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“Storytelling has gotten more layered, more nuanced and real. Earlier it was simple. Good guys do good things and bad guys do bad things. Conflict and resolve. The plots dictated stories. In fact, now there is a lot of material out on the web, where plot is becoming the enemy of storytelling,” said Rajesh Ramaswamy, Co-Founder, The Script Room, in a free flowing interview with 

“It no longer engages you if it is predictable. It is more wholesome, fluid and non-judgmental, and flows organically. It is beginning to resemble life as we know it, which is why people connect more,” he said.

Ramaswamy (Former Executive Director at Lowe Lintas Bangalore) and Ayyappan Raj (Business Head for Unilever Global, MullenLowe, Singapore) launched The Script Room a year ago. The company that had seeded on a WhatsApp group to share and discuss advertising and movies has now full-fledged offices in Bangalore and Mumbai and is working with several brands such as Netflix, Oyo, Chumbak and others.

Ramaswamy, popularly known as Ramsam and also a great storyteller, shared his perspective on the branded content space shaping up in India. He talked about advertising professionals who have forever been creating ad films and are now also producing great branded content pieces. He talked about how storytelling has evolved, brands have become more open to try different content formats and how branded content is an ‘amalgamation of instincts and commitment’.


How do you see the branded content space shaping up in India?

It was slow and a bit unclear in the beginning. Branded content was viewed as opportunities for footage, the reach, how many plug-ins you can get and other random things. It was always like a ‘sponsor approach’. The programme reach, how many times will the logo be flashed, can you show the lead protagonists using our product, can you make them speak about it, can they even mention our baseline.

Now brands are beginning to understand what this is all about. Brands are getting a lot savvier. In the sense, ideally there should be no difference between branded or unbranded content, at least in its intent. It is content that is created primarily to interest and engage the viewer. That is the singular agenda. It is content created keeping in mind the viewer. Not any brand. And at the end of the day, every piece of content has a personality, a spirit, a soul, a form and shape, a language which is catering to a particular audience. They are almost like part producers of the show, if not sole in some cases. And like any producer, the primary intent would be to want the show to do well. If the show does well, the producer benefits.

A lot of times, it is argued that advertising people can be good copywriters but not good scriptwriters and one needs a different mindset to create branded content. What’s your take?

It is partly true. Or rather it was partly true, when this whole trend started. It is not true anymore. The lines are blurring. In fact, it would be stupid to generalise anymore. That generation of ‘the typical advertising copywriter’ does not exist anymore. It is not a universe that one is alien to anymore. In fact, if you look at some of the most popular shows, they are not written by veterans with great experience in the field. It is relatively a very new medium encouraging fresh ideas. There is no telling that it is not for advertising folks. In fact, there is greater scope for an advertising writer to create content, because he is familiar with some technical aspects of the world.

But I do agree that screenwriting is a little different from advertising writing. And to excel in it has little to do with whether you are from advertising or not. It has more to do with whether you have a story to tell, and do you know how to tell it. The only part where advertising training can contribute to this is ‘sharpness’ and ‘focus’. It helps because at the end of the day, be it 30 secs or 3 seasons, if you break it down, it all demands structure. People have this misconception that the long format helps you express more, or it can be more indulgent. I don’t think so. In fact, it can be 300 hours long, but it still needs to shed its fat to keep you engrossed. In that way, coming from an advertising school kind of helps you.

What are the advantages if a pure-play creative agency person writes a script for branded content than a new-age content platform or a creator?

Honestly, in the real world, nobody cares. They don’t look up or down upon you if you come from advertising. Javed Akhtar and Gulzar have written screenplays and lyrics. Some others have only stuck to screenplays and some others to lyrics. It could also be a question of interest and inclination. It is lesser to do with the individual and more to do with the environment they belong to. Both these environments respond to creativity in a very different way.

Like in one place the response could be ‘Dude, this seems so forced man and a total sell-out.’ Or in the other it could be ‘all that is fine, but man the brand has little role to play in this’. Both the reactions are absolutely valid. You could have a kickass show that a brand is associated with, but there is absolutely nothing that connects that brand and that piece of content except ‘so and so presents’ and that could be easily forgotten. Or on the other hand, the brand integration could be bang on, but nobody cared to watch it. The idea is not to find a sweet spot or a balance between the two. It is to be tied up at the very core, at the soul of it. If that happens, it's totally liberated to then freely express.

