Disguise-Fool-Reveal – but to what effect?

I saw this video featuring badminton superstars Kidambi Srikanth and Ashwini Ponnappa with a lot of interest.

The stars dress up as old people, manage to fool kids in a badminton academy with their disguise, and eventually start playing their true selves to reveal who they really are, much to the astonishment of the kids.

There have been several such attempts in the past that work in the same way – disguise, fool innocent bystanders/people on the road, reveal.

Here is Cristiano Ronaldo doing the same, in 2015.

Ronaldo’s video was done on behalf of ROC Live Life Loud. According to LinkedIn (http://bit.ly/2Vj8bcM), “ROC Live Life Loud is a family of premium consumer headphones, sports earbuds, and speakers, created in partnership with global superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Global Lifestyle and leading digital content company Shareability. The company is focused on audio technology and mobile accessories for a young, on-the-go, global audience”.

And here is NBA star Kyrie Irving, pulling the same stunt in 2012, for Pepsi. This video series eventually was converted into a full-length Hollywood film called Uncle Drew, incidentally.

Or, take the example of Sonu Nigam pulling the same stunt in 2016. He dressed up as a road-side singer.

This was done for the content portal Being India. The video description says, “In the daily grind of life we forget how happiness lies in little things around us and how God is in details. Find out in this social experiment by Being Indian, how Indians react to beauty when it is just around the corner. Let us know in the comments below how many times have YOU stopped to admire the little joys that are hidden around us“.

Now, getting back to the Kidambi Srikanth and Ashwini Ponnappa video. The video was shared by Star Sports, to promote Premier Badminton League. Given the RedBull logo towards the end, I assume RedBull produced the film.

A couple of observations.

1. All these videos follow the same disguise – fool – reveal trajectory. In almost all these cases, the online audience (us) is first shown who the celebrity is, to sustain our interest in the video, but the offline audience is always the one that gets fooled (gets to the know the truth in the end). Their surprise/astonishment is what makes the video interesting for us online audiences.

2. There have been many instances of such incidents during medieval times. In most of our mythological tales, there are stories of Kings, Queens and Princes disguising themselves as commoners and doing things for people, with the people. There was even a brief scene on this in Baahubali 2, when Baahubali attempts to catch a wild boar, and fails intentionally. A large part of the first half of the film is about Baahubali and Kattappa roaming the kingdom in disguise to know more about the people. Baahubali is eventually outed, due to his superior archery skills.

3. Given this has been done quite a few times already, I fail to see the point in these videos anymore (though I do understand that many people would not have seen even one, in a series like this; for them, a new video like this would be of enormous interest). Of the 4 videos linked here, I find the most relevance in the one featuring Sonu Nigam. Being Indian folks have given a solid and meaningful context of why they did this video – to admire the little joys amongst us, that we fail to notice in our busy lives. Recent instances of singers like Shankar Mahadevan showcasing normal people amongst us being extraordinary singers is a good trend to add to this as a response – that a great singer like Shankar Mahadevan took note of someone singing so well, and was bothered enough to share it forward as an inspiration for others.

4. The ones featuring Kidambi Srikanth and Ashwini Ponnappa, Ronaldo and Kyrie Irving are intended to promote the respective brands/events behind them – Premier Badminton League, ROC Live Life Loud and Pepsi. But what do they actually gain, I really don’t know.

The videos are tremendously engaging, no doubt, and make for compelling viewing, at least the first 2 in a sequence, with the 3rd losing some sheen given the repetitive script idea. But, they don’t specifically address the brands or events they are trying to promote, at least for ROC Live Life Loud and Pepsi.

For Premier Badminton League, this video may work as a decent enough precursor to get more people to tune into the league on TV, because the video’s audience may be people even beyond those interested in badminton. And, hopefully, now that you have got their attention with a generic-interest video (where we love watching normal people get fooled and then the happily surprised expression on their faces) that goes beyond the nuances or intricacies of badminton the game, the hope is that they are somehow interested in the game too… enough to tune into some games on TV. If I explain it in this detail, it does sound a bit unconvincing, I presume 🙂

5. All these videos may have a subtle call-to-action.
For Premier Badminton League, it could be ‘watch some games on TV’.
For ROC Live Life Loud, look up the website and buy some products.
For Pepsi… hmm, I have no idea. Like Pepsi, perhaps? Rather difficult proposition 🙂
For Being Indian, it was, as mentioned, ‘admire the little joys of life’.

Of all these, the one by Being Indian requires us to do the least, and use only our innate observational skills. Nothing more required. For the other 3, if those were the specific call-to-actions, the video narratives don’t seem to perhaps offer compelling reasons for us to do them. The badminton video doesn’t give us a compelling reason to watch some games – they show 2 superstars do what they do best already. Rolando merely does what he does best in the video, with nothing about the products on offer from ROC Live Life Loud. Pepsi… less said the better.

But, as I mentioned, these are thoroughly enjoyable pieces of content. Good to watch, great to share. But, they do seem to be content for content’s sake (Barring that Being Indian video, of course), not necessarily geared towards a purpose beyond raking in the views online in millions (which they easily would).