Kartik Mahadev, chief marketing officer of ZEE, content SBU, speaks to WARC India Editor Biprorshee Das about how the television network identifies the cultures and emotions linked to a festive occasion to tell authentic stories and deepen its relationship with viewers.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on festive marketing in India. Read more

Key insights 

  • ZEE examines multiple touchpoints, such as consumer ethnography, data-led video analytics and social sentiment, to understand content performance and consumer behaviour.
  • The infusion of technology in advertising during festive seasons is driving video personalisation at scale and integrating QR codes in media to create more immersive and interactive experiences.
  • Brands must realise the power of storytelling to build deeper engagement and fostering lasting memorability, transcending ad duration thinking.

WARC: How is the festive season relevant to ZEE in terms of strategy and how do you define it?

Kartik Mahadev: As a network, with 40+ channels having deep presence across India, we believe in harnessing the power of being hyper-local. Our content brands tell authentic stories in 11 different languages.

The festive calendar in India is vibrant, there are more festivals than there are months on the calendar. We see festivals as vehicles for rich storytelling, deepening relationship with viewers and therefore, we design our content to be native to the culture across the country to tell authentic stories and make lasting connections.

How do you tailor your content to resonate with viewers during the festive season?

At ZEE, we believe in identifying the core human emotions and cultural linkages that are innate to any festive occasion, with the focus being more towards building long-term resonance with that occasion.

Take, for instance, the strong cultural significance of Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, where the triumph of good over evil is celebrated with the annual ritual of hoisting a decorated Gudi outside one’s house. Our show on ZEE TV, “Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gaye”, showcased a touching exchange between our Maharashtrian protagonist (Amruta) and her mother, where they express hope and positivity for a better tomorrow as they unfurl the Gudi, resonating with every Maharashtrian but also a universal emotion during the festival.

How do you measure audience engagement and response during festive periods?

At ZEE, we are always in a state of constant and deep dialogue with our viewers. It’s essential that we break the wall between the viewer and the creator to imagine occasions and moments that not only entertain but also inspire.

We look at multiple touchpoints, ranging from consumer ethnography and semiotics, to data-led video analytics and social sentiment, to understand content performance and the underlying consumer behaviour.

What new advertising trends have you noticed during recent festive seasons?

Technology is changing the way we interact and connect. During recent festive seasons, there has been a significant infusion of technology in advertising too. Brands are driving video personalisation at scale, integrating QR codes in traditional and new age media to create more immersive and interactive experiences.

Recently, a campaign that caught my attention was for Valentine’s Day, where young couples were presented with an opportunity to have their stories converted into an animated film directed by a prominent filmmaker.

This kind of tech-driven personalisation, coupled with engaging storytelling, will advance brand to human connection, resonating emotionally with audiences and enhancing the festive spirit.

What role does social media play in your festive marketing strategy?

At ZEE, we have nurtured a vibrant social community over the years through our storytelling and the power of TV characters. Our characters and shows on Meta platforms reach an audience of nearly 200 million weekly. ZEE TV has a subscriber base of 80 million on YouTube and is amongst the top 10 most followed channels in India.

While building our social media content is an always-on endeavour, a sense of community truly comes alive during festive occasions. It helps capture micro moments across the entire duration of the festival, focusing on various aspects of the occasion, ranging from food to everyday rituals, thereby enhancing audience engagement. Collaborations with ZEE influencers extend our reach and help build emotional connect.

One noteworthy example is the initiative of taking Parel cha Raja live during Ganesh Utsav and posting all the micro moments from welcoming Ganpati until the “visarjan” (immersion), which helped gather global reach. A special festival with a unique story is the Raja Parba festival, a three-day long festival of womanhood celebrated in Odisha. ZEE Sarthak’s annual initiative, Naali Bindu, celebrated during this festival underlines the importance of feminine hygiene in the context of girl education and menstrual health. The campaign gathered significant momentum and is becoming a cultural movement through the education and advocacy videos posted by ZEE characters and eminent figures from society that find strong engagement. 

How has the advertising trend evolved over the years during festive seasons?

Emotions come through storytelling. However, the lure of the click through metrics tends to drive shorter formats and CTA-focused decisions. When metrics take precedence over emotions, it becomes difficult for a brand to leverage the largeness and specialness of the festive occasion.

Brands must realise the power of storytelling to build deeper engagement and fostering lasting memorability, transcending ad duration thinking. It is the everyday “we-context” of television, either through a trusted cable/DTH device or a connected device that can create the special and vibrant atmosphere for building brands this festive season.