Brands reshaping concept and imaginary of sleep through branded content

This week, the Founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting analyses branded content created by Wakefit, Philips, Duroflex, Centuary Mattresses, Peps Industries and how it is helping them to create a habit of good sleep and set them up as shapers of culture and culture change

Hamsini Shivakumar
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These last couple of years, there has been an outpour of branded content centred on getting restful sleep. Of course, a portion of it gets released to mark World Sleep Day on March 19. And it is only obvious that brands operating in the space of sleep solutions will make it their focus when communicating with consumers. Yet, even with these reasons considered, the recent uptick is undeniable.

It seems like the brands riding this wave are responding to the growing cultural obsession with health, fitness and personal care. Look around yourself, especially at young, working professionals (proud embodiments of ongoing lifestyle trends), and you will spot the signs. Youthful and modern office spaces have now begun to include nap rooms and gyms as part of their infrastructure.

Sharing a picture of a clean, healthy meal or a selfie post a workout session has become very normal. And who can forget the fitness watches that nudge the wearer to live healthier and congratulate them when they do?

Add to this the restlessness and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, the uncontrolled usage of screens that run into the night, unhealthy lifestyles induced by high-pressure jobs and the resulting disturbance in sleep patterns. And there you have it – enough reasons that go beyond category requirements to justify the surge of sleep-focussed content.

As marketing semioticians, we felt it was worth investigating how brands are repositioning something as primal as sleep to make it something that they must do something about, rather than take it for granted. Put differently, if sleep is the product, how are brands packaging it to ensure that it flies off the shelves and gets used as they have planned? We found four ways in our study of branded content from Duroflex, Centuary Mattresses, Wakefit, Peps Industries and Philips India (the category outlier in this collection).

Take a look.

Restful sleep as a return to traditional wisdom and time-tested practises

This positioning rests on the binary of traditional vs modern. It is about recalling what worked for our ancestors and reinstalling it to correct the ills of modern life.

Duroflex has adopted this approach through the reintroduction of regional lullabies into the lives of parents who wish to establish a healthy sleep schedule for their children.

Duroflex Sounds of Sleep | Official Teaser:

The digital series is meant to attract users through their feelings of nostalgia for the times gone by when their elders would rock them to sleep during their childhood. It is trying to get new-age parents to pass down intergenerational practices that are centred on sleep and, thus, preserve them.

By creating this co-relation between restful sleep and old-time goodness, it highlights the former as intrinsic to the traditional way of life. And an effort to preserve that way of life would mean that, by association, restful sleep also gets seen as something valuable that should be maintained carefully and consciously – like the lullabies – to stand the test of time.

Centuary Mattresses has packaged healthy sleeping habits as Sleeptime Stories, a series of eight bedtime stories told by Deepa Kiran, influencer and founder of Story Arts India.

Sleeptime Stories - 1 | Centuary Mattress | Becoming the most Powerful:

Overall, the series is supposed to bring different generations in a household together, as explained by the brand’s Executive Director, Uttam Malani, "The simple stories will be loved by kids, parents and grandparents, and it will be the perfect time for the entire family to come together before going to bed."

But as is expected of all solutions in India, the bedtime stories don’t just come with a benefit or two. The full gamut solution also comprises faster mental development in children, in addition to a healthy sleep schedule and some much-needed family time. The first story told by Kiran shares how her son began speaking in fully formed sentences from the age of nine months because she would tell him bedtime stories to put him to sleep.

Aside from this primary point of positioning, both Duroflex and Centuary Mattresses view restful sleep as a sign of someone who is well cared for and correctly raised by their parents. To them, restful sleep signals nurturing and care, and a space for intergenerational bonding.

Restful sleep as a sign of the educated modern-day individual

We found this thought primarily surfacing in Philips India’s approach to educating their audience about sleep apnea. It brought on comedian Atul Khatri to take viewers through the different awkward scenarios sleep apnea has landed him in, and the solution he has found to his condition.

