It is part of the Coca-Cola Company's push towards branded content.
Developed, positioned, and marketed as a ‘hard drink’, Thums Up is often paired with foods of similar nature: filling, heavy, and often associated with a masculine image such as biryani or tandoori chicken or a heavy dose of naan and butter chicken.
Thums Up and biryani have always enjoyed a celebrity couple status among Indians, and the Coca-Cola-owned beverage knows it better than anyone.
Red posters at college canteens and nondescript eateries have always subtly promoted this pairing, and recently, actors Shah Rukh Khan and Vijay Deverakonda gave it a massy touch in TV ads; both spots maintained the macho aura of the drink.
Staying true to the pair but moving across mediums, from ads to brand content, was the brand with ‘Thums Up Toofani Biryani Hunt’ on Disney+ Hotstar.
It is a six-episode show starring celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. He traverses legendary biryani restaurants in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with YouTuber ‘Anchor Ravi’, and then recreates the classic restaurant dish.
"The web series builds on the brand campaign featuring Shah Rukh Khan and Vijay Deverakonda,” says Tish Condeno, Senior Category Director, Sparkling Flavors, Coca-Cola India & Southwest Asia.
Thums Up makes its appearance throughout the episodes. It is enough to make the drink be seen in an engaging content piece without coming across as promotional or in-your-face.
“Establishing the perfect balance between the two was crucial,” admits Condeno.
A misstep and the whole series could have come across as a blatant push for the carbonated beverage and less celebration of the rice delicacy.
The senior category director reveals they “envisioned it (the series) as a haven for biryani enthusiasts." Ranveer Brar was chosen because with his profound expertise in food, "he brought his knowledge to the table, infusing the content series with originality and enhancing the show's appeal."
This biryani IP is the latest in the Coca-Cola Company's attempt to channel its marketing money towards branded content over traditional advertising. 'Coke Studio Bharat', 'Coke Studio Tamil', and 'Coke is Cooking' are three such branded IPs the company has recently pushed in India.
“I think branded IPs and platforms like Coke Studio will go a long way in becoming ecosystems,” said Arnab Roy, Coca-Cola VP, in 2022 on such offering being more effective over 30-second TV ads, and that they will go “very low in terms of proportions.”
When asked about its plans ahead in the branded content space, Condeno says they “are open to expanding our presence in branded content, utilising the potency of storytelling and strategic partnerships.”
She adds that the brand is open to experimenting as it did with ‘Toofani Biryani Hunt’ “where infusing popular culture with regional elements proved to be highly effective in captivating the target audience's attention.”
The show, she tells us, was targeted towards avid biryani connoisseurs and Thums Up lovers, but “it also appeals to the food enthusiasts and individuals actively seeking one-of-a-kind content and web series experiences.”
The show does have its thrills when Chef Brar faces unexpected obstacles before he can whip up a plate of biryani.
An interesting bit of the show is the media property on which it is played: Disney+ Hotstar, a video streaming channel. Doesn’t this choice over YouTube restrict the awareness or the reach of the show because of the platform’s paywall?
Condeno does not think so because the partnership with Disney+ Hotstar allowed the brand “to engage a focused audience and immerse them in the exclusive content series.”
One does choose to click and watch a content piece on a streamer over YouTube where they may accidentally come across it courtesy of the algorithm.
“Our objective was to genuinely connect with biryani enthusiasts across different regions in India,” she states and says Disney+ Hotstar was the ideal platform for the series due to its wide reach, array of diverse content, and devoted audience.