How Penguin India Leveraged Social Media For Shobhaa De’s ‘Sethji’

Here, we look at the digital launch of 'Sethji', the latest fiction by author Shobhaa De and the innovative storytelling approach employed by the publishers, Penguin India.

Here, we look at the digital launch of ‘Seth Ji’, the latest fiction by author Shobhaa De and the innovative storytelling approach employed by the publishers, Penguin India. The campaign weaved a story around ‘Who is Sethji’ on popular social media channels.

Seth Ji‘ marks the ever so politically incorrect columnist and novelist, Shobhaa De’s return to fiction after over a decade. ‘Seth Ji’ is the story of power, ambition and greed centred around the murky Indian political scene with Seth Ji playing the ruthless, immoral head of a crucial coalition partner in the government.

Now a book of this nature certainly calls for a compelling and innovative launch on social media. And so, Penguin India, the publishers decided to do something different and came up with an intriguing story that helps build up the suspense to finally make way for the real stuff. It took the integrated route, with a strong online-offline tie up, playing it out as a sensational expose!

Sethji on Social Media - ‘Who is Sethji’

During the pre-launch phase, Seth Ji created social media profiles on popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter and tied it up with creative story-telling through YouTube and a blog too, all of them using a similar handle called ‘WhoIsSethji’ with the exception of the blog being called as ‘The Perfect Bahu’.

The campaign started with four ‘sting’ videos on the YouTube channel, of Sethji and incidents revolving around his masseur, his maid and a model. The first video published early October has been portrayed as a leaked one, titled interestingly as ‘Caught on Camera’. It is an audio clip about an Indian neta openly acknowledging a rape  and laughing over it.

Video description gives more details but not the plot and suggests the viewer to get involved in finding out ‘Who is Sethji’, along with displaying the ‘Who Is Sethji’ Facebook and Twitter pages. The videos with the maid, the masseur and the model as ‘sting operations’ gives an idea that something bad has happened within closed corridors and is being pushed under the carpet.

Then the Facebook page sprang up, promising to furnish proof and reveal the identity of this devious politician. The updates revealed the characters in the plot with a little background idea of their belief systems. Content shared was also about De’s rich history of bestsellers and the inspiration behind the book. But, the fun aspect would be the assortment of jibes at politicians in the form of cartoons, quotes, spoofs, etc.


On the day of the book cover launch, a Facebook puzzle app was put up on Sethji’s and Penguin India’s Facebook pages. The app invited people to piece the puzzle together to solve the mystery of Sethji. The final image revealed the book cover of Sethji.

Rediff chat on Zarabol promoted a hashtag #dirty-politicians, inviting people to discuss the scams and political events clouding the country. Twitter is as good as the Facebook content if not any original from it, but the idea of promoting the hashtag on Zarabol instead of Twitter completely misses me.

Readers immediately took to all this and ‘Sethji’ was carefully inserted into the heated conversations, adding more intrigue to him. Later, a blog by Sethji’s bahu sprang up at ‘The perfect bahu blog‘. It shamelessly exposed an illicit relationship between Sethji and his daughter-in-law, adding a darker hue to an already morally coloured character.

Sethji on offline

In Delhi, young people were mobilized to wear ‘Who is Sethji’ t-shirts and roam the streets or hold placards. Big 92.7 FM released teaser sound-clips of people associated with Sethji. This took the campaign out of the computer screens and on to the streets and into the living rooms.

In the post launch phase, De also unveiled a coffee called ‘Sethji’ at the Italian cafe, Barista Lavazza. This is with respect to a recent strategic alliance of the publishers with the coffee chain, where the cafe provides space for book launches in return for free reading sessions of Penguin books at the cafe.

Ending thoughts

The pseudo-sting operative style of the entire campaign created lots of intrigue, good conversations and genuine interest in the character as well as the book. For fans of the Shobhaa De genre of novels, with its ‘in your face’ approach to fictionalize real issues, this is a welcome promotion. Also, this ideally appeals to the scores of youngsters active on digital channels.

However, there is this one thing I cannot digest - I completely fail to understand why Rediff’s microblogging tool Zarabol was used as opposed to Twitter with its 15 million active Indians. How many of us are aware of Zarabol? Besides, the fact that dirty politics is exactly what inspires those long trains of tweets and the top trending topics on Twitter. Trending #DirtyPoliticians on Twitter would have benefited ‘Sethji’ a lot more than struggling to trend it on Zarabol.

Unlike traditional book launches, I’m quite impressed with this new approach by Penguin India. What about you?