Brands supporting artisans: A new trend in Branded Content

Hamsini Shivakumar and Kanika Yadav of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, write about the new trend in branded content where brands represent themselves as champions of craftspeople and not as adversaries

Hamsini Shivakumar
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As far as local artisans and big brands are concerned, the divide between the two has always been quite pronounced. The two have often been pitted against one another by the media as a type of class battle between the big corporates and high-tech factories on the one side and the simple craftsperson on the other.  

It is interesting to observe a new trend in branded content where brands represent themselves as champions of craftspeople and not as adversaries. There is also a celebration of craft skills vis-a-vis a sympathy message for their plight due to covid.

Consider, for example: 

TATA Tea Premium

Desh Ka Kulhad – Celebrating India’s rich diversity | Extended

Tata Tea’s anthem to honour the Indian handicraft sector begins with the imagery that perhaps dominates almost all themes related to the artisans - “desh ki mitti.” The ‘soil as gold’ trope is as old as the indigenous myth-building process itself. As a country thriving on agriculture and handicrafts, the “soil” has been the medium to channelise their hard work and create livelihoods. Soil is also the common denominator that upholds the diverse fabric of various corners of India. 

The eponymous ‘kulhad’ (clay cup/mug) in Tata Tea’s ‘Desh ka Kulhad’ is a symbol of all the aforementioned tropes combined. The common potter becomes a bearer of the Midas touch by turning soil into invaluable cups that depict and tell various folk tales using the indigenous art forms of Pattachitra, Phulkari, Warli, Pithora, Chittara, etc. 

Tata Tea finds an elegant brand connection with teacups that bring forth pride and love for potters and their craft, thus reinforcing the brand image of being the ‘Desh ki Chai’ (Nation’s Tea). 


Kahani Karigar Ki | Siyaram's honours the tailoring community | World Tailor's Day

Through ‘Kahani Karigar ki’ (Story of the craftsman), Siyaram’s honoured tailors on World Tailor’s Day. The character of the tailor is envisaged as a selfless man who finds happiness in his customer’s happiness. A person who features in everyone’s important life events albeit in the background, working away in his quiet corner at the back of the showroom. 

As Siyram’s is a fabric brand, tailors are quite obviously at its heart. Without the tailors, Siyaram’s manufacturing would be incomplete as they constitute the crucial step that converts raw material into finished products. The video thus acknowledges the essential role played by tailors.

It bodes well to appreciate people who form a seminal link in your brand’s functioning as Amazon often does for its delivery personnel. Brand image-wise it paints the brand in an empathetic light by showing it cares for its own, which is a big positive at the present time, where there is greater awareness around labour laws and conditions. 

Speaking of Amazon, let’s see how Amazon associates itself with the local artists and craftspeople while being a global conglomerate: 

Amazon India

Encouraging the skills of Indian Artisans - How Sachin took the artisans of Agra, global

Amazon’s video begins with the famous white marble Taj Mahal snow globes that most Indians and even international tourists would remember as souvenirs from Agra. A local seller from Agra recounts his experience of sourcing items of woodwork, marble work from Agra and nearby small towns and selling those on that is outside India. 

The video also shows us one of the 200 artisans that work with the seller, Sachin Gupta. Gupta not only helps the vendor-artisans by expanding the reach of their items but also guides them in matters of what to produce according to the demand. The project thus steers clear of romanticising the artisans and opts for a practical supply-demand-profit model for craft objects. 

Amazon highlights the huge potential that several small towns all across India, such as Agra, have to take their craft global and make it profitable. The campaign also gels well with Indian policies of ‘vocal for local’ that are pushing for increased globalization of Indian businesses. 

One of the key takeaways from Amazon’s model is the manner in which digital technology has revived the dying Indian handicrafts sector. It has bridged the gap and connected the artisans with markets that were out of their reach earlier. This connection has been well complemented with upfront payments as Gupta mentions, that encourage the artisans and provide them with financial security. 

When it comes to small businesses and handicrafts, financial sustainability is one of the biggest challenges that all artisans grapple with. It is the most persistent step on the way to promoting one’s skill and achieving a sound business model. 

A similar example to Amazon can be seen in this branded content film by Misys Financial Software that provides digital banking to the shoe artisans of Desi Hangover, a leather shoe brand: 

Through our examples, we see a spectrum of stances that brands take vis-a-vis artisans.  One stance romanticises them and attaches sentiments of pride and love. Another stance shifts to acknowledging them as essential links in the brand’s functioning. Finally, the artisans are characterised as highly skilled individuals who are more than capable of taking their enterprises global with some guidance. The brands discussed above share a direct relationship with artisans and the content produced by them portrays as much. 

What are some other ways that brands use to laterally connect with craftspeople? 

SBI Life Insurance uses the trope/storyline that we arrived upon above, the one where artisans are capable individuals: 

SBI Life

SBI Life #MainSeHum Real Life Real Stories - Navratri

Artisans and more specifically the group of women artisans under Pabiben, who make traditional Gujarati ensembles using Kutch embroidery, are presented as an inspiration in the video. Craft for them is a life-changing force. The value of confidence is attached to it. 

So, what is the overall appeal of showing artisans at work and partaking in the digital tour of their workshops? 

As we already concluded, one of course is the boost to the empathetic brand image. The other factors include highlighting digital innovations. Showing an artist knotting meshes in a leather sandal or sculpting a jali-work lamp or stitching a mirror into a skirt adds a tremendous amount of authenticity to the product thus prepared. 

The value of such a product automatically goes up. Once the brand depicts these very artisans up close, speaking in the first person, the feeling of helping fellow hard-working human beings also comes along when doing the purchase. The entire process after all is very humanising in a sense, putting man above the machine. 

On a larger level, focusing on indigenous art and crafts is part of the move towards celebrating Indian heritage. The emerging narrative is presenting Indian crafts not just as beautiful but also fit for innovation. For instance, eco-friendly yoga mats that have been made from bamboo. 

To conclude and to better illustrate the point, consider this podcast: 

Taana Baana by Asian Paints Royale 

The eight-episode podcast is a comprehensive collection on different Indian weaves and textures that have inspired the new shades of Asian Paints. It brings together historians, art collectors, designers to talk about the origins and handicraft techniques associated with Indian weaves such as Ikat, Bandhej, Tussar, etc. To further enhance the podcast, earthy folk songs sung by weavers at work have also been blended into the discussions. It is a beautiful way to add a story to one’s product and amplify the emotional as well as intellectual value associated with it.

Bringing artisans onboard whether your brand is directly or laterally related to them is a wonderful way to participate in a myth-building process that is centuries old. Furthermore, it is a win-win proposition both for the brands and the artisans alike. Highlighting the work of your artisans is a great way to sharpen the brand purpose and give credit where it’s due. Most of all, the approach brings together codes of authenticity and pride that can help one’s brand cut through the clutter of nationalistic messaging of pride in India.

branded content Brands supporting Artisans