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According to anthropological research, story-telling is nothing but a symbiotic exchange between the teller and the listener. This exchange assists humans as they try to figure out the rhythm of everyday life. It is made yet more interesting when stories are weaved around real-life instances.

Story-telling occupies a central place when it comes to branded content. As is often observed, the process is inspired by ‘true stories’. We take a close look at the process and its implications:

Care Lives On #TouchOfCare - Vicks

The third instalment in Vicks’ Touch of Care series, this film is about Dr Dyaneshwar Bhosale -  a hard-working paediatrician who passed away after contracting the Covid Virus in July 2020. It is poignantly narrated by his wife, Priyanka Bhosale. While the first two films narrated stories of two kids who had received a ‘touch of care’ in the form of adoption, the third shows hundreds of kids who were helped by Dr Bhosale.

Notably, the first two ‘Touch of Care’ films focusing on adoption, rare diseases, and trans-people were also well-appreciated. Featuring the exemplary stories of Gauri Sawant, David and Alomo Lobo, they made a case for adopting children:

Coming back to the story of Dr Bhosale, Vicks pays tribute to the young doctor who lives for his noble purpose- of building a world-class hospital in rural Maharashtra. The film uses emotive visuals that include real pictures of Dr Bhosale, his family, and his dream- the incomplete hospital building. It concludes with the information that Vicks is now helping Mrs Bhonsale in finishing the hospital.

Implications of telling such a story are manifold- to start with, it highlights a tale worth knowing. A pandemic that claimed and continues to claim more than a million lives left bare minimum mental space for people to stop and take notice of everyone who went away. In paying tribute to an inspiring man, Vicks abets the process of meaning-making amidst the madness brought over by the Pandemic.

Real Life Real Stories - SBI Life Insurance

With Real Life Real Stories, SBI Life Insurance visualises the life tales of worthwhile people from different corners of the country. It features people who’ve made an impact in the social sector. For instance, the featured video narrates the story of Murugan Theruvoram- an auto-rickshaw driver who through his NGO has rehabilitated more than nine thousand children.

Real Stories by SBI Life Insurance are narrated by the featured people themselves which further enhances the authenticity. Although most stories are filled with hope, Murugan’s story is more so possible because it was released around Christmas. It shows Murugan in Santa’s role- handing out gifts to local kids and seniors which again sits well with the seasonal theme of Christmas.

Another video in the same series highlights the empowering life of Pabiben who runs a handicraft business and has helped several local women in channelising their talent. Released around Navratri, the role of the goddess in these women’s lives is also given space in the narrative:

SBI Life Insurance’s short video stories maintain a lucid narrative and make brilliant use of relevant symbols like Santa or the Devi (goddess). This expands the relevance of the story being told as mythical symbols tend to find a wider resonance within consumers.

#Stripower - Tata Power

‘Stripower’ is a collection of ten videos launched in 2020 that each highlight the work of ten extraordinary women from rural India. The first episode features Indrayani Gawade who is into traditional food conservation. The video follows her as she makes bio-degradable cutlery using leaves and feeds people joyously.

Tata Power shows a meaningful way to narrate an authentic tale by incorporating elements like folk songs, green orchards, kaccha houses, etc. These give a semblance of rawness and genuineness.

‘Stripower’ celebrates women and the role their traditional knowledge plays in making them self-reliant or ‘aatmanirbhar’. It positions rural India as a repository of resources.

The video ends with the link to ‘Saheliworld’- a website selling produce from Self Help Groups. It is one way to empower more women like these in the scheme of Tata Power’s story-telling.

The story builds up to the conclusion of helping further and gives agency to consumers to create more such stories.

Heroes of the Human Race - Coca-Cola

With Coca-Cola’s Heroes of the Human Race, we come back to the most prominent contemporary theme- the Covid pandemic. Heroes of the Human Race celebrates people who rose up to the challenge imposed by the pandemic. Apart from short videos shot on the field, Coca-Cola came up with a dedicated website that contains tales of all the good samaritans:

Highlighting the good work like feeding the needy or supplying groceries has been done by many brands in the last two years. Coca-Cola sets itself apart by presenting a narrative that is rich in details like motivation factors that are crucial to these heroes. Moreover, Coca-Cola digs deep as it goes around following its protagonists when they are on the ground.

Visuals of the winding lanes of Nizamuddin Basti in Delhi from the above video can be considered here.

Looking more closely at Bilal Khan’s video, one realises that it is not simply a documentary that introduces the person and his work. Rather, the video has a story-like quality to it where Bilal’s project to help immigrants is shaped into a plot. The plot is provided with a sense of completion with a couplet written by Bilal’s father on the theme of helping one another.

Conclusion: Fact or Fiction

Given that story-telling is a seminal part of branded content, it is essential to come up with effective ways to do the same. Going with the dictum that even the best pieces of fiction derive from fact, the idea to include real-life stories in branded content sounds useful.

Real-life stories provide a strong base for accounts that can be artfully told to inspire. When blended with songs, poetry or visuals real stories deliver strong on the four Ps of storytelling- Plot, People, Purpose, and Place. The plots in the aforementioned examples depict people with purposes in their own zone/places. Therefore, real-life stories make for a compelling narrative.

When amalgamating real-life stories into branded content, brands must complement them with lucid writing and narrative. It is on the brands to weave a life story or someone’s inspiring acts into a symbiotic exchange that will resonate far and wide. As observed in the four examples above, hope plays a large role when dealing with real-life stories. Thus brands should try to incorporate aspirational elements.

To further the impact of their stories, brands can follow them up with actions that may bring about a change on the ground like Vicks contributing to Dr Bhosale’s hospital. Alternatively, they can simply provide a link like Tata Power to promote products by their protagonists.