Why Danish Sait gets branded content right

Back in 2018, I had written about former MTV VJ José Covaco’s content produced on behalf of brands. His content was far removed from other influencer-led branded content mainly because it was made adhering to his brand’s familiar narrative and not the brand’s narrative. The difference is enormous – his fans enjoy his content because it is funny in his own, unique way. If he merely mouths and acts in a script created for a brand by people other than him, they are merely digging into the familiarity aspect of his face, not the familiarity aspect of his humor or style.

While I do not recall seeing more such content from José, I’m really glad to see another comic artist use the same tactic in brand promotion – Danish Sait from Bengaluru.

Digression: I have not seen Danish’s films or his stand-up comedy acts. I have not warmed up to stand-up comedy much like I have not warmed up to podcasts, though I’m completely sold on audiobooks and haven’t purchased printed books in a long time. Digression ends.

Danish is probably the best break-out artist to come out of the pandemic-induced lockdown. His series of fictional conversations between assorted characters that he himself plays (sorry, Kamal Haasan) is a complete riot! The choice of phone/handsets, the characters, the way they speak the local lingo and the interplay between them are incredibly funny, even if you don’t understand all the nuances owing to you not being from Bengaluru or not knowing Kannada. Some of the characters like Jaya and Raammoorthy (Avare) have become trending memes on their own, while phrases like ‘Bevarsi Kudka’ have become hugely popular too.

Yes, you could argue that this popularity is limited to a smaller circle and not pan-Indian popularity, given the use of local dialects and nuances unique to Karnataka/Bengaluru. But that’s not very different from the Hindi-infused humor that many others are offering. Because Hindi and ‘North Indian’ nuances are understood more widely and also accentuated by other pop culture media like movies and TV, it gets wider accessibility.

Yet, there is increasing wider visibility despite the local-zone Danish layers his comedy in. The kinds of wishes he got on his birthday recently are a good indicator of this.

For instance, here’s Omar Abdullah’s wish that includes prominent characters from Danish’s daily videos: Jaya, Didi, Raammoorthy and Bro!

A few other wishes from people outside of Karnataka:

I also notice both local and national brands roping in Danish for brand promotion. In the past few weeks, I have seen Danish create content to promote brands like Empire Hotel, Bounce, Uber and C.Krishniah Chetty Jewellers among others. These pieces of branded content exist among his regular, almost-daily short pieces of content that riffs on topical themes of the day.

The best part about this is that the branded content sounds and looks much like his organic content. When you are watching his branded content, you enjoy it as much as you do with the organic content. And that translates to more people sharing his content, even branded ones, that they’d be otherwise averse to sharing. These branded content pieces are first and foremost entertaining, and then informative or useful in a brand’s context.

Since he also makes it a point to clearly explain the brands behind some of the content, you don’t need to wonder if something is a brand plug or not.

Sometimes, he also makes this disclaimer part of the joke, in a clever twist! Take a look at this not-so-subtle promo for Redmi Phone, that is both direct and funny, as if this disclosure too is part of the joke!

Or this bemused “How much will you sell?” query from Dad Danish to Son Danish in this Bounce promo 🙂

Make the safe move with @bounceshare #Bounce

Posted by Danish Sait on Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The promo videos by Danish for C.Krishniah Chetty Jewellers and Empire Hotels seem to riff on, in a very local way, Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of comedy. Yet, Danish incorporates his trademark multiple character narrative extremely well even here.

Bunch of us walked into @ckcjewellers and what happened next is pure GOLD ?? Director: @vambho Camera and editing: @kalveerbiradar Client: @chaitucotha #ckcsons #ckcjewellers

Posted by Danish Sait on Saturday, July 11, 2020

To be sure, the props used by Danish and the overall setting are not very polished or organized. They seem intentionally clumsy and coarse, and that is very much a part of the gag. The focus is on the razor-sharp wit of his scripts and not the ‘extra fittings’.

Take a look at this ‘conversation’ between Danish and Roger Federer! It’s a non-stop pun-fest, thrown at you fast and thick!

The format is very similar to the rudimentary art of say xkcd or Sahil Rizwan’s The Vigil Idiot series of Hindi cinema reviews – the focus on both is the script, not the quality of art that is intentionally basic and functional.

Where Danish’s branded content also wins is the fact that the brands that work with him seem to have given him the freedom to create content based on his brand, without insisting that he act to their scripts. This requires extra bravery from those brand managers since Danish’s humor is edgy and even crosses so-called established brand norms and guidelines quite liberally to mine humor.

Whenever the brands seem to have given him that freedom, to create content in his style instead of trying to force-fit it to their needs, the results have been very, very good. They get shared more often because they fit naturally into his timeline.

For example, the Uber video seems less interesting because Danish seems to be infusing very mild humor into what feels like an instructional video of how Uber is operating, post-lockdown.

Running out to join @saadkhanfilms at the edit of HPN! Also, my first #Uber ride after….(lost count) months. Thanks Suresh for making it a safe ride.

Posted by Danish Sait on Friday, June 26, 2020

It is definitely more interesting than reading an email from Uber explaining the same steps, however, while also making the steps taken by the company more personal since another human is experiencing it himself.

Danish’s timeline is a great example of branded content done well because it treats social media content less as sales-driven and more as entertainment. And because Danish keeps his timeline fresh with a lot of content posted very frequently, people would like to see what he has done today, much like how they expect an Amul topical toon every day, whether they like it or not. It’s a fixture in people’s life because of its consistency, and within that when Danish layers in a branded content in the same format, it just works very smoothly and is eminently shareable.

The crux is this:
1. Danish’s frequent new content keeps his timeline alive and builds his fans’ expectations. Unlike other comedians who depend on media that they do not own for fresh material (OTTs, TV shows, stage etc.), Danish uses his personal media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share content consistently, thereby keeping his brand alive in the minds of fans.
2. We watch and enjoy Danish’s videos because of his brand of humor. Brands that understand and appreciate this fact give him a basic thread, his freedom and trust him to do the right thing by their brand’s narrative, and more importantly, by his own brand of humor get very entertaining, highly shareable content. After all, he knows what clicks with his audiences better than the brands do.

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