Ashwini Gangal

“We wanted to tell stories of transformation”: Amazon's Satish Upadhyay

We spoke to the man behind the #IamAmazon campaign, in which delivery boxes bear pictures of sellers, that when scanned on one's mobile lead to a detailed video about the story behind their business.

Putting sellers' faces on Amazon's cardboard delivery boxes instantly humanises them and makes the entire e-comm process appear less 'transactional', in a sense. Satish Upadhyay, head - marketing, Amazon India Marketplace, says, “Yes, the insight did come from a similar space – we wanted to humanise the brand. We've been observing the way people dig into and open their packages as soon as they receive them. It's only subliminally that they think about where it came from... so we wanted to highlight the faces behind the boxes, because we owe a lot to our seller partners...”

Upadhyay writes in his blog on Amazon: '...we had just over a month to make Storyboxes a reality. Multiple interviews and phone calls later, we had hundreds of stories that could make it to the Storyboxes, all so immensely inspiring that each of these could be a book in itself. But sometimes six is better than hundred...'

How then did the team decide which stories deserved to be told? About the shortlisting process, Upadhyay, who has spent over four and a half years at the company, says, “The major criteria was that the story should be inspiring – it should be a story of transformation, about preserving some kind of art form, about tier III sellers... we also wanted to have some diversity in the stories...”

As referenced in his blog, presently, six stories have been told through this initiative; the storied sellers include Vijaya Rajan (built a food brand called Sirimiri by selling healthy snacks), Ashwin Sokke (runs a consumer beauty brand called Wow Skin Science), Rani Ravindran (first Amazon seller from Periyakulam, Tamil Nadu, who sells wooden toys and cotton pillows), Abdul Gafoor (keeping his family's 300-year-old heritage of Rogan art alive), Biswajit Swain (reviving the legacy of Odisha's handicraft through his brand Haastika) and Ibansara Shullai (sells the produce of farmers from Meghalaya under the Zizira brand umbrella).

While the current lot of stories is based on Amazon's sellers, in the days ahead the team plans to highlight other people who work in the shadows or are anonymous by design, like deliverymen and employees from AWS (Amazon Web Services), for instance. This brings to mind Swiggy's ad that implores us to call the deliverymen by their names (as opposed to "Swiggy"); the Uber app gives commuters the option to get to know their drivers better by reading about their background.

The hardest part of this project, we learn, was the actual process of printing the sellers' faces on the boxes. Instead of printing them as plain photographs, the team – and Upadhyay credits his agency partner Orchard for this – turned it into an “art form” by printing pixels that conjured up the seller's faces.

“We printed their faces in the form of QR-scannable codes. We're showing you the real face behind the surreal face, which is what all of us in the digital world interact with. We wanted to say 'this is the face behind this effort'... we didn't want to say 'this is the QR code behind it'... We spent innumerable nights trying to get the faces right and as close to reality as possible,” says the Bengaluru-based marketer.

Other challenges include working with different vendors in different parts of the country and operational obstacles therein, given the large number of boxes, of varying sizes, involved.

The pixelated face is also one way of protecting the seller, one may reason. Sure, the idea is to tell people the person's story, which involves sharing their identity, of course, but if the box lands up in a waste paper bin, it's better if it bears a sketch-like image of someone and not a clear photograph. This, Upadhyay clarifies, was incidental. “That was not something we had in mind. Our intention was to just bring their story out,” he says, adding, “Actually we were pleasantly surprised to see that many customers have preserved these boxes, kept them in their drawing rooms, posted about them on them social media...”

One of six sellers whose story is currently out there.
One of six sellers whose story is currently out there.
Screenshot of Amazon India's Instagram page.

Upadhyay and team are actively tracking engagement around this initiative, be it monitoring the number of times a face is scanned -and the story behind it, watched- or looking for social media chatter around the campaign. “In fact, we're also asking people for more such stories that we can feature. All this engagement will also be the source of the next few rounds of stories...”

One can't help but wonder about the potential of the delivery box to double up as a media platform. Brands spend on media to buy a slice of customer attention. While unboxing, with her eyes trained on the package, a customer is captive audience for absolutely any message. Does Upadhyay plan to use the box as a medium for commercial messages, sales hooks, discount coupons and the like? He laughs, “If we had to do it, we would have done it. I don't have an answer to that, but we're not thinking of it as a monetisation opportunity. That's why we've chosen to put our seller stories on the box...”

Also Read: Amazon takes to delivery box storytelling