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Digital agency, Dentsu Webchutney has recently turned client to itself and come out with 14 short brand films called minisodes, showcasing the work atmosphere at the company. Usually around a minute long, each film either interviews an employee or captures a number of them in conversation about work. This may sound dull and corporate-like in theory but the execution makes it nothing like so.

The interviews don’t follow a formal suit-and-tie set up with the subject placed behind a desk in a separate room to imply leadership and authority. They catch senior employees swivelling in the same chairs as their junior colleagues, as they find their thoughts while answering questions seemingly sprung upon them amid work. The discussions take place in cosy office rooms and busy corridors and are more reminiscent of college roommates brainstorming for an upcoming project than employees thinking up the next proposal. 

And so that you don’t mistake Webchutney for anything other than a modern-day digital agency, all clips are consistently characterised by understated humour and entertaining randomness. Much like the hit TV show The Office (we’re not the first to make this comparison).

The minisodes are a rare example of B2B branded content in the HR space. But it is not this participatory effort that makes them worth studying. It is the success with which they have disrupted the standard approach to employer branding. Through branded content, they have introduced creativity and entertainment to an otherwise functional space that runs on job postings and office walkthroughs – in other words, nothing more than what serves the purpose.

How well do they hold up as branded content?

As branded content, they are not all that different from the conventional kind made for B2C. According to our conceptualisation of branded content – “Make Branded Content More Content and Less Advertising”, they raise only one contradiction, i.e. of sharing the seller’s standpoint. But that comes as a given since they have been made for drawing focus to an employer brand.

Aside from this, the episodes aren’t about any of the tangibles associated with ads. They don’t discuss need gaps and solutions, product benefits and features, consumption and usage situations or brand updates. Shared as a LinkedIn post from the company, they don’t interrupt their audience’s ongoing stream of consumption: a social media feed full of posts about experiences at the workplace, recent developments in the industry, personal updates, company news and so on.

Instead, they reinforce the non-practical reasons for why those shopping for jobs should apply – the brand values, the kind of people who work there and the dynamic between them, not the salary packages or the job benefits. They take a stance in a cultural conversation by showcasing what a positive work atmosphere looks like. As branded content, they try to win the hearts of consumers.

Why create branded content, to begin with?

Ever since brands went digital, digital agencies come dime a dozen in India. And since each is looking to grow into an exceptionally creative powerhouse and bag the big brands, every agency wants to have its pick of the best talent in the market. This obviously means that each needs a differentiating pull factor, something in addition to highlighting successful projects and clients.

Employees today are looking for more than just impressive work credentials. They want an attractive work environment – quirky decor, facilities that go above and beyond, a fun employee dynamic and nurturing mentors. Influenced by global giants like Google (that received attention for putting a slide in its office space) and characters from popular media with romanticised jobs, they desire more than the previous generation of workers.

If an agency does provide any or all of the above, it must highlight them to its potential employees. And only putting out a job posting, an office walkthrough or an ad will not do the trick. It needs to flesh out its identity as an employer brand and make it convincing. How does it follow the codes of a digital agency: youthful, creative, easy-going, good-humoured and passionate? And how does it pull it off authentically?

Branded content can help address these requirements.

How do the minisodes bring out the codes of a digital agency?

Webchutney has ensured that job seekers see their agency as inherently youthful. In “Ab Cannes Ho Gaya”, as one employee talks to the camera about how it feels to have an idea rejected, employees in the background can be seen finishing off a game of table tennis.

Many of the minisodes feature serious sounding and serious-looking conversations about unserious topics. Like when two employees debate about when the client should celebrate Harry Potter (in “What is Not Clear?”). Or the minisode, “Ishtaarth needs a nickname" that sees a discussion about how short names like Stuti and Ayub don’t need nicknames but something serious-sounding like Ishtaarth does.

This youthfulness extends into an easy-going vibe.

Employees are shown working and holding discussions while sitting in comfortable postures (like with their legs folded onto a couch). They are shown casually swearing as part of the forthright expression, with one such occasion finding reference in a minisode title (“We fucking won IKEA!”). Senior employees are shown to not take themselves too seriously. Like in "Consumer Behaviour Interaction" where the Art Group Head jokes around when asked to describe what he does instead of sharing his designation and describing his KRA sincerely.

But it isn’t always fun and games (not entirely anyway). The code of creativity – a primary one for a digital agency – finds itself manifested in “What is The Joke?”, a minisode entirely focussed on a brainstorming session. It can also be spotted in “Ab Cannes Ho Gaya”, which shows three employees having won the Cannes award. And, of course, it reflects in the making of such a series to promote the company.

Another important code; Webchutney makes it easy to tell that the employees are passionate. While one talks about how it is worse to have an idea rejected than be rejected in love (in "Ab Cannes Ho Gaya"), another talks about not feeling happy with the structured work-life balance at a previous job because ‘people didn’t feel for what they did there’ as they do at Webchutney (from “It Just Feels Sad”).

It is primarily through the editing and the camera work that the authenticity of these codes comes through.

The mildly incoherent conversations and interviews give the minisodes an unscripted feel. They open in medias res in imitation of real life, thereby emphasising that these moments haven’t been set up. This approach not only brings forth authenticity but the lack of context also ensures that one, the viewer pays greater attention/re-watches the minisodes, two, feels like joining the organisation to fully understand the context, and three, realises that the organisation is ‘a world of its own’ and not like any other of its kind.

This authenticity through randomness is also achieved by joining snippets that are thematically similar but not linear in nature. As seen in "Why We Are In Advertising” that starts with a guy singing along to loud music while he works and then cuts to a girl talking about why she works in advertising. 

The shaky camera work further helps rid the setup of artificiality. The camera is trained on the subject with a free hand and often goes in and out of focus, unlike the stable and sophisticated recordings usually prepared for big corporate companies. So, the scene doesn’t feel orchestrated but captured as is.

Key takeaways

Webchutney’s minisodes don’t purely rely on facts and bore their audience. They fuse reality with branded content and turn actual people into characters on a show. They narrativize the scenarios just enough so that they simultaneously come off entertaining and believable. Moreover, they break the boundaries between marketing and HR by introducing branded content to the latter. And for both these reasons, they must be recognised for how innovative they are.

A big caveat must be kept in mind though. Being innovative and pioneering isn’t enough. Creators of such branded content in the HR space must be doubly careful when compared to creators of B2C content. They must ensure that their culture lives up to how they present themselves in their branded content/mini-series.

Their relationship with their customers – as employers and employees – is far more intimate than that of a brand and a buyer. The employer brand must stay true to what it promises. Else, as they say in advertising, a great ad kills a bad product faster. And the employer brand can fall prey to narratives of ‘white-washing and creating ‘PR’ to salvage its bad reputation in actuality. 

For employers who can successfully pull off the balancing act between the promises made via branded content and the reality of the work culture in the organisation, branded content gives them a great opportunity to shape the conversations around work culture and to attract the right talent.