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Bingo! Comedy Adda returned to the comedy scene this last February. The brand has gone from facilitating live, stand-up comedy routines to co-creating a TV show with Star Plus under the same banner. A surprising and bold move since branded content is conventionally distributed through only digital platforms and usually not backed by such serious financial investment.

And yet, Bingo! has chosen to broadcast on channels such as Star Plus, Star Movies, Star Bharat and Star World, and compete in the same space as The Kapil Sharma show. It has created 20-minute-long episodes with segments that are meant to provide the brand visibility, reflect its personality and make it stand apart from existing players. A lot to straddle in one go.

So, it is worth asking; three weeks into the show with three episodes out, how has it fared as branded content? Has it achieved the objectives it set out from the start?

Episode 1, ‘Ultimate madness with Nushrat Bharucha and Harbhajan Singh’:

Episode 2, ‘Bhuvan Bam being his funniest’:

Episode 3, ‘Non-stop comedy with Sumeet Vyas and Nidhi Singh:

We watched the episodes to observe how it has dealt with each of its three objectives and to find out if it has been able to make them come together harmoniously. We found three strands running in parallel, through the content.

Strand 1:  Branded content as greater brand visibility

After watching an episode of Comedy Adda, you are sure to walk away knowing that it has been brought to you by Bingo! But it is debatable if you will find the brand’s presence favourable.

Since the brand’s name features in the show’s title, it constantly shows in the background. Packets of Bingo! are kept on the side tables when interviewing celebrities. And it seems like guests are required to eat from those packets while pointedly holding them up. Sometimes the focus on the snack even overtakes the ongoing conversation.

In the second episode, host RJ Naved passes YouTube sensation Bhuvan Bam a packet, prompting him to talk about how it has always been his choice of snack. At a different point in the same episode, the camera frame closes in on the packet from which Bhuvan is eating and then zooms back out onto the conversation between the two – throwing off the viewer from what was being said at the time.

It is fair to include the brand’s mention in the set design and maybe even to place the products in a visible spot. But when the references go beyond that, is it justified to still call it branded content? Would it not be more accurate to categorise this interruptive approach to visibility as sponsorship? And once you see branded content as another form of sponsorship, do you not defeat its purpose – creating a deep emotional connection that isn’t compromised by brand plugs?

Strand 2: Branded content as an avatar of the brand’s personality

Comedic TV shows are usually an embodiment of the star comic leading them. Like how Kapil Sharma’s show, from the nomenclature to the style of humour, is a reflection of his public personality. He positions himself as a family-friendly comic who approaches the opposite gender with a contradicting mix of shyness and desperation. So, when interviewing women celebrities, he compliments them and jokingly tries to sit closer. And with his sketches, he often features conventionally beautiful women for the male characters to flutter around. Yet you will never find his show discussing sex and relationships like, say, Karan Johar on Koffee with Karan – in a way bound to make family members conscious around each other.

Bingo! similarly tries to model the show on its own traits. It tries to bring out its personality, as established by ads like “Pout #ApnaAsliFlavour”​, “Beta, aage Kya Plan Hai” and “Fix your evening scene with Bingo! Tedhe Medhe namkeen”. To make you feel like Bingo is a person who is whimsical and witty. Not necessarily young but youthful. Easy-going but doesn’t fall in with the crowd.

It is successful in doing this to an extent.

In the first episode, Naved hosts a segment called Mad News in which he reports absurd but real happenings and provides commentary on them. He highlights oddities like a family printing a QR code on invitations for e-shagun or a brand pricing extreme cut jeans for $168. In addition to the segment’s name, this concept reinforces Bingo!’s association with doing the unexpected.

The following two episodes include a segment called Mad Rules that requires the guest(s) to dub scenes from serials with silly dialogues. It takes dramatic-looking sequences and trusts the guest(s) to introduce humour by juxtaposing them with mock-serious lines about something trivial. This fun little exercise recalls the brand’s playful nature.

Aside from these, the show seems to rest on borrowed traditions.

The most consistent segment, Tedhe Sawaal, is about asking the celebrities irreverent questions. The concept’s success not only depends on how silly the questions are but also on how entertaining their answers can be. As Naved explains in the first episode, ‘Ye Bingo! Comedy Adda hai to yahan pe har cheez tedhi hoti hai’.

The idea is in line with the brand’s personality, but the execution comes out similar to Kapil Sharma’s style of questioning where questions start by sounding serious but round up by asking something unpredictable and goofy.

There is also Bingo! Pranks, the segment that takes the radio jockey’s ‘Mirchi Murga’ tradition from audio recordings of prank calls to video recordings of pranks on the ground. It is meant to emphasise Bingo! as a light-hearted personality. But given the longer association between pranking and Naved, it proves more successful in highlighting the host’s personal legacy.

With Mad News, Mad Rules, Tedhe Sawaal and Boing! Pranks put together, the show feels like content from Bingo! with strong hints of Kapil Sharma and an easy co-relation with RJ Naved, rather than solely reflecting Bingo! It is only partially successful in bringing forth the brand’s persona, with the lack of freshness especially contradicting the brand’s otherwise imaginative nature.

Strand 3: Branded content as difference

Bingo!’s defining trait is being tedha, a word with many connotations in the Hindi-speaking belts of India but no accurate translation in English. But for the sake of discussion, we can loosely translate it as wacky or bent yet well-intentioned.

Perhaps, in trying to keep with this trait and stand out in the space of (TV) comedy, Bingo! is seen making a jarry change to a fundamental of the trade in its second episode. It has Naved prank stand-up comedian Gaurav Kapoor right before his routine as part of Bingo! Pranks. This leaves an otherwise confident and ready stand-up comedian fumbling with doubt as the audience laughs at his confused state.

Should this be seen as a new way of going about the rules of comedy, an example of the unpredictability Bingo! likes to practise? Or should it be considered an unwelcome inversion of authority between the comedian and their audience, where the comedian is always in the know, and they lead the audience?

Conventionally, it is the comedian who makes the audience laugh with them or at society by displaying a greater sense of awareness. Never does the audience laugh at the expense of the comedian because it knows something that they don’t.

In the case of Gaurav Kapoor’s performance on Comedy Adda, how convincingly can he play the role of the introspective observer who gauges more about his environment than the average person when he has fallen prey to a prank right before his piece? How convincingly can he occupy the position of someone who makes the audience laugh by knowing more than them right after the audience has laughed at him because they knew something about his environment that he didn't?

Concluding thoughts

Through Comedy Adda, Bingo! has tried to achieve three objectives, which are visible in the content as three parallel strands of meaning/concepts. The content approaches the ‘Brand x Content’ integration through three distinct and parallel ideas about branded-ness of content – visibility, embodied personality/avatar and difference/distinctiveness. Until now, it hasn’t been able to do them justice individually – the attempt at visibility has turned into sponsorship, what should have painted a brand persona has become a confused mix, and going for distinctiveness has landed it with an unsteady approach to comedy.

It also hasn’t been able to bring the three strands together to create coherent branded content – in trying to turn both the product and the brand persona into heroes, it has succeeded at neither attempt. Therefore, its larger intent of making Bingo! a star in India’s comedy culture is not realised.

Going forward, Bingo! may want to reconsider its approach – how can it carve out a distinct space for its branded (not sponsored) content without playing second fiddle to a dominant player or going awry in a bid to stand out?