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Stand-up comedy as an art form has seen exponential growth in India over the last ten years. Comedians have become celebrities in their own right, albeit mostly on digital platforms. 

Brands are also very well aware of this phenomenon, so they’ve tried their best to leverage the celebrity of comics. They use stand-up comedians in their branded content/Instagram communications to make their brands appear more amenable to humour, in order to connect with youth audiences.

Stand-up comics already have an established audience, so from a marketing point of view, collaborating with a comedian would also bring them the added advantage of accessing youth audiences.

For brands to collaborate effectively with the world of stand-up, they need to have a deeper insight into what stand-up really represents in culture. Stand-up as a genre of comedy represents many ideas that are deeply resonating with the youth culture of today. Stand-up is not just about making people laugh. The genre represents rebellion from social conventions, freedom and autonomy and the pursuit of an individual voice. There are a lot of comedians in India on other mediums such as TV also, (Kapil Sharma being the most famous), but the youth identifies the most with stand-up comics as they embody all the values of the genre. 

Gen Z and the younger cohort of millennials like to feel liberated from social conventions and especially their families, who at least in the Indian context, tend to be mostly conservative. Stand-up comedy provides an avenue for them to witness an unfettered form of expression. There’s not much regulation over content on the internet, thus stand-up comics can get away with saying a lot of things that may not be normative for the society at large. 

New age Indian stand-up comedy draws from the American tradition, where comedy began as a part of the counterculture movement. Thus, today in India we also see comedians empowered enough to talk about things that are taboo in Indian society. Even the language used can get a bit ‘obscene’ at times, which the youth audiences perceive as liberating or rebellious towards the dominant culture at large.

Although stand-up comics can simply showcase ads from brands in exchange for money, on their Instagram/YouTube channel, they refrain from doing so, as they believe such obvious sponsorship would devalue their personal brand. Even though it would be easier for the comedian to just put up an ad post on his Instagram page, comedians usually choose to get involved in making the branded content as well. They choose to do so instead of posting an ad that does not feature them, as that would make it seem like the comedian has ‘sold out’ for money.

Comedians have to tread a slippery slope, as there is a thin line between ‘selling out’ and doing the occasional brand work. The former can diminish the comedian’s audience, as they follow him for his art, i.e. comedy, instead of advertisements.  This tenet held dear by comedians needs to be kept in mind by brands that wish to collaborate with them and do so synergistically.

Here are some examples:

Anubhav Singh Bassi, Vadilal:

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A post shared by Anubhav Singh Bassi (@be_a_bassi)

Anubhav Singh Bassi’s Instagram post with Vadilal is exactly what branded content should be. Bassi is seen narrating a bit from his stand-up. The post is an extension of his popular stand-up comedy video, ' Hostel’, on Youtube. In the video, he narrates a tiny anecdote with Sam, his friend and a character he narrated a story about in his stand-up comedy video. 

This piece of branded content is clearly not a stand-up comedy video. Yet, Bassi is talking about it, as it adds to the brand’s value of highlighting Bassi’s identity as a stand-up comedian.

Though there’s no mention of Vadilal ice cream, Bassi is seen eating it. The message clearly is that a popular stand-up comedian relishes Vadilal ice-cream while narrating light-hearted stories about his life, why can’t you do it too?

Bassi is not seen as selling the product but relishing the ice cream while narrating his bit. This is a clear example of branded content rather than advertising, which is more appropriate for a digital post.

After narrating the story, however, Bassi also mentions that this was his ‘waah moment’. Through the placement of the ‘waah moment’ which was a part of Vadilal’s campaign #hardilbolewaahvadilal, Vadilal chooses to make it clear that this is a paid bit of marketing material. 

But most of Bassi’s other branded content pieces on Instagram differ from the Vadilal one. As Anubhav Singh Bassi is famous for his anecdotal comedy, even the branded content he is usually featured in has him performing a tiny bit, essentially narrating a story about his own life, and then there’s the product placement. 

