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As the festive season ushers in a wave of consumer enthusiasm and spending, one strategy that has been steadily claiming a prominent spot in the marketing arsenal of brands during the festive season is branded content.

Shailja Saraswati

Shailja Saraswati, Chief Content Officer, Omnicom Media Group India, said by making content that captures this festive spirit, brands can make the most of the opportunity to reach the right people in interesting ways,

She continued, “The holiday season is the busiest and most profitable time of the year. Companies and brands start planning special marketing strategies because a lot of people shop for gifts during this time. People tend to make a lot of spontaneous purchases and fear missing out on good deals. Brands can use this opportunity to increase their sales.”

Branded content trends this festive season

Speaking about the most noteworthy trends in branded content creation and consumption during the festive season this year, Saraswati said, "You will notice e-commerce brands prioritise online content for festive shopping and invest in omnichannel customised content for diverse platforms.

“Also, more behaviour-centric campaigns will emerge where content will align with festive buying behaviours. There will also be an increase in regional and vernacular content to help engage smaller city audiences. You can also expect to see brands target luxury items to tap into increased festive season spending,” commented Saraswati.

Madhura Ranade

Madhura Ranade, Vice-President - Business and Branded Content, Dentsu Creative - Experience, said that their teams have been using AI to develop customised branded content experiences for the several brands they work with.

“For the festive season, we have collaborated with a number of brands to produce generative AI visuals that will put them in the spotlight and spark conversation on social media,” Ranade said.

“For certain of our clients, we are also using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create immersive and interesting branded content experiences. These narrative interactions engage customers in branded worlds and provide them access to the brand ecosystem. In order to stay ahead of the curve, brands have become more open to investing heavily in these developing technologies throughout the holiday season,” she added.

Ashish Sehgal

According to Ashish Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer, Advertisement Revenue at Zee Entertainment Enterprises, this festive season, a major new trend will be interactive branded content.

“Interactive branded content helps improve the content experience and evolve from passive consumption to active engagement from our viewers,” Sehgal added.

Plan ahead and understand your audience's behaviour during the festive season

While banking on the festive spirit through branded content is important, Ranade emphasised the need to plan ahead and understand audience requirements.

“It's crucial to begin planning your branded content initiatives early because the holiday season is a busy time for both brands and consumers. This allows us ample time to create original thoughts, high-calibre content and an efficient campaign schedule,” Ranade said.

“Understanding the audience and what they require over the holiday season is essential. We modify our branded content to be more pertinent and engaging to them once we have a better understanding of the audience. Also, we don't limit the distribution channels for our brands and employ a range of ways to reach the target audience, notably through influencer marketing and creator partnerships. More importantly, be creative,” she added.

On being asked how important it is for brands to have a seamless, cross-platform branded content strategy during the festive season, in a cluttered digital space, Saraswati said that customising content for each platform is crucial for cross-platform campaign success. An omnichannel approach remains essential for festive season marketing strategies.

Aziz Khan

Aziz Khan, co-founder and CRO, RVCJ Digital Media, emphasised that another aspect that they focus on during collaborations is maintaining transparency and open communication with the brand.

“We pay attention to the relevance and timing of collaborations during the festive season. In summary, we approach collaborations with brands during the festive season by prioritising creative freedom, brand messaging, transparency and relevance. By striking a balance between these factors, we are able to create content that effectively promotes the brand while still engaging our audience.”

TV platforms’ branded content offerings

On being asked how ZeeTV is adapting to incorporate branded content into their programming during the festive season, Sehgal said that while the channel hand hold the brands through the content co-creation process, the focus remains on forming the right synergy between the characters and the brand needs - as the right character choice can lead to exponential ROI for brands.

According to him, the in-show integrations help the brands form deep connections with Zee’s engaged audiences.

“We create special festive-themed episodes of our top shows where brands can sponsor segments and get an exclusive one-on-one window to pitch their products along with ample product placement opportunities. This festive season, we are taking our content offering a notch higher across markets with the launch of reality shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Dadagiri and annual events like Zee Marathi Awards and Zee Kutumba Awards. These shows and events not only provide a viewership spike on TV but also create multimedia engagement opportunities for brands in every phase - press release, call to entry, audition process, digital promotion, main episodes and finale,” Sehgal said

Meanwhile, Star Plus collaborated with Maruti Suzuki for a special festive season association. The collaboration involved the Star Parivaar, which includes characters from all fiction shows on Star Plus, using Maruti Suzuki cars throughout the festive season, from Diwali to Holi.

