Why Mercedes’ Khushnuma video doesn’t quite click

Friday 12th, February 2016

KhushnumaKhushnumaMercedes seems to be getting into producing and sponsoring branded content. That’s the thought that struck me after I watched a 4’ minute long music video titled “Khushnuma”, produced by Mercedes under its Project X banner. The project commemorates Mercedes’ presence in India over the last 20 years. The title of the video is an Urdu word that means “happiness”.

A-list line-up

The video is impressive – and why not. It is produced by Qyuki, owned by Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman and director Shekhar Kapur. It features Rahman himself along with Shubha Mudgal, Ranjit Barot, Salim Merchant and Amit Trivedi – all well-known performers. The video was premiered at the just-concluded Auto Expo in Delhi and seems to have garnered over 300,000 views so far.

A story with a tug, but…

The story is built around the theme of “The Winner’s Way”. As one of the world’s leading luxury car manufacturers, Mercedes has always positioned their cars as upscale and desirable; a reward for accomplishment.

The story however goes on somewhat predictable lines. Young boy with a passion for music faces a hostile father who keeps rebuffing his efforts to nurture his passion from a very young age. At some point, he decides he’s had enough and leaves home. He puts together a compilation of his music, gets his first break and messages his Dad with the good news. There is a poignant moment here where the father is shown keying in a reply to say how proud he is, but is held back by his own pride.

Eventually, the son does find his way back home and there is an emotional re-union between father and son. They gaze lovingly at all the news clippings about the son’s achievements that the father has assembled on a wall at home. There is a moment of shared bonding as their hands link together once again and all’s well.

Son now suggests to father that they go out for a drive. No surprises here to see the Mercedes parked in the driveway. There is a product story here as the father’s gaze takes in the well-appointed interiors of the car, revelling in his son’s success.

Who are they targeting?

The real question though is, just whom is Mercedes targeting? Somehow, we can’t quite escape the feeling that the communication squarely aims at Mercedes’ existing demographic. Rich Papa’s little boy throws a fit and walks out, aiming to make it big. And here is the irony – he drives around in his plush Mercedes even as he tries to get his first break.

Not quite the romanticised image of hard work and struggle that one typically associates with someone trying to make it big. There is perpetuation of privilege on show here and one can be forgiven for thinking that the hero pulled more than a few strings to get his way.

The hero’s accomplishment doesn’t seem like one at all. It rings a bit hollow, to be honest. And that is  very disappointing. Mercedes could have used the opportunity to talk to a new generation of buyers. This is the aspirational new India where everybody with an idea for an e-commerce store or an app dreams of being the next billionaire. No longer is family wealth and connections seen as a ladder to achievement.

Resisting the sales pitch

Mercedes has been very cautious in ensuring that the video does not feature elements from a regular TV commercial. There are no obvious references to the model or features or anything that would remotely be considered a sales pitch. Nevertheless, it does seem like they could not resist sneaking in a couple of long shots of the car and interior shots.

It’d be interesting to see how this genre of branded content develops. Automakers have a large canvas – and the budgets – to try interesting content experiments. If they can build relevant and differentiated content based on their target profiles, we could see the beginning of a whole new communication approach.

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