This video holds a mirror to the way marketing communication has 'loosened up' with the times.
Smartphone brand OnePlus' latest ad features probably the most profane character in the recent past of the Indian film and entertainment world. 'Bunty', the gangster played by actor Jatin Sarna on the Netflix original web-TV series - Sacred Games - maintains his authentic abusive and foul-mouthed self while unboxing the OnePlus 7 Pro, the brand's latest flagship device.
The ad was conceptualised by the brand's internal team, written by director Akshat Verma and produced by Industrywalas, a production house.
Naturally, it's the endorser that makes the ad so noteworthy. The brand is riding on Sarna's 'Bunty' character from the popular web series, foul language and all. Even YouTube feels that its viewers might find the film "inappropriate". Such an ad has only been made possible thanks to today's digital mediums like YouTube and social media platforms. This could not have happened on TV, that's for sure.
Also, the ad is an example of the boldness exhibited by brands today. A year back, no phone brand would have dared equate its large screen to an elephant's backside. However, it's worth mentioning that Bunty's gangster character in the series has already been normalised, accepted and even celebrated by viewers. Despite the Netflix partnership, OnePlus would have steered clear of Bunty had the character received public backlash.
Netflix and OnePlus recently announced their partnership and launched a couple of posters for the second season of Sacred Games which are apparently 'shot on the OnePlus 7 Pro'.
OnePlus has been experimenting with its unboxing themed ads for some time. The OnePlus 5 unboxing by comedian-cum-digital influencer José Covaco is hard to miss. And the OnePlus 6 'unboxing' ad featured stand-up comedian Zakir Khan.
Trishay Kotwal, ECD, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi says, "Using a popular on-screen character for an unboxing video is a great idea. Here, the on-screen persona is actually far more valuable to the brand than the actor himself."
Regarding boldness, Kotwal says, "A slightly liberal approach towards language and behaviour is a cultural movement, a fairly long-standing one. The acceptance of profanity in media and more specifically, advertising, is just the next step in this movement. Brands today are happy to take a slightly liberal approach to language in the hope that it comes across as authentic. It's at the opposite end of the spectrum to sounding preachy and that can be a real asset when the TG is young."
Kotwal adds, "Even with things changing rapidly, this very unique delivery of the message would not have been possible on television. But that's the advantage of the digital medium. The rules are slightly different and the audience almost dictates what's acceptable. Things are a little less 'anything goes' these days, but it's still very much a medium where you can 'experiment' and make some interesting or controversial choices."
According to Anindya Banerjee, ECD, FCB Ulka the ad is the result of a 'brave client' coupled with 'clarity of thought'. He says, "The real hero in the unboxing video is the client. No doubt about it. It takes a brave client to approve a script where its product is being compared to a body part of an elephant."
Banerjee explains, "Of course, this is simply because the endorser or the celebrity, in this case, is not an actor, but a character from Sacred Games. This is a refreshing twist in itself – get a character to endorse your product, rather than a star. The only drawback (if there is one) is the fact that Bunty (Jatin) is a star on Netflix. Naysayers will question the benefit of choosing a brand endorser from an OTT platform. Most Indians wouldn't even know he exists. But that's the beauty. Unboxing of any new product is a quintessentially online activity. The brand is crystal clear about who it wants to talk to."
Vignesh Iyer, ECD, Langoor Digital, says, "What the video does really well is retain all the essentials that make Bunty a popular character on Sacred Games, especially the profanity. If the tone had been neutered, or if the review was done by the actor instead of the character, it wouldn't have been as effective. It's an extension of the Sacred Games content universe and that's what people wanted - more of the same character. It makes sense to target this to a microsegment of the show's loyal viewers on digital platforms. It definitely wouldn't have worked as effectively on TV.
"While it will be lauded for its fresh take on the overly familiar unboxing format, whether it will drive the desire to buy the OnePlus 7 Pro, is uncertain. There's definitely a connect between OnePlus and Netflix as both are community-driven, digital-first brands. However, in terms of being able to advertise a specific feature of the phone, the video isn't as effective. Which is fine, because sometimes, digital is all about being fun and irreverent," Iyer adds.