Vir Das gags on Chyawanprash, but Dabur sees an opportunity

Stand-up comedian Vir Das opens his new Netflix show, ‘Vir Das for India’, with a visceral love-hate for Chyawanprash!

“If you want to experience our country, you have the taste our country. Therefore the first thing you must put in your bloody mouth is Chyawanprash.

Non-Indians, this is like an herbal organic paste for good health. It’s like peanut butter, if you hate your children. But this paste is also a mystery.

Over 50 years, nobody knows what is actually in Chyawanprash. To write this joke, I Googled, “What is in Chyawanprash?”. Google, the Google! Says, Gooseberry jam, ghee, honey, some herbs and spices. When Google is like, “I don’t know, man. Stuff”.

And yet, you feel healthier when you have eat Chyawanprash. Like… like you buddy. If you have a headache and I take a knife and I stab you in your spleen, you don’t have a headache anymore. And that is the core principle behind Chyawanprash. It inflicts upon you a taste so terrible, at the end just survival is considered good health.

There is no one word to describe the taste, right? It tastes like commitment, that’s all. It’s the only food I have ever seen where you eat it with your face. Up here. And when you do, your leg shakes. Have you seen children eat Chyawanprash? It travels through your body faster than the neurons in your own brain. It’s basically a stroke. Fifty years of advertising, there’s no slogan for Chyawanprash. I think the slogan is just <gags>. That should be the actual ad: Chyawanprash… <gags>. Choke your children, the legal way.

A lot of people started Googling “What is in Chyawanprash?” And also started talking about the product within the context of Vir’s quips.

Dabur took note and started taking this as an opportunity, and not as an insult.

First, it started explaining the ingredients, on Instagram, where it has barely 137 followers and sporadic posts. But it tagged Vir Das, who has 397,000 followers.

Vir shared that on Twitter!

Then Dabur reshared Vir’s reaction on Twitter, where it has all of 10 followers, despite being on the platform since August 2017, but having only 14 tweets for all of 2019.

And then, having gotten Vir’s attention already, Dabur did something offline. This!

All this was shared by Vir Das, both on Twitter and Instagram. Now, it really doesn’t matter how many followers Dabur Chyawanprash has on any platform, because amassing followers is not the point. The point is to get spoken about, hopefully in a positive sense.

But was Vir’s quips in the show, that got the brand so much attention, positive? Not entirely. He did go to great lengths to explain how bad it tastes (in his view; and the audience generally laughs in agreement). But Vir was quite categorical in his overall reaction too – Chyawanprash IS healthy. He’s not entirely sure why or how, but it may be because of ‘herbs and spices’, a catch-all term for the ingredients that are supposedly a mystery.

Dabur is not the only Chyawanprash brand in India. Zandu, Himalaya and Pankajakasthuri (among others) have the same product too!

But Dabur’s product is perhaps the most popular and most well-associated with the generic name of ‘Chyawanprash’. And it made sense for Dabur to utilize even a quasi-positive association as a marketing opportunity.

The offline engagement perhaps took the most effort and cost, but the overall effort is not very expensive and is done on the back of what Vir Das had already done. This is just an efficient and effective moment-marketing by Dabur.

Did Dabur engage with Vir at the scripting stage and ‘arranged’ the mention in the show, in the first place? I mean, was the comedy sketch ‘staged’? Unless Dabur and Vir say it is, we can only keep guessing with no result.
(UPDATE: A friend from Dabur confirmed that this was completely organic and not staged at all).

The only clue that I could gather that this may be staged is a minor fact that Vir shared Dabur’s quips to him (on Instagram) twice on Twitter, not just once. First on January 30th.

And then again on January 31st!

That’s an unusually generous gesture, sharing the same thing twice. I totally understand Vir sharing the physical package he got from Dabur – that’s a huge package with a carefully framed response in the form of a letter. That’s absolutely worth sharing.

On the other hand, given the tone Vir took, I doubt that it could have been staged. Most brand managers would stay far, far away from the kind of tone Vir took on the product.

But, this is not to say that brands cannot plan these ‘mentions’. A clever and adventurous brand would perhaps work this very well. If brands can be featured in films, in context, why not in a comedy sketch, to take advantage of the ensuing buzz?

The ‘herbs and spices’ catch-all phrase did remind me of something, in terms of moment marketing.

Back in 2014, Chevrolet was slated to offer a Colorado pickup as giveaway to a baseball player, for a particular game. Chevrolet zone manager, Rick Wilde, while handing over the keys to a Chevy Colorado to the Most Valuable Player of World Series Baseball, nervously messed up his speech and said, ‘Technology and stuff’ to denote the vehicle’s advanced technology!

Social media was quick to latch on to the poor man’s nervous speech and within minutes #technologyandstuff and #chevyguy were trending across US with people making fun of Rick Wilde.

Chevrolet’s social media manager, Jamie Barbour, noticed the spike and figured that the phrase can be embraced as the common-man way to explain how good Chevy Colorado is because you know, it’s got technology and stuff! The Chevy CMO latched on to the suggestion and milked the phrase for the next 5 days in brand communication.

Chevy’s marketing team followed suit with print ads, to turn the lemon into lemonade!

“Technology and stuff” started as a mock, but ended as a marketing success. Similarly, ‘Herbs and spices” started as a mock, explaining the black hole of Chyawanprash’s ingredients that you are just supposed to trust. But Dabur took it head-on as an opportunity to explain the ingredients, through Vir Das, the very same person who kick-started the exploration!

This engagement is also bold of Dabur given that Vir Das is staunchly and vocally anti-BJP (which is equated as anti-national and anti-Hindu by BJP as a strategy to stymie criticism against the party). From that perspective, Vir Das is a potentially ‘brand unsafe’ celebrity right now. Brands may think twice before being seen alongside Vir Das because that exists with his anti-BJP opinions and opens the possibility of pro-BJP online mobs going against the brand in retaliation.

Yet, I presume Dabur thinks both spaces (that is, Vir’s anti-BJP stand and the Chyawanprash-related quips) exist independent of each other. I hope their presumption is correct.

PS: Parle-G was the first to engage with Vir Das, via the show’s quips. But, Parle-G was named as is in the show. To connect that to the brand sending freebies is linear and logical. In the case of Chyawanprash, Vir did not mention Dabur even once. Chyawanprash is a generic name and other brands have this offering too. It was Dabur that took the initiative to engage (despite the negative parts) and came out winning.

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