Post Thumb

For the urban individual, the festive season means the temporary suspension of everyday living – atomic existence centred on personal pursuits that don’t leave much time for mingling with the community. It means togetherness, both through the time spent with family and in seeing the festival celebrated by a world bigger than their own. It’s also a time when indulgence, together in the form of food, drink, fine clothing and gifts, brings feelings of fulfilment and prosperity.

Determined to be part of the consumer’s journey every step of the way, brands too change course for this period. They make products the secondary focus in their communication and bring human interest stories to the forefront.

Their films revolve around themes brimming with emotion: intergenerational care, with the care flowing both ways; thoughtful acts that strengthen bonds within the community; and the joy of lifting up another by paying attention to what’s important to them. With these core ideas packaged in plenty of cultural signalling – frequents snatches of lights, decorations and sweets – the films magnify the nobler side of humanity and the enjoyable aspects of festivity.

This periodic readjustment in branded communication has led to the creation of a hybrid film, something that brings together elements from both ads and content. In a sense, it can be seen as a way to not give up the product sell by encasing it in an elaborate story that creates engagement yet retains significant mentions of what’s at offer.

But before going deeper into what a hybrid film looks like, it’s important we get on the same page about what makes for an ad and for content.

The blueprint of an ad

Tell-tale signs to watch for: around 30 seconds when aired on TV and about a minute long on digital channels. It spins a short narrative that leads up to the product reveal and positions the product as a key part of the experience the characters are going through. The product also finds its way into the closing shot that captures the ad’s sentiment in a single statement.

Take this Diwali ad from Cadbury Celebrations:

40 seconds long, it shows a lady thanking a trio of neighbouring boys for helping her parents in her absence with a box of Cadbury chocolates. The ad wraps with a shot of the chocolate packs, asking viewers ‘Iss Diwali aap kise khush karenge?’ (Who will you make happy, this Diwali?)

The blueprint of a branded content film

Sometimes running up to 8 minutes, these films present stories where the admirable qualities are meant to be a reflection of the brand and the character who dons them best often represents the role the brand plays in the consumer’s life. Unlike ads, these don’t just feature a situation but offer a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

The product may not feature through their duration at all, maybe subtly woven into the narrative or may only be mentioned at the end. So, it doesn’t necessarily serve as a key feature of the characters’ experience.

Here’s an example from Mankind Pharma:

4 minutes long, it tells the tale of a man and his hotel, where business continues to boom despite the rise of cafés. His eatery, run with dedication and care, daily hosts a stream of regulars and even organises Diwali treats for children from the city’s orphanage. When he comes close to losing the hotel, after mortgaging it for his wife’s treatment, he is rescued by a generous buyer who turns out to be an orphan boy he had cared for before.

The film wraps up, valorising kindness and likening Mankind Pharma to the kind of generous caregivers portrayed by them.

And finally, the blueprint of a hybrid film

Except there isn’t one. This format tends to mix up characteristics from ads and content, as per the perceived requirement.

Oppo’s film, for instance, is a 6-minute-long narrative about consecutive thoughtful acts, where a boy’s effort to save his friend a sparkler for next Diwali doesn’t go unnoticed by his teacher, whose considerate gift to the boy is acknowledged by his mother with an Oppo phone.

The product integration isn’t unusual but the focus awarded to it definitely is. The phone is introduced 4.5 minutes into the film despite holding no relevance to the story the viewer has invested in. The teacher is shown unboxing it for a good 15 seconds – by no means subtle. Later, the teacher and the little boy use it to click a selfie, in a style similar to Indian reality tv show hosts sponsored by a mobile company.

The final mark of an ad, in what had first felt like content, is the closing shot: the camera zooming out on from an Oppo phone with the line ‘Be the Light, To Spread the Light’.

Here’s another example, Vivo’s Diwali film:

4.13 minutes long, it shows how a young boy’s friends film a cute, short video to cheer him up when he feels down about not receiving his Diwali gift. The video is as elaborate as any branded content film but features the product in a frequent, significant and obvious way – characters in the film video call each other, the kids shoot on a Vivo phone and the boy watches their message on his Vivo phone – turning the product into an element the narrative couldn’t have progressed without.

It wraps by switching back to the content format, inviting the brand’s audience to engage through content (instead of asking them to purchase the product). 

What should we make of this?

Making this hybrid format work is a matter of sound conceptualisation and convincing execution. Till the elements gel, it probably doesn’t matter much to the consumer who seems to categorise everything as an ad.

And the more brands try their hand at it, the more frequent it may become. Perhaps because the hybrid format makes more sense to the marketer who feels concerned about the ROI on a pure branded content film, and sees this as a way to continue the product sell while making it less interruptive.