds and achieving her goal of getting her friend in whites to the mosque.

The storytelling is linear and well articulated.

The structure of protagonist versus antagonists is clearly established.

The sequence of events again has clarity and is easy to comprehend.

The spine comes from giving the daag a positive spin.

A story well told in short format.

In contrast, look at the recent Oppo Ranbir-Katrina-Badshah ad.

The ad has no story, three protagonists, no antagonist, no structure, no sequence, and surely no spine.

It is just a feature driven narrative with exuberant star power.

No amount of media muscle can make such an advertising message work, or succeed.

The biggest problem with Sacred Games, the Netflix series, was that its sequencing of events was highly warped.

Characters and events kept criss-crossing in time meandering into back stories, then suddenly jerking back to the current times.

That killed the narrative.

In contrast, epic stories like the Ramayan and Mahabharat strictly adhere to the classical script-writing approach.

Clear characterisation; linear story-telling; well-defined structure; and a solid spine.

Which is why they are evergreen in appeal.

Before brands invest more and more in star-power, they need to learn the basics of story-telling.

It would make for a good return on investment.

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Sandeep Goyal
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