Skip to content

Documentary-style vs. Traditional Ads: Choosing the Right Format for Your Campaign

Advertising has come a long way since the days of “buy this product” messaging. Modern advertisements aim to tap into emotions to create a connection with their target audience to keep the brand in mind. The most effective campaigns these days often stray from the traditional format and instead adopt something new and fresh- the documentary-style ads. These ads, which emulate the style of a documentary, can be very effective in delivering a message. But are they always the best option? In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of both documentary-style and traditional advertisements so you can decide which format is best for your brand.

Traditional ads usually feature actors or models and feel manufactured and staged. They are designed to sell a product or service by emphasizing key features and making promises to the consumer. Often, these ads can feel disingenuous, with actors spewing rehearsed lines, and consumers are less likely to trust the message. In contrast, the documentary-style ad tends to feel more genuine and authentic. Telling a story through the eyes of a real person, these ads aim to connect with the audience on an emotional level to later drive sales. In this way, documentary-style ads can feel more organic and trustworthy.

The Pros and Cons of Creating a Documentary-Style Ad

Here, we’ll dive into the art of creating documentary-style ads, how they feel more authentic, and how they can be helpful for brands.


Authenticity – In a world where misleading claims and manipulative ads are common, brands face a challenge to engage with customers authentically. Documentary-style ads help companies showcase their values and stories genuinely. These ads give brands an avenue to tell their stories without feeling salesy or insincere, creating a more emotional connection with the audience.

Emotional Impact – Documentary-style ads have a significant emotional impact on viewers. They take people on a journey and help evoke emotions that tap into a viewer’s humanity. By positioning the brand as an authority in the narrative, customers are more connected and open to what they have to offer. This emotional investment creates a bond with the viewer, resulting in a higher chance of them choosing that brand over a competitor.

Brand Positioning – Documentary-style ads help position brands as trustworthy and authoritative. Companies that use this strategy can be seen as leaders in their area of operation. Documentary-style ads can help customers relate to brands and understand them better. Moreover, through the narrative format, it shows that the brand had a genuine story to tell, and it wasn’t just a ploy to sell a product.

Storytelling – Documentary-style ads are a form of storytelling. The narrative format can help communicate the brand’s values and message. These ads aren’t just about selling products but about storytelling. Companies that can tell interesting and authentic stories can create more engaging documentary-style ads. The storylines in these ads don’t have to be overly negative or dramatic. Still, they should contain elements of curiosity that lead to a captivating story that evokes an emotion in the viewer.

Cost-Effective – The production costs of documentary-style ads are typically lower than the typical television commercial, making them a cost-effective advertising option. By implementing a documentary-style ad into a brand’s advertising strategy, marketers can tell an authentic story without depleting their budget. Additionally, the impact of these ads can be substantial compared to the budget they cost, creating a high value for the investment.


However, the documentary-style ad is not without its drawbacks—namely that they take a lot of work. They require casting real people with genuine stories, pulling together unscripted footage, and distilling it all into a succinct message that will resonate with the target audience.

Time-Consuming: Creating a documentary-style ad is no small feat. It requires extensive planning, filming, and editing, all of which can be time-consuming and expensive. If you have a limited budget or timeline, this approach may not be feasible.

Unpredictable: When filming real people and real situations, there is always an element of unpredictability. You may encounter unexpected challenges or obstacles that can make it difficult to achieve the results you want. This can be frustrating and can result in a final product that falls short of your expectations.

Limited Control: Unlike traditional ads, documentary-style ads offer limited control over the final product. While you can guide the story and editing process, you can never fully predict how people will act or what they will say. This lack of control can be daunting for brands that are used to having complete control over their messaging.

Additionally, the shoot will take much longer, cross multiple locations, and build more original content. It requires a lot of detailed planning to ensure that the intended message is not diluted or lost in the filming process.