Rahul Dua and Gurleen Pannu:

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A post shared by Rahul Dua (@therahuldua)

Comicstaan runner-ups Rahul Dua and Gurleen Pannu feature together for Sprite’s ‘Thand Rakh’ campaign. It is an interesting combination because Dua and Pannu are from different seasons of Comicstaan, i.e. season 1 and season 3. Yet, both of them are part of the campaign together as they both fit the bill of being born in Punjab comedians. 

Sprite clearly wanted to capitalise on the Punjabi nature of Rahul and Gurleen. They’re featured in the ‘Thand Rakh’ campaign because Thand Rakh as a phrase is eponymous with the Punjabi culture.

Sprite positioned itself quite intelligently, as it did not just want to use comedians for their celebrity and appeal with the Insta audience. They located them in a culture and thus found a collaborative way to make the ad.

Nishant Suri -

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Nishant Suri takes an interesting approach to product placement. In his collaboration with Bare Anatomy, he discusses the problem of how comedians who do brand work are perceived as ‘sellout comics’. So, he subverts this perception by addressing the issue at hand. He initially tries to discuss the issue of comics ‘selling out’ for money. He looks at those comics with disdain and goes on to say that he cannot do this kind of work for money.

Then, he ‘flips’ the situation and says he cannot sell products like Bare Anatomy’s Expert Anti Frizz Range. He repeatedly insists that he cannot sell products like this one for money while listing out the product's features one by one. 

It is a brilliant piece of marketing. Since it is not a conventional way of doing branded content, the audience is also hooked-in, as they think it is going to be a rant about comedians selling out, and then it makes one laugh out loud looking at the sheer cleverness of the brand placement.

Samay Raina, meta video about branded content:

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Samay Raina also does something similar to Nishant Suri. He makes a meta video about branded content. In the video, Samay depicts how to create branded content while simultaneously placing an actual product in the video. The video is over-the-top, which works well, as exaggeration is one of the key tools of comedy.

In Samay’s other branded content videos, however, an ‘extra-comedic’ aspect of his life is also used. Much like the ‘extra-cinematic’, the extra-comedic refers to aspects of the comedian’s life outside the sphere of comedy.

For instance, Samay Raina is also a chess player, apart from being a stand-up comedian. He streams a lot of chess matches on his YouTube channel. And brands have chosen to include that aspect of his life as well in the video that he makes. In his video for HealthKart Melatonin tablets, Sagar Shah, a chess player and commentator, is featured alongside Samay. Even though Sagar is not directly associated with comedy, he features in the video because he is Samay’s friend. 

Thus, Samay’s personal life, albeit the one that he chooses to showcase on a public platform also gets included in the content even though it is not directly associated with his primary profession of being a stand-up comedian. 

Key Takeaways

Branded content when made in collaboration with stand-up comics needs to keep in mind some key points in order to connect with the fans and followers of the comic (youth TG and youth culture) and thus be effective.

1. Short-form content: short videos that are simply produced, are not too slick and ‘packaged’ work well.  They feel more ‘authentic’.

2. Locating in culture:  Branded content also works best when the comedian or influencer involved is located in their own culture. When brands are aware of the cultural background of a comedian and the ‘extra-comedic’ aspects of his life, they can make a video that better fits the bill and resonates among audiences.  This feels more ‘culturally connected’.

3. Subtle and Intelligent product plugs: Obvious product plugs - when the comedian appears as a salesman or ambassador for a brand are a put-off for the audience. Product pitches need to be done intelligently and subtly. Brand owners need to feel comfortable with the comedian spoofing their products while promoting them as well. This approach feels more true to the idea of stand-up as a space for independent minded and non-conformist people.

In conclusion, stand-up as a genre of comedy has a special place in youth culture, based on what it represents in terms of values. Brands that collaborate with stand-up comedians to create content for youth audiences need to be mindful of these values in order to resonate with them.