Stand Up act by Atul Khatri on sleep issues of Indians:

Philips also provided the number to a sleep helpline in the video’s bio, urging viewers to seek out a free consultation for their sleep disorders.

The brand’s core message is that restful sleep doesn’t mean snoring loudly – as traditional understanding would have you believe. It comes from being aware and educating yourself on the signs your body is putting out. It results from a sound knowledge of what is good for you and possessing the wisdom to act in your best interest. It is a sign of being a padha-likha (well read) person who doesn’t believe in unfounded claims simply because they have been passed down generations.

Unlike Duroflex and Centuary Mattresses, Philips has positioned itself as the champion of modern-day solutions.

Restful sleep as an achievement like any other in a productive, capitalist society

This positioning subtly counters the popular belief that sleeping, resting and ‘doing nothing’ is a waste of time. And that human energy is better spent doing activities that increase your value as a productive member of society.

Wakefit has adopted this approach by launching The Wakefit Sleep Internship that pays its interns to sleep 9 hours every night for 100 nights (this is not a joke). To popularise the return of the internship for a second season, it has collaborated with YouTube creator and influencer Yashraj Mukhate.

Professional sleeper | Yashraj Mukhate | @Home time​ | Wakefit #SleepInternship​ | Get money to sleep:

The concept humorously juxtaposes sleeping endlessly with a conventional corporate internship/job. By doing so, it not only highlights how the two are opposing concepts but also raises the former to give it the same importance as an internship/job.

It characterises restful sleep by associating it with a corporate opportunity – restful sleep is so important that an internship has been created around it. It is so valuable that people are competing to prove that they practise a healthy sleep schedule, much like how candidates compete for a prestigious internship by showcasing their skills. And since an internship is seen as a necessary stepping stone to a bright future, now, through association, so is restful sleep.

To Wakefit, restful sleep is an achievement worth aspiring for and being rewarded for. To the brand, it signifies success and its absence means failure.

Peps Industries doesn’t make its adoption of this line of thinking as overt as Wakefit. Its BEDTalks campaign – a series of dense audio recordings about dry topics created as a sleep-aid, is meant as a gentle spoof of TED Talks.

Episode 1 of BEDTalks:

Since TED Talks are a freely-available resource and frequently recommended for the rich learnings they offer, choosing to consume them means going beyond the baseline level/standard requirements of education. It means making a special effort to nurture your intellect.

BEDTalks, a play on the concept, parodies the concept of absorbing information-heavy content on diverse topics. In doing so, it encourages people to give their mind rest. And again, through association, it repositions a healthy sleep schedule as something as vital as enriching your intellect and worth making a special effort for.

Restful sleep as something that needs to be induced/worked towards

Through all the material they have generated as sleep aids and all the educating they have done; brands have emphasised restful sleep as a state achieved after putting in a fair bit of effort.

Duroflex’s Sounds of Sleep and Centuary Mattresses Sleeptime Stories both view sleep as a habit that needs to be inculcated from childhood. Philips India sees it resulting from utilising the appropriate sleep aids and by learning better from experts and scientific studies. Wakefit has created an internship for it since it considers it similar to a skill developed over time. And Peps Industries has provided resources to highlight that sleep doesn’t always come naturally.

Wrapping up – The role of branded content

From the examples studied, we see brands using content for two purposes: habit formation and to ease their audience into the practice – since poor sleep is being seen as a normalised and naturalised reality, the way things are in urban, modern society, almost the price to pay for progress.

Duroflex, Centuary Mattresses and Peps Industries have all created multiple content pieces of the same kind, expecting that their audience will consume them gradually, one at a time. Philips India and Wakefit have used a stand-up piece and a sleep internship respectively to make people laugh, convince them of their cause and nudge them to sleep better.

In reshaping the concept and imaginary of sleep, branded content has not only allowed the brands to weigh in with their stance but also set them up as shapers of culture and culture change.

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