The Efficiency of Traditional Ads

On the other hand, traditional ads can be produced much more efficiently and with less effort. Additionally, traditional advertising allows businesses to target specific demographics with ease. Through the use of print ads and direct mail, businesses can target consumers based on geographic location or interests. This allows companies to focus their advertising dollars on those who are most likely to purchase their product or service, rather than wasting money on irrelevant ads like they might with digital ads. Billboards can also be strategically placed in high-traffic areas, reaching a large number of people in a short amount of time and generating brand awareness.

Furthermore, traditional advertising can be more cost-effective than digital advertising. Although the costs of printing and distributing ads can seem daunting, a one-time expense will oftentimes produce higher return-on-investment (ROI) than digital ads that are measured in clicks or impressions. Traditional advertising methods, such as direct mail, can further save costs as they can reach a large number of potential consumers without costing any additional expenses such as advertising platforms.

Another advantage of traditional ads is how it provides a multisensory experience. Print ads and billboard signage, for instance, allow consumers to engage with the product or service in ways that digital advertising simply cannot match. The tactility of a printed advertisement, as well as the vivid colors that only print can deliver, can significantly impact a consumer’s positive perception of a brand.

They can be created in a studio environment, and with the use of actors, the director can manipulate the perfect image and message. Traditional advertisements can also be more straightforward, which makes them easier to follow and understand for the audience. This generally allows for a quicker time to market and less impact on the overall media budget.

Finally, we have to take the platforms for these ads into account. Social media platforms are the bread and butter of modern advertising, but while traditional ads can work well on all social media outlets, documentary-style ads are most effective on some. These include Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, among others, which are ideal to feature their bite-sized content and story-driven marketing messages.

Since Instagram and Facebook are highly visual platforms, documentary-style ads that feature beautiful cinematography with a compelling story can work wonders in these channels. Users on these platforms tend to scroll their feeds, and videos with strong visuals and excellent storytelling can stop people mid-scroll and capture their attention. They’re also suitable for YouTube since users are more willing to spend time watching content here.

One industry that has seen great success from documentary-style ads is the travel industry. Videos of people exploring new destinations, experiencing local culture, or trying exotic foods have proven to be very effective in generating interest and bookings. These ads tap into people’s desire for adventure, new experiences, and wanderlust, and the use of real people and natural interactions makes them more relatable and authentic to viewers.


Exploring the benefits and drawbacks of the different advertising formats helps us understand which approach is right for your campaign. Documentary-style ads are more authentic and emotional and preferred for an audience who wants a real experience and organic content. Meanwhile, traditional ads are still around for a reason as well-they are quick and efficient and ideal for simpler or even broader advertising messages. Therefore, the best way to determine which format is best for your brand is to think about the product you are promoting, your brand values and tone, and the people, platforms, and messages you want to reach – all of which will help you make an informed decision to create the perfect ad.

Strategic Storytelling: Navigating Campaign Success with C&I Studios in Documentary-style vs. Traditional Ads

Discover the art of choosing the right format for your campaign with C&I Studios, your ideal partner in navigating the nuanced terrain of documentary-style content versus traditional ads. As a versatile and experienced creative force, we understand the strategic importance of selecting the most impactful format to convey your message effectively.

C&I Studios excels in both documentary-style storytelling and traditional advertising, offering a spectrum of possibilities for your campaign. If authenticity, in-depth narratives, and emotional resonance are key to your message, our expertise in crafting compelling documentaries is unmatched. We seamlessly blend storytelling with real-world insights to create a narrative that resonates authentically with your audience.

On the other hand, if your goal is to capture attention quickly and deliver a concise yet powerful message, our proficiency in traditional advertising ensures that your brand stands out amidst the noise. We leverage creative concepts, high production values, and strategic messaging to craft ads that leave a lasting impact.

At C&I Studios, we recognize that each campaign is unique. Our collaborative approach involves understanding your objectives and target audience, allowing us to recommend the ideal format that aligns with your brand’s identity and campaign goals.

Choose C&I Studios as your strategic partner in navigating the dynamic landscape between documentary-style content and traditional advertising. Contact us today, and let’s tailor the perfect format for your campaign, ensuring that your message captivates and resonates with your audience effectively.

Hide picture