As part of this collaboration, the channel also launched the Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara on the show 'Ravivaar With Star Parivaar'.

Another example of a collaboration in the West Bengal market includes Star Jalsha collaborating with Reliance Trends to specifically target the Durga Puja festival. It was an extensive campaign that encompassed various aspects, including on-ground events, on-air promotions and digital marketing efforts.

Brands banking on sports+festive spirit on OTTs

On Disney+ Hotstar, two recent branded content campaigns namely 'Thums Up Fan Pulse' for Thums Up and 'The Men of Platinum - Season 2' by Platinum Guild International (PGI) India, have effectively harnessed the cricket narrative. These campaigns were strategically designed to align with the cricketing fervour, encompassing the festival of cricket with the recently concluded Asia Cup 2023 and the upcoming ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023.

Radio platforms provide hyper-local branded content offerings

Sunil Kumaran

Sunil Kumaran, COO, Big FM emphasised that branded content on radio gives advertisers a chance for a greater level of integration, leveraging their hyper-local reach.

Kumaran said that radio has always been a medium that caters to branded content through its various IPs. During the festival period, brands often gravitate towards tactical promotions like offers and discounts or pursue cause-led marketing. Radio as a medium is uniquely positioned for both kinds of offerings.

“For tactical promotions, we leverage frequency-building elements like contests while for purpose marketing, we have dedicated spikes. We believe the game going forward depends on two pillars which are innovation and scalability. While innovation can be technologically fuelled, scaling up can be by adding elements of digital and on-ground to the offerings," he added. 

While explaining the primary plans and strategies for incorporating branded content during the festive season this year, Kumaran said that Big FM has been working on festive IPs for a long time now. In fact, our Ganpati property ‘BIG Green Ganesha’ was conceptualised at a time when people were only beginning to understand the concept of eco-friendly Ganesha idols.

“The festive season is typically cluttered with branded campaigns, necessitating innovative approaches for success. However, innovation need not be limited to the concept alone. It can also extend to the advertising medium or the integration of technology within the idea. A prime example is that of our successful campaign BIG FM Super Duper Dhamaka, which combined the local reach of radio with an AI-driven video chatbot, promoting local retailers but also giving them a chance to gain access to a celebrity voice to promote their brand and expand their reach. This year, we intend to elevate our game further by harnessing tools such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and gamification to curate something truly distinctive. A multi-platform approach giving audiences an immersive brand experience is what will contribute to its success,” he added.

Digital content platforms continue focus on creative freedom in festive season branded content

Khan said that RVCJ has strategically approached collaborations with brands during the festive season to ensure a balance between creative freedom and brand messaging.

“To begin with, we understand the importance of creative freedom in maintaining our unique voice and engaging our followers. Hence, when collaborating with brands, we ensure that we have the liberty to infuse our creative elements and incorporate our signature style into the content. This allows us to maintain our authenticity and resonate with our audience, while also promoting the brand in an innovative and entertaining manner. At the same time, we recognise the significance of delivering the brand's messaging effectively,” Khan said.

Use influencers’ impact to enhance the festive spirit

Priyadarshi Banerjee

Priyadarshi Banerjee - Vice-President - Business Development and Account Management, Kofluence, said that through their end-to-end campaign management platform, they match brands with influencers whose profiles naturally reflect the celebratory spirit, grandeur and joy synonymous with festive occasions. “Their online presence should resonate with the sentiments of the season, creating an authentic connection. Any campaign’s success hinges on understanding the audience deeply,” he said.

He then added that content that induces a homely feeling and warmth through happy faces works exceptionally well. “We encourage influencers to employ visually appealing storytelling to showcase how our products or services elevate the festive experience. This collaborative approach, where influencers have creative input, ensures that the content aligns with their authentic style while effectively conveying our brand’s festive message,” he added.