Every great story has three important components: what is the story about? What is at the heart of the story? To whom are you telling this story? If these questions are answered before you venture into the still kind of hit-and-miss world of building long-form digital narratives, congratulations – you have sorted a chunk of your strategy.
The fact is that with each passing year, we are witnessing more storytelling made for digital, which makes sense, because you will eventually end up adapting something aimed at a digital audience, so you may as well create for digital. Some brands have taken the route of pushing the same message via an ongoing story (the EFU Humrahi webisodes). Others try to marry the best of TV content to digital-friendly structures (Candi’s Mere Dost Mere Yaar web series).
Then we have the more direct approach to creating stories for digital. Brands can tell them straight from the source (Engro connecting with farmers benefiting from their agricultural programme to give us a glimpse of the changes their initiatives have brought) – although such narratives will engage specific audience only. If a brand is hoping to connect with a wider audience, they must create content that is authentic and perhaps educational but (and sometimes we overlook this when pursuing more serious objectives) entertaining as well.
A trailer for Sarsabz Fertilizers’ (SF) Sarsabz Kahani seems to check the right boxes. The series aims to tell the stories of people involved with Pakistan’s agricultural sector and kicks off with the story of the apparently badass Nazo Dharejo, who fights for her rights over her land after losing her male relatives. This is also SF’s homage to farmers; a look at their social media pages show that they have steadily built up to this point with shorter digital videos and a song dedicated to farmers as part of their Salam Kissan initiative. The idea behind Sarsabz Kahani is pretty cool. If you are going to find a story and bring it to the audiences you covet, you may as well go all the way and invest your time strategising and ideating, and your money executing it. What we cannot judge from the trailer is the quality of the content. When the resources that go into creating live action content for digital are the same as those for TV, something is lost in translation. Whether you are is trying to fit an entire episode in order to get your message across in the first five seconds or capture an easily-distracted audience within 15 seconds, the one thing we see is a lack of depth in the digital storytelling executions.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that digital is the way forward. We are watching content we previously could not, we are purchasing items we previously did not have access to and we are beginning to speak the same language, develop the same cultural references and become invested in concerns that previously may not have impacted us in any way. The great equaliser here is the internet and the doors it opens. I hope that for branded storytelling this means that we are ready to walk through those doors and step on the other side.
Amina Baig is Head of Operations, East River.