How brands should associate themselves with environment and sustainability narratives in branded content to resonate with audience

Hamsini Shivakumar and Kanika Yadav of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting, write that it is crucial that the ambitious cause of sustainability and environment is tailored to audiences in branded content in a way that they identify their own smaller causes within it

Hamsini Shivakumar
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The environment and sustainability/saving the planet has been identified as a burning issue for quite some time now. The pro-environment narratives that advocate its conservation have been around for the past two decades.  US Vice-President, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his awareness and consciousness building efforts on sustainability. Symbols, posters, government directives, etc. are often employed to motivate or force people to adopt environment-friendly approaches to sustainable living.

How do brands associate themselves with this cause for greater resonance with audiences?  There are brands whose business itself is anchored in sustainability (e.g. Energy companies, construction companies) and those whose business lies elsewhere, but whose products can support and enable sustainability, either directly or indirectly. (e.g. cell phones, food products)  And then there are companies that work for sustainability, but whose brands have no connect at all with it (e.g. Soaps and shampoos).

While CSR communications and sustainability narratives are very common as part of corporate branding efforts, brand communication anchored in sustainability messaging is less common. Branded content gives brands an opportunity to connect themselves to the cause to build brand goodwill and equity, without having to force-fit selling messages as well, as ads need to do.

Three interesting and recent examples are worth looking into.

Rays of Change - Avaada Energy

With a boundary of 99 kms and manpower of over 3,000 workers, the solar plant being built by Avaada Energy in Bikaner, Rajasthan is momentous enough to warrant documentation. It has been touted as the largest single-location solar plant by an independent power producer. Rays of Change - a documentary by National Geographic Channel released in January 2021 not only depicts the plant but creates a sense of marvel around it.

The 40-minutes documentary highlights the unused potential of the Sun and the many logistical challenges that appear while harnessing the said potential. It both enriches and expands the horizons of knowledge for the audiences.

The documentary by Nat Geo is rooted in authentic story-telling centred around superhuman potential towards a clean and green form of energy. It creates an unparalleled platform for brand visibility in addition to creating awareness about renewable energy.

Avaada Energy’s partnership with Nat Geo adds credibility to the project as the latter already is well-reputed for bringing forth natural and man-made marvels whether branded or not.

Eye to Eye With the Tiger | Project CAT - Samsung, Discovery

Samsung promotes the S21 Ultra mobile phone through this 5-minute video shot in the wild in collaboration with Discovery Channel’s Project CAT (Conserving Acres for Tigers). The video follows Yashas Narayan, a wildlife photographer as he tries to shoot tigers using his Samsung phone-camera features of which are sprinkled here and there throughout the video.

But the major focus of the video remains on Tigers, their habitats and their hunting habits. Overall, the video offers quite an interesting peek into the diverse wildlife.

The story-telling technique in the video begins at a point where the protagonist talks about his love for Tigers and how he derives his passion from it. Thus, environmental conservation is built up as something that is both interesting and purposeful. With the right amount of interest, one can easily find their purpose in working to preserve the environment.

The benefits of Samsung are visibly tangible as the brand gets to directly promote its phone camera. But locating the marketing strategy in a story that is about the environment on multiple levels gives it an extra edge. It also aligns the campaign with an important cause - Discovery’s Project CAT.

Hawa Badle Hassu - GAIL | Sony LIV

GAIL (India) Limited launched a web series called ‘Hawa Badle Hassu’ (trans. Hassu Changes the Air) that as the name suggests revolved around air pollutants. But the series is far from being a preachy production enlisting the many harms of air pollution followed by ways to conserve it. It is in fact a sci-fi thriller that engages audiences from the moment go!

The protagonist and the eponymous character, Hassu is an auto-rickshaw driver who works to change and save the world - “one rickshaw passenger at a time.” In the course of the series, he is contacted by a Futurist organisation called GOFCON that also wants to preserve Earth’s last remaining ecosystems. The premise has been so ably set that it looks like the plot is about a much more tangible target like robbing a bank or exposing a scam instead of a long-term target like saving the atmosphere. 

An offering like a thriller web series from almost any brand comes with a high engagement value but it makes it all the more interesting for a PSU to produce content in this format. The initiative puts GAIL in league with private brands that usually have a lot of visibility in the market.

And of course, it creates curiosity and interest around environmental pollution via its themes.


It is crucial that the ambitious cause of sustainability and environment is tailored to audiences in a way that they identify their own smaller causes within it. Based on our material today, there are multiple ways to do it. A brand can create an engrossing series that leaves audiences with serious questions to think about and hopefully to also do something about, as Hawa Badle Hassu does. A brand can integrate their product with nature as Samsung does where their phone device enables a passionate photographer to not just capture the beauty of Tigers but also raise awareness about them being an endangered species. Or indeed highlight the grand scale of their effort as Avaada Energy does.

There are thus multiple ways to deliver a message that has already been out there. Brands only need to look at new symbols and find new ways to share a universal message in ways that it resonates personally.

Kanika Yadav Leapfrog Strategy Consulting Hamsini Shivakumar