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Asian Paints has returned with the fourth season of its digital series ‘Where The Heart Is’ this March. The show is styled as a home tour, where the celebrity(ies) in focus takes the camera, and therefore, the viewer through the different sections of the house, the various design choices and their favourite spots. Over three and a half seasons, the show has featured 19 personalities from showbusiness, five sportspersons and five fashion designers.

The setup is designed to make you, the viewer, feel special given that a widely adored celebrity is opening their doors to let you into their personal space – even if for a brief eight minutes. Cleverly executed, this content IP feeds into the celebrity x fan culture and, through association with celebrity homes, grows Asian Paints’ repute as exceptional home stylists.

It all seems relatively simple and straightforward on the surface – be the brand that brings celebrities closer to their fans and generate appeal. But how easy is it to do that when social media has largely eliminated the need for middlemen?

Before its advent, celebrities relied on sponsorship opportunities from brands to interact with their fans outside of work. Promotional contracts meant the occasional chance to share more of themselves with the public and continue to evoke a sense of loyalty, even without a project on.

But ever since social media entered the scene, all that celebrities need is a data pack and an account to connect with fans. They can put out as much of themselves as they want and many of them do – they share family pictures, updates from their life and work, and their thoughts and feelings about whatever goes on around them. For a fan, it is almost like being their Facebook friend.

It is a happy equation for the revered and the devotees, but what about the brand? No longer the sole facilitator of their equation, it needs to find a way to renew its importance. And it seems like Asian Paints has.

Here is why we have come to that conclusion – aside from the obvious indicators of success found in the show’s continuing seasons and audience engagement.

Creates content with a different appeal than the celebs’ social media

We compared the Instagram accounts of Shankar Mahadevan, Smriti Mandhana and Anita Dongre – the three celebrities to have featured on the fourth season till now, with their respective episodes.

Season 4 Ep 01 featuring Shankar Mahadevan:

Season 4 Ep 02 featuring Smriti Mandhana:

Season 4 Ep 03 featuring Anita Dongre:

We chose Instagram as our choice of social media since it comes the closest to a digital series given its visual nature of the presentation. Especially next to Twitter that has been crafted for conversations and not so much for putting out photos and videos.

All three celebrities use their accounts differently.

Shankar Mahadevan uses his to share updates from his life (a picture announcing a family holiday, a clip from a jam session with his son, a poster from an upcoming project etc.) and things that catch his attention (a young boy teaching a girl of his age how to sing, a bird whistling tunes early morning, a 16-year-old with a unique style of beatboxing etc.).

Cricketer Smriti Mandhana uses hers for brand promotions, occasional updates from her life (a comment on her team’s performance in a recent match, a fun clip of her out at the bowling alley, a clip from her workout session etc.) and to put out a steady stream of her pictures for fans who wish to see her afresh every few days.

And as a fashion designer, Anita Dongre uses hers to showcase her work.

Anita Dongre’s account lies on one extreme with its lack of intimacy and professional usage and Shankar Mahadevan’s, a kind of public journal, lies on the other. Regardless of which account you consider; Asian Paints’ content adds to these celebrities’ social media presence. Not because it offers something other than greater familiarity with each celebrity – which, at the end of the day, is the purpose of such content. But because it shows them through a fresh lens and so holds a different appeal.

If understood alongside other spaces of celebrity presence; the appeal of social media is that it cuts out the middleman (or at least gives that impression even if the content is curated by a team of publicists) and brings frequent updates from the celebrity straight to your feed. The appeal of a chat show is that it brings you anecdotes about your favourite celebrity and shows you how they interact with their peers – what their ‘chemistry’ is like off-screen.

Asian Paints creates appeal for ‘Where The Heart Is’ by familiarising you with the celebrity through their home.

Looking into their home is not the same as experiencing them elsewhere in the public eye. Because their home is not crafted for ‘good PR’. It is made up according to their personal preferences. It is possibly the most organic representation of them – just like a home is reflective of any regular person who inhabits it. And like any other home, it ends up saying a lot of what is left unsaid by/about the owner.

Where social media is about deliberately putting out a well-thought-out public personality, a home tour is about opening up to show what surrounds the celebrity in their most intimate/personal moments – exactly the kind of thing a fan looks for.

Fleshes out the codes of celebrity x fan culture

Since Asian Paints has chosen an episodic format for its content, it is able to flesh out the codes of the celebrity x fan culture unlike a social media post can, given its conciseness. It is fair to assume that this makes for richer consumption than posts do within the same period.

The code of familiarity can be found during the times when the celebrity tells the story of an object or a decoration piece that is special to them. Or when they go through how they came to conceptualise a keyspace in the house. Like when Smriti Mandhana talks about her shot-put trophies from school that mean more to her than the others. Or when Anita Dongre points out the atrium inspired by her nana-nani’s house in Jaipur, where she and her cousins used to run at different levels calling out to their grandmother.

The code of authenticity is found in the banter between celebrities and their loved ones. Their casual chit-chat makes them feel more real than their otherwise pedestalised versions. In the first episode of season four, when Shankar Mahadevan’s wife makes to leave the camera frame at one point, he sings ‘ke dil abhi bhara nahi…’ to her, making her respond with a giggle and a ‘don’t embarrass me!’

The code of intimacy comes through when celebrities highlight the spaces most personal to them – where they like to fall asleep aside from their bed or where they like to relax. As when Shankar Mahadevan and his wife indicate where they take their morning beverages. The code is also signified by pets wandering into the frame just like they would wander into the room if the viewer were visiting the celebrity.

The code of special-ness is embedded in the approach to creating the content – when the celebrity addresses the camera, they make the viewer feel like they are a friend who has been invited over. That they are special in being given access to the celebrity’s life.

Content like this is bound to feel even more valuable to fans of celebrities like Anita Dongre who don’t disclose much about their life on social media.

Wrapping Up – Brand as the publisher

Asian Paints’ branding in the content is subtle. In the latest season, the show’s name ‘Asian Paints: Where The Heart Is’ features in three frames – two at the beginning and one right at the end. The brand also has the celebrity introduce and wrap the show by saying its name. Aside from these, a watermark of the brand’s logo consistently shows on the right top and bottom corners.

Despite the covert presence, the show seems to be generating brand love for Asian Paints. Because over a period of time, it has fostered respect for the brand as a publisher of content that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of viewers – super fans, idle gossipers who keep up with celebrities out of curiosity, and even viewers who are uninterested in celebrities but interested in homes, architecture and interior design.

By turning into a publisher instead of seeking sponsorship for visibility, Asian Paints has demonstrated how the equation between brands, fans and celebrities can be successfully reinvented. It has shown how brands can reclaim importance by retraining the focus on their audience instead of themselves, unlike in the past where visibility came at the cost of interruptions in the consumption experience.

Much to learn for any brand that dabbles in a similar space.