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Swiggy’s instant grocery delivery service, Swiggy Instamart broke open the space of branded content this last Valentine’s Day. It came out with The Better Half Cookbook – a truly novel cookbook that splits each featured recipe into two halves, equipping the modern-day couple to fairly divide kitchen duties in the spirit of gender equality. This approach also halves the time spent cooking, leaving the couple more to spend with each other outside of this domestic duty, rather than isolating one (usually the woman) in the kitchen while the other kicks back.

The brand’s role in encouraging this new-age setup is perfectly organic. The cookbook acts as branded content cum complementary product to its primary offering – door-step delivery of groceries. So, you don’t have to go scrounging across stores to kickstart this utopic vision; instead, simply scan the QR code in your cookbook (different for each recipe) to receive the required ingredients within 30-45 minutes of placing the order.

It is undoubtedly an inventive way to go topical while standing out from the competition and without veering from the brand objective. But there is more to why The Better Half Cookbook makes for an example worth emulating.

Encourages meaningful consumption as branded content

Mainstream products i.e., products that are not the result of a niche cultural movement, primarily offer utility, pleasure or a combination of both. And they demand very little engagement from the consumers’ side.

To combat the limited connect generated by such products, brands often rely on long-format ads and online branded content to serve a greater purpose than just meeting a need or making people happy. They try to positively affect cultural change and generate goodwill through association, and thus appear a more meaningful presence than a profit-making vendor.

Yet, there always exists a gap between the brand as a seller of goods and the brand as a cultural influencer. The two identities often seem to run parallel without intersecting. And who is to say that every consumer who buys from the brand also engages with their digital presence and vice versa?

The Better Half Cookbook closes the gap between the world of products and branded communication to bring meaning straight into consumption – in addition to the utility and/or pleasure already provided by Swiggy Instamart. Despite belonging to the world of mainstream products, it ensures meaningful consumption.

Much like an artisanal coffee brand that introduces you to the high-brow culture of drinking black coffee after preparing it yourself like a connoisseur, instead of buying from the coffee shop or knocking up a cup at home with coffee powder – without a second thought.

For a clearer understanding of what makes up meaningful consumption, let us quickly break down The Better Half Cookbook according to the five parameters we had developed as part of a self-initiated project on this concept.

According to our study, meaningful consumption involves going beyond the familiar to learn and engage with something outside of what you know, to ensure that you consume more mindfully than usual. This kind of consumption instils a sense of belongingness to a culture/community through the adoption of the product. It creates a positive impact on the larger context and keeps you informed about it in real-time. It alters your cultural experience. And lastly, meaningful consumption is made possible when brands go beyond fulfilling momentary demands to create points of connect with a long-lasting impact.

The Better Half Cookbook aligns with the parameters in its own way.

It expects you to put in the time and effort needed to adjust to a largely new system of cooking. It requires you to learn how to work alongside your partner and function as a team. And of course, for the partner who doesn’t really know how to cook, it demands learning from scratch.

Investing in the cookbook allows you to feel like a part of the feminist movement recently sprung up in the country. It alters your lived experience of the gender roles you have followed for most of your life. All of this has been made possible because Swiggy Instamart decided that it wasn’t enough to just distribute groceries but also create a catalyst that makes consumers aware of the larger culture this consumption exercise comprises.

The only difference is that The Better Half Cookbook is not purely a product, but first and foremost it is branded content. And that difference is its achievement. Because while we are used to seeing branded content starting all the necessary conversations, we are not used to seeing it alter how buyers consume a brand and the larger culture it comprises.

More likely to enter lived experience than ads and online branded content

It is not as if the trend of gender-equal kitchens lies untapped in the brand and marketing space online.

Within the format of storytelling, both advertisements and branded content have been trying to tackle the issue for about a decade. In 2016, Fortune Foods came out with an ad that shows how we can be quick to attribute tasty home-made food to mothers without realising that we are giving in to a stereotype.

Fortune Soyabean Oil (Hindi):

These last couple of years, we have also seen ads from the meat and seafood company, Licious that normalise the presence of men in the kitchen without overtly addressing it but showing it as par for the course.

Here is one such ad from 2019; ‘Licious - Fish that unites families #BaatBadalDe’:

As for branded content, a popular entry to the trend came from women’s apparel brand, BIBA in 2015. The short film is about an arranged marriage set-up where the father expects his prospective son-in-law to learn to cook, just like his daughter can.

BIBA - Change The Convention #ChangeIsBeautiful:

Another ethnic wear brand, Sabhyata came out with an unusual short film in 2019 which shows a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law playing upon the patriarchal understanding of a domestic household to get the husband/son to adopt some kitchen duties.

All these examples and others like them are surely effective in challenging social learning about gender roles. But storytelling can only go so far in actively bringing cultural change, even when done through online branded content which holds greater potential to emotionally connect than ads do.

How about the other formats of online branded content?

There are cookery shows for sure. Brands seem to frequently rely on them to nudge consumers into action and generate higher engagement than usual. But often cookery shows are unable to overcome the gap between the real and the virtual world. And more importantly, space has turned saturated ever since brands elected it as a key technique to interact with consumers during the pandemic.

Some brands have also explored the interview format as a consciousness-raising exercise.

For instance, ‘Dear Man Hold The Pan’, a street interview by Wonderchef where interviewees are asked to identify some of the staple ingredients found in an Indian meal:

Such an approach undoubtedly helps brands get closer to consumers in their lived experience than formats as storytelling do. It is useful in revealing the consumer’s perspective in real-time, thereby generating strong proof for the argument the brand is trying to make. Especially as compared to the storytelling format that crafts the fictional scenario according to the message it wants to send. The interview format also merges the otherwise separate spaces of consumer speak and brand speak to create content that resonates more deeply.

But again, like storytelling, it only raises awareness and doesn’t necessarily bring immediate alteration to consumers’ lived experience.

In contrast to all of these, Swiggy Instamart relies on a format that steps off the screen to enter the consumers’ real-world context. It doesn’t just show them what change and progress can look like, it hands them the instruction manual to it. It also rewards them for taking the desired action – couples who submit a snap of themselves cooking in the kitchen stand a chance to win a free copy of the cookbook.

The Better Half Cookbook goes much further than long-format ads and online branded content is actively opening your mind to a more empowering social scenario.

Your key takeaways

The Better Half Cookbook is a reminder for those who see branded content as equal to online content – that while brands must talk to consumers in the virtual space since that is where they spend a large part of their day, brands must also communicate with them in a world that is more real and tangible to them. That directly affects their everyday experience.

Products may fill the requirements of utility and pleasure in that everyday experience but offline branded content must cater to the desire for greater meaning and cultural interaction felt by consumers.

And what better time to climb aboard, when the space of offline branded content is nowhere near as crowded as that of online branded content?