How has storytelling evolved over the years?

Storytelling has gotten more layered, more nuanced and real. Earlier it was simple. Good guys do good things and bad guys do bad things. Conflict. Resolve. The plots dictated stories. In fact, now there is a lot of material out on the web, where plot is becoming the enemy of storytelling. It no longer engages you, if it is predictable. Or it could still be, but the reasons to watch it are way more than the plot alone. It is more wholesome, fluid and non-judgmental, and flows organically. It is beginning to resemble life as we know it, which is why people connect more.

What are the common mistakes people make while creating branded content?

Trying to make extended versions of their TVCs or thinking of stories that their baseline could prompt them to. Again, there are no rights or wrongs in this. In fact, if the baseline leads up to stories that are great to watch, outside of it fitting the brand, then why not. But one has to be a little more open to it. There are no rules to this. It is honestly an amalgamation of instinct and commitment.

In the past, Lux being directly associated with beauty pageants, filmy shows worked well. Or insanely opposite, Binaca Geetmala (probably the first of branded content) with no connection between a toothpaste and music, worked because of the brand’s commitment for the show. The same with Close-up Antakshari, no connection except commitment or even the Amul Surabhi show.

This still continues to work. For example, Black Dog Comedy evenings, where whisky has nothing to do with comedy, Royal Stag Large Short Films, where nothing connects the brand with the content apart from the word play. But the commitment towards the topic or the platform gets them closely associated. It’s a slow burner. There is enough to be studied. And there can be no pattern to establish a theory.

Also, marketers fear their brand being tarnished because the overall tone and manner of the show could not suit what the brand represents. It could be tricky sometimes. But the truth of the matter is, if all brands are treading carefully, and only want to be associated with shows that are goody two shoes, they could be missing out a lot. The right way to look at it is in a very large zoomed-out perspective. It cannot be too myopic.

One should be game for a few trolls. One is not endorsing a particular show but freedom of expression. One is not encouraging this particular comedian. He could fail, but the brand stands for encouraging the platform of comedy. Brands need to take on platforms. And let them organically evolve. Not micro-manage them. Brands that are up for trolls are the ones who will find their fans.

What role has branded content and content marketing played during these times? Would it change the post-Covid era and would people move back to advertising?

The post-Covid era predictions could be extremely surprising. At a larger level, the entire world was given a break. This has probably been the biggest impact that each one of us would have felt so deeply in our lives. My assumption is that it could change so drastically, that everything I thought could be so wrong. But my guess is that the larger the problem, the smaller the solution. We are coming out of this, having reflected upon a lot, having had the time to. Everyone and their thoughts have changed after this. It is a new world out there, with everyone having discovered something else in this period. We are all going to spend some time reconnecting ourselves. Nobody is the same anymore.

Why should brands connect with Script Room for their branded content requirements?

For no other reason than that we attempt to connect these two worlds. With nothing taking over the other. We only believe that at the core of all this lies the power of writing. We firmly think there is so much more to explore in the universe of a writer’s mind. And we are here to only explore the possibilities of that. And we are on a mission to give all those thoughts that emerge from that mind, a purpose. That is our source. That is our sell.

Which are your favourite pieces of branded content?

TVF Pitchers. Aptly named. And even with plugged-in dialogues like ‘tu beer hai’ never took away from the central plot. It never seemed forced. In fact, it accurately captured the spirit of beer and beer drinking at its soul.

Another great example of branded content is again by TVF co-incidentally is Yeh Meri Family. Two unrelated concepts of nostalgia and mutual funds put together. Ordinarily, there seems nothing that connects these universes. But one of the main protagonists happens to be a Mutual Funds agent in the story. It is a story plug-in, but worked. Sometimes it can be even this simple. The deal is to weave it into the story that seems convincing. Nobody is against branding. Almost every sporting video which we are all inspired by has Adidas and Nike flashed around somewhere or the other. That does not bother as much as dictating the story. The minute someone knows that is done to sell this or this product, their viewing behaviour changes. It is bound to happen.

And when it comes to other formats, Redbull is one of the often repeated examples for brands that consistently put out exciting content.

Having said that, even a good, engaging ad which tells a beautiful story, can be seen as branded content. Some of the films that we have done are clearly coming out of this approach.