Are brands increasingly guilty of vanity marketing?

Friday 04th, March 2016

There is an increasing trend of brands in India going down the long-form story-telling route. Over the last few years, several brands have experimented with this format with varying degrees of success. One of the more recent ones is British Airways’ “Fuelled By Love” which has been getting a lot of attention on social media with its heart-tugging storyline.

It is interesting to step back and take a look at the reasons why brands seem to be taking this new approach to their communication. For a start, the rise of (mostly) free social media and the availability of channels such as Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Vimeo and others means that brands now have an option to paid media.

Long-format films give marketers and their agencies more creative scope for interpreting a brief in ways that a 30-seconder perhaps never can. The storyline can develop at a more leisurely pace while the ambience and settings enhance the mood of the film drawing the viewer into the story.

From a marketer’s standpoint, this is an attractive media choice that aims squarely at the younger age demographic. This is also an audience that tends to share stuff that they can relate to or empathise with, so the possibilities of building an engagement are much greater.

Going overboard on the emotional connect?

The success of a brand depends upon how well it is able to figure out an emotional connect with its audiences. Before the rise of YouTube opened up opened up long-format film-making opportunities, I certainly do not remember film-makers complaining that they were unable to fit emotions into a 30-second commercial.

Looking at some of the newer films, you have to wonder though whether the additional time and freedom available is making script writers and film-makers lazy. What then explains the overwhelming presence of emotion-laden films whose sole purpose seem to be to wring out tears from their audiences?

Where is the voice of the brand?

The other point that does not seem to be getting adequately discussed in all the enthusiasm for such films is to consider whether the brand’s voice is being adequately heard. Suddenly, it seems like every brand manager wants a long-format film to add to the portfolio. And in this endeavour, they’re being tacitly encouraged by their ad agencies who view such work as both a revenue and potentially, award-winning opportunity.

“Let’s do a viral”, seems to be an increasingly common refrain heard in marketing corridors! What many marketers seem to ignore is that virality is an effect and certainly not the cause of a great film. A film that resonates with an audience is one that has identified a story or a cause that either ties in with the brand values or is an extension of the brand’s personality.

A good example of a film that does it beautifully is Ariel’s new “Share The Load” film. Through the voice-over of a father who observes his now-married daughter juggle job, family responsibilities, domestic chores we see the contrition that overcomes him. The end is a bit predictable, but the theme resonates beautifully because domestic duties are still seen as the preserve of the woman in most Indian households. Never mind that she is probably a successful professional or businesswoman in her own right!

Whose vanity is being stoked?

Other efforts don’t necessarily seem to add up in the same way though.

A couple of years ago, Fortune cooking oil from Adani Wilmar came out with a film titled “Ghar ka khana” (Home-cooked food) which attracted a lot of comment. The story of a grand-mother who visits her grandson in hospital every day, begging to be allowed to feed him a few spoons of his favourite dal had all the right ingredients. Great casting, fabulous casting, an emotive story… but other than a tenuous connection to Fortune cooking oil there was no connect.

Would audiences have remembered the film and the storyline? Most definitely. Would they have remembered the brand? Unlikely, I think.

The other film that gained a lot of noticeability a few years ago was Tanishq’s “Second Marriage”. Yet another example of a fabulous production, but you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the brand was trying to pay lip service. While the idea that second marriage is still a stigma in India, particularly for women the film was too ambitious. It tried to tackle two issues at once: the woman had dark skin and was getting married again. Ultimately, it ended up addressing neither issue satisfactorily enough.

It is good to see though that brands have begun to move out of their traditional parameters and are willing to take chances. Some hits and misses are inevitable in the bargain.

With audiences increasingly hooked on mobile devices and video and switching off traditional advertising, brands are forced to communicate their stories in ever-newer ways. Whether this will lead to a change in the way we know brand communication, only time will tell.

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