India is an agrarian country with around 60% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. But in the last 3 years more than 3000 farmers have committed suicide. Maharashtra is by far the epicentre of the crisis, with over 10,000 recorded farmer suicides between 2011 and 2013. This year, the Marathwada region alone has seen over 200 farmer suicides in just three months.
2015-16 hasn’t been a great year and it is going to go bad for the farmers, who to a large extent depend on climatic conditions for a good harvest. The Wire reported in September as India stares at the fourth consecutive drought year, the prospect of a negative growth in food grain production seems real for 2015-16.
With every passing year the plight of the farmers is getting worse and they are in desperate need of help. Government is doing its bit but even we need to come up and support our farmers, a job no less than our soldiers.
In 2011, Mahindra & Mahindra, Indian multinational farm equipment-to-software group company embarked on a new brand positioning to project a singular voice for various entities under its umbrella. The group decided to use ‘Rise’ as the new brand positioning. This year the company came forward to support the farmers in their tough times.
However, beyond providing moral and financial help Mahindra wanted to bring dignity to what was happening to farmers. So instead of using suicide or a bleak, dark filter to highlight the situation, the objective was to allow people to get involved by focusing on the pride that we feel for our farmers and the work that they do.
The brand wanted everyone who becomes a part of it to feel this – “These are men and women who need me to stand by them, so they can do so much better, for themselves and the country.”
Mahindra wanted to drive the change via digital and hence involved digital agency Flying Cursor. “The brief was to use digital to change the sentiment around our farmers,” informed Shormistha Mukherjee, Director at Flying Cursor.
Named as #SeedTheRise, the digital crowdfunding campaign had a close to two minute digital film at its core which drives people to a web portal. The portal has five social causes related to farmers and people who wish to participate in the campaign can select any one of the five projects, and donate to these initiatives. Mahindra, which aimed to raise funds of Rs. 2 crore for farmers, doubled the donations for farmers welfare.
When the digital agency started working on the campaign it was clear that a video is a must. “The idea of getting involved needed the viewer to go through a journey of rediscovery. It needed a story that was familiar to unfold. Hard working men and women in fields, innocent faces, weather eyes that were filled with pride, the inside of their homes where they’d always invite you if you went to even the poorest farm. We needed people to see all this, and be reminded that these are our farmers.”
It was also clear that the film had to be simple and direct, so it could connect easily. It had to resonate with honesty and talk about the work our farmers are doing, in a quiet but solid way.
To build the captive and simple story line the team kept digging deep into their memories and stories to find nuggets. Finally these thoughts and stories took the shape of words written on paper that formed into the final story.
With the story in hand, now the team needed a face and a voice to take the message to the masses. Bollywood’s most acclaimed actor of recent times Nawazuddin Siddiqui was chosen to voice the message, and with good reason too.
“We wanted someone who would remind viewers of what they felt about farmers- the hospitality, the hard work, the spirit that never bends and then draw them in asking them to help. Nawazuddin, being a great actor as well, never comes across as preachy, but merely empathetic. He keeps the film grounded in optimism. Plus he’s a farmer’s son,” she said.
Definitely, the way the film starts and the way Nawaz delivers the story, it is mesmerizing. He begins by telling the stories and hardships of farmers. How they work 365 days and even if they might not have the riches but their heart is always big. Thereafter he talks of times when everyone needs some help and today these farmers need our help.
The video ends on a positive note inviting everyone to support five projects listed on the website – seedtherise.com. “Whatever you donate, Mahindra will double the amount so that farmers get double benefit so that they can sow better. And when India sows, it will grow,” he added.
The video ends with the website address and a “Donate Now” button.
The video stays with you for its sheer simplicity of not being over-dramatized and having an overall positive note throughout the length of the video. “It asks people to empathize with the farmers without reducing them to objects of pity. What makes it work well is the focus on the positives rather than dwelling on some of the bleaker aspects that we encounter in media. By making an appeal through the farmer commitment to hard work and the goodness of their hearts the film makes a compelling case.”
#SeedTheRise as a campaign is also decisive for Flying Cursor in terms of the landscape and the sheer scale of what the digital agency was attempting to do. “The fact that we had a Nawazuddin involved made it bigger. And then of course the fact that we had to go shoot farms and farmers, so no actors, no fixed set or location. That made it pretty big in terms of production and planning.”
It is also interesting to see Mahindra trusting a digital agency, when tradition always sees an ad agency doing the main creative and also walking out with a larger piece of remuneration. However Shormistha believes that it does not matter who makes the film. “It’s who thinks of the idea and who has the vision to conceptualizes it. In fact over the last two years, we’ve made over 25 films. And each one is beautifully crafted and executed. So I think, with our strengths in storytelling and the execution of it, we’re definably seeing more brands wanting to do videos with us.”
“I’m super proud that we wrote every bit ourselves. I think the fact that we kept briefing all the teams, that we kept inspiring each other, that we kept sharing references and ideas, it added up, with every single person working towards one purpose. Also, that Nawazzudin is a not just an outstanding actor, but also super grounded!”
The month-long campaign kicked off towards the end of October and raised more than 72 lakhs in 24 days. As per the last known numbers, the video has been viewed more than 6.9 million times across digital platforms.