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Subin Sivan

In a stereotypical situation, one would expect a cooking oil brand to create content around healthy diet and cooking, UGC, recipe shows, influencer-led cooking contests, so on and so forth. But taking a very different approach, Cargill Foods’ Gemini Oil created a women-centric chat show ‘Ek Aur Pehechan’, hosted by Bollywood actress Neena Gupta, as part of its #AbhHaiMummyKaTime campaign.

The show featured four real-life, inspirational women – now successful entrepreneurs – who took time out from their roles as cooks to create distinct identities of their own. These women spoke about the challenges they have had to overcome to break stereotypical norms and pursue their dreams.

This unique content strategy intrigued and it caught up with Subin Sivan, Head of Marketing, Cargill Foods, to understand the brand’s content strategy and its content plan.   

Excerpts from the interview:

Like other brands in your category, Gemini Oil could have also stuck to cooking and food-related content, but it opted for a chat show to inspire women to follow their passion. What was the thought behind this strategy?

We believe every woman is an individual with passions, which she wants to be able to express. We, of course, created a TVC, but it was very critical that we also look at other ways to credibly engage around this message. We decided to go beyond the conventional TVC route and create meaningful content that would resonate with women. The chat show was a way for us to celebrate women who have broken from their mould, pursued their passions, ascertained their identity based on who they are and not just based on their relationship with someone else. Our products also help unlock more time for the homemaker so that she gets more time for herself. So we decided that doing the traditional thing would not work because we’re taking a slightly non-traditional stance.

Generally, brands in the oil category show female protagonists and most of the communication are targeted at women. Why can’t Gemini Oil become a changemaker and have equal representation of men and women in its communication?

Right now we want to focus on women and assert the brand in a way that is meaningful to the aspirations of women. Ariel launched the #ShareTheLoad campaign to promote equal responsibility undertaken by men and women in household chores. Similarly, TataTea believes in accountability and it created the #JaagoRe campaign. These are very interesting concepts and I call such brands ‘Believer brands’—brands that believe in something. Likewise, we believe that a mom should not be limited to one particular identity. It's her passion that needs to define her identity and not being a mom or a woman for that matter.

There is always an urge to show product usage and integrate it at every possible place in a content initiative. In the case of your chat show, Gemini could have shown Neena Gupta interviewing the women while cooking food with Gemini Oil. But you stuck with the regular one-on-one interview format. What was the thought behind this?

The content has to be credible to resonate with the audience. The relatability of content reduces if one pushes the product into the face in content. Leave aside content, in ads, any brand manager will always try to maximise the product window because that is where the brand comes to life. But we have decided to be as subtle as possible because we have to focus on the main story, which is the spontaneous conversation around the women following their own passions. Also, the content itself shouldn’t look like an advertisement. It must serve the purpose of representing what the brand believes in. That’s why we wanted to leave the content aside and not plug it with brand presence by keeping Gemini logos here and there.

Does it mean the brand will never create content around cooking?

When it comes to brand campaigns, we will not be looking for cooking solution messages. We would build the brand positioning around women unlocking time away from the kitchen where they can do other things. We want to work on minimising the time women spend in the kitchen.

Brands collaborate with content creators and platforms to maximise reach. In this case, Gemini Oil showcased the chat show on its own social media pages only. Was it deliberately done this way?

We ensured that we’re producing it ourselves because there’s a certain tonality and nuance with which we wanted to address the topic. We wanted to have more creative control and production control. In terms of reach, we’ve done reasonably well. Within the first few weeks itself, our chat show got more than 12 million views. We were confident that we could fetch a good number of eyeballs for the content on our own.

Does that indicate that for the sake of creative control, Gemini Oil will never collaborate with external content platforms?

No, there could always be partnerships depending on the nature and scope of the project. In the future, we will collaborate with platforms and creators that don’t dilute the messaging that we stand for. In this stage of our life cycle, it is critical that we control the content ourselves.

Another general notion about FMCG brands is that they tend to focus more on traditional advertising and use content marketing as an amplification strategy to promote the mainline traditional campaign. We all know the power of content marketing. Why can’t a content initiative be kept mainline?

Content marketing is growing at a rate at which it is outpacing the traditional media. TV ads are an efficient reach-builder for brands. But as one tries to move higher up the ladder and build brand affinity, this is where activation, engagement, content, and a lot of these pieces come in. It is only when the brand reaches the active level of awareness that it should think of doing content.

Sometimes when a brand sponsors a TV show, sporting event or any such content across mediums, it ensures brand presence in the content through product placements or logo presence. This does hamper the content experience of the audience. According to you, what is the right way to go about it?

The brand has to be synergistically integrated well into the content. Be it logo presence or a simple shot, it shouldn’t look forced. Unless the brand is well integrated into the idea or plot of the content, it becomes forced. It negatively impacts the content experience and doesn’t add much value to the brand. It’s almost like a celebrity endorsement. If the wrong name gets attached to the wrong brand it doesn’t work out in the right direction. For a brand like Gemini, we stand for something. We’re not just cooking oil. We want to have a story around the brand and not just sponsor for the sake of it.

What are the challenges associated with content marketing, specifically in your category?

The biggest challenge is always figuring out a good idea. In categories where the transactional message is high, like cooking oil, people will think of quality, reliance, etc. They don’t think of brands in terms of personalities like they do in other categories. So being able to create a personality and then start building an idea is the trajectory. Having created that, I don’t see many other challenges.