Sunit Roy

This ad is based on the story of a visually-impaired chess champion

Hint: It takes the familiar 'Sar Utha Ke Jiyo' idea forward.

HDFC Life Insurance Company launched a brand campaign that focuses on the real-life story of a blind chess champion. Darpan Inani lost his eyesight at the age of three due to Steven Johnson Syndrome, yet he failed to slow down and bounced back to become the highest-rated visually impaired chess player in the country.

Titled #BounceBack, the film showcases Inani's resilience and how, in spite of his physical disability, he pursued his dream. Through this campaign, the brand attempts to tell the story of a boy who believes that chess is a game of vision and not visibility while taking forward its #SarUthaKeJiyo proposition.

This ad is based on the story of a visually-impaired chess champion

HDFC Life's latest ad showcases an inspiring #BounceBack story of Darpan Inani

Commenting on the campaign, Pankaj Gupta, chief marketing officer, HDFC Life, says, "Through this ad, we want to leave our viewers with the message that anyone can bounce back, despite challenges and limitations. All they need is the right kind of support, encouragement and financial preparedness."

Conceptualised and created by Leo Burnett, Elements Films produced the ad. Shooting the film was not easy with the real challenge being summing up a 23-year-long human journey in just four minutes.

This ad is based on the story of a visually-impaired chess champion

Pranav Harihar Sharma

"We had to show Darpan's life since he was three. The main challenge in making a biopic is casting. Here, the challenge was multifold as we had to find not just one, but four casting options to depict all age groups," says Pranav Harihar Sharma, executive creative director, Leo Burnett.

Another challenge was to find visually-impaired actors. And finally - finding actors who know how blind chess is played. So, the Leo Burnett team decided to cast two visually-impaired actors for the age group of three and eight years. For the next two age groups - 14 and 23 - actors with vision were selected and trained in blind chess.

"We also had to pick actors who resemble Darpan," adds Sharma.

The team decided not to use a voiceover to narrate the story believing it would dilute the emotional quotient. Instead, they used a song and let the visuals tell the story.

Lately, it appears to be a trend for brands to go the "inspired by true stories" route. Last year, Vicks released a digital film titled #TouchOfCare narrating the tale of a girl named Nisha with Ichthyosis. And recently, the Himalaya Drug Company launched a campaign - Ek Nayi Muskaan - part of its social impact initiative, 'Muskaan', to create awareness about cleft lip and palate and support free treatment for underprivileged children.

We asked Sharma if he was cognizant while deciding on the content of the '#BounceBack' film - if the ad will stand out or be lost in the clutter?

"Darpan's life story is not something that can get lost in the clutter. First of all, it deals with visually-impaired chess, which a lot of people don't know even exists. I was also surprised when I first read the story on online - Darpan not only excelled at the game but also went on to become the first visually impaired Indian (in his category) to win the Creon Open Chess tournament, in France in August 2018. The more I researched, the more surprises it threw at me," recalls Sharma.

As far as following a trend is concerned, Sharma disagrees, stating, "It's not just an emotional decision but a strategic one too. If a real-life narrative fits within the framework of a brand communication, then why not. If it doesn't, then however great a film you make, it will never click. Vicks' film is a beautiful piece of work and it totally fits in with the conversation the brand has been having for the last few years."

The brand and the creative team worked for almost four months on the film. Different approaches were tried, creatively and strategically. Leo Burnett's human-kind approach and the brand's positioning of '#SarUthaKeJiyo' were the filters applied to judge the work. Research was conducted on the shortlisted ideas while feedback from end-consumers was gathered.

"There was no convincing required for Darpan and his family to come on board. They were more than happy to share the story. I spoke to Darpan over the phone, learnt from him about his life, shared my vision with him and we were good to go," says Sharma.

Hitting the right emotional chord?

According to Azazul Haque, chief creative officer, Ogilvy South, stories of achievers with physical disabilities is a done-to-death advertising formula. So, for a life insurance brand to use a tested and proven advertising idea is a very obvious and safe choice.

This ad is based on the story of a visually-impaired chess champion

Azazul Haque

This ad is based on the story of a visually-impaired chess champion

Suresh Eriyat

He says, "These kinds of long-format, emotional ad films are the like the 'Saas-Bahu' television soap formula. Over-emotional melodrama works in our country. So yes, it might improve brand love, but I don't think this particular campaign will move consumers much. And I don't think, by this campaign, they want to sell any policy. This is done to improve brand affinity."

He adds, "I found the film very 'filmy'. The only thing good about this campaign is the use of Darpan Inani. It seems like a lost opportunity. The writer seems like an advertising writer who wants to write for Bollywood. It misses the reality it needed. Hence, it doesn't touch the emotional chord at all."

Suresh Eriyat, founder and director, Studio Eeksaurus, finds the ad very well made, as per the script and content. He, however, is sceptical as to how Darpan's parents, via HDFC, made a difference in his life.

He says, "The film doesn't give the brand any unique edge over other brands in the same industry. If you replace the HDFC logo with LIC, the ad will still work... for LIC. So, as a communication strategy, I feel HDFC should go for an identity that becomes signature to their brand. Tear-jerker, emotional adverts are very common across the world for insurance. Why can't a genre like comedy be explored for a brand? Maybe that would be innovative."