OSAMA SAEED: When did Vitamin C officially launch?
RASHNA ABDI: Vitamin C was formally launched on January 1st, 2022. I was heading the biggest creative team at the top agency in the country (IAL Saatchi & Saatchi) but I had hit a ceiling. As I had worked on entertainment-based content before joining advertising, and given the shift from conventional to digital media, and the growing need for online entertainment, I realised that there was a space for brands to create a connection with their audience in a way that conventional advertising would not be able to do.
OS: What does the C stand for in Vitamin C?
RA: Content. We are not a production company or a digital agency. We are a specialist content company that focuses on and specialises in branded entertainment. With over 61 million people online actively seeking entertainment, a brand’s narrative can be brought to life in wonderfully imaginative ways via storytelling that draws audiences into the ‘brand world’ without it being a hard sell. By using platforms smartly and incorporating audience insights, barriers can be addressed and brand perceptions changed. And this is how consumer loyalty and advocacy happen. Brand integration, however, is key; bringing the brand essence to life does not mean ignoring the product, it means integrating the product seamlessly within the context of the story.
OS: Could you elaborate on this?
RA: It is very interesting how entertainment is seen by audiences. For example, you have the obvious – game shows, cooking shows and food tutorials. Then there are social experiments, which include reality-based content. There is also edutainment: anything that educates as well as entertains. A lot of brands are doing this in Pakistan; for example, National Foods’ National Ka Pakistan or Milo’s cricket tutorials, or GSK’s web series.
OS: How will you differentiate your branded content from others, such as Coke Studio and Nescafé Basement?
RA: Right now, there is no real parameter for success. A lot of brands that I spoke to would say “we got 14 million impressions.” Now, impressions can be bought so that is not a gauge of success. A real gauge of success is when a brand generates talkability, raises top of mind awareness or brand love, and perhaps more importantly, impacts sales – content, while being entertaining, has to impact sales as well. Right now, this is not happening and part of the reason is that content is developed by third party content creators. They may be great at what they do, but they may not understand the brand all that well. Brand integration only works if it is done in the context of the story. It has to be meaningful. This is where Vitamin C has an edge because I understand how brands work. I understand the audience they are talking to; I can bring in those insights which others cannot. It is not about in-your-face selling; it is more like silent placement.
OS: How do you make sure the content stands out in silent product placement?
RA: There is a sweet spot between having silent product placement and doing it in a way that is cringe-worthy, over-placed and awkward. My favourite example of branded integration is Stranger Things. They have done two major product placements: one was Eggo, in which the character Eleven kept eating out of the box. Eggo, a processed frozen waffle brand, was big in the 80s but lost its charm over the years. There is nothing surprising about Eggo being in the show, either, since the show was based in the 80s. The second was Coca-Cola. In the mid-80s, Coca-Cola – and this is more relevant to the US – changed their formula and launched a new Coke which was a complete disaster. They had to go back to Coke and call it ‘Original Coke.’ In Stranger Things there is an integration in which one of the characters is drinking the new Coke and the others ask, “Why the hell are you drinking that?” It was a ballsy move because traditional marketers would never dis their own products but they did so, and it didn’t affect Coke badly at all. If anything, it did the opposite.
OS: What has been your biggest challenge in establishing Vitamin C?
RA: Creating awareness centring on the need for branded entertainment. The fact that it is not a replacement for traditional advertising and that it has ROIs as well. The right kind of entertainment content can create brand love, increase sales and make an emotional connection. For example, The Lego Movie is a good example of branded entertainment. It was based on the brand’s equity, it had what the brand is about – imagination – and it had the product present almost throughout the film and a very engaging storyline. They made Lego relevant again. Similarly, BMW did something very interesting before the age of YouTube; they were not coming up with new car models whereas their competitors were. So, they came up with short action films starring Clive Owen and other big stars like Dakota Fanning and Vera Farmiga. They put all their money behind these films and each featured a BMW and highlighted its relevant specs during action-filled chase scenes. The car was as much the hero of the film as Owen was. They made eight such films and placed them on their website and people went there to watch them. Not only did their sales go up (this was a brand that did not have any new products to offer at the time), their brand love went up as well.
OS: What projects are you working on?
RA: A cooking show for Dalda which is in the post-production phase and a documentary for the Pakistan Pavilion at Expo Dubai. We are also collaborating with other content creators, media and digital agencies.
OS: With the recent shift to digital, what, in your opinion, will be the next big shift in advertising?
RA: Branded entertainment is the future of brands and advertising.