Is Zeenat Aman's Authentic Storytelling Rewriting Branding & Engagement Rules?

Industry Experts weigh in on whether authenticity, relevance, and cultural resonance are the new formula for successfully capturing young audiences

by Ritika Raj
Published - February 22, 2024
6 minutes To Read
Is Zeenat Aman's Authentic Storytelling Rewriting Branding & Engagement Rules?

In the times of short-lived trends, surprisingly, the real head-turner on social media for quite some time isn't some Gen Z influencer but Bollywood royalty Zeenat Aman. At 71, she made her Instagram debut driven by a desire to share her experiences and connect with a wider audience. 

One of her very initial posts was a reflection on the male-dominated film industry of the 1970s. Aman’s Instagram presence is a refreshing departure from the noise - a story that transcends generations and leaves you wanting more. Her content is articulate, personal, and relatable which feels anything but dusty. Without trending reels or filters,  her signature wit and thoughtful musings have garnered her around 686K followers. She gets incredible engagement - especially from Millenials & GenZ - making the ‘attention deficit’ narrative surrounding this demographic look a little fishy. 

Brands Take Note

Initially, brands like CRED, OPPO, and Forest Essentials collaborated with her, realizing that icons like Aman offer more than just vintage vibes. They represent an era of authenticity, cultural significance, and narratives that resonate deeply with today's value-driven consumers. CRED leveraged her appeal for their quirky, off-beat campaign; OPPO could align with her timeless elegance to promote their latest launch with a classic touch, while Forest Essentials could resonate with her natural, graceful ageing, appealing to a demographic keen on sustainable beauty. Naturally, more brands like Pears, Leap Club and Tinder followed suit.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Zeenat Aman (@thezeenataman)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by @forestessentials

Is Nostalgia Fueling a Branding Revolution?

Are days of fleeting scrolls and bite-sized content being the ‘king’ numbered?  Experts weigh in on whether the collaboration between contemporary brands and iconic figures like Zeenat Aman signifies a major shift in branding strategies beyond trends.

Abhishek Vyas, Chief Executive Officer of My Haul Store, sees a significant departure from the usual celebrity image: "Aman's mindful and clutter-breaking approach to Instagram surprises people, but she has always been a maverick, avant-garde, redefining roles.  The branding norms are changing the paradigm, similar to how brands embraced influencer marketing while integrating traditional ads into it." He further shares an observation on how “The content narrative of different types has been evolving and widely accepted by content consumers. Of course, there is a larger shift in branding strategies.”

According to Sumit Gupta, Founder, Viral Pitch, these collaborations signify a trend in marketing where nostalgia meets relevance. Says Gupta, “It reflects a strategic shift towards leveraging timeless appeal to capture the attention of diverse audiences. This indicates a larger move in branding strategies, emphasising emotional connections and cultural resonance.”

Sunitha Natrajan, Director - Digital Strategy, Social Panga seconds Gupta and believes it's a win for brands. She adds, “They're not just chasing short attention spans; they're making a cool story that lasts.”  For her, this trend is a reflection of a shift towards more priority on diverse collaboration to have a lasting impact on brand loyalty and perception. Emphasising the rising importance of authenticity, she states “Successful collaborations will be the ones authentically bridging the past, present, and future, and crafting compelling narratives that resonate with the evolving values of today's consumer base."

From 'Attention Deficit' to 'Transgenerational Impact'

Research suggests that the average human attention span has decreased to just 8.25 seconds, all thanks to technology and information overload. Especially, with short-form video content gaining prominence, younger audiences are often accused of having the attention span of a goldfish, so to speak.  Can content and collabs like these bridge the generational divide and capture the attention of today's attention-lacking audiences? And, perhaps even more intriguing, what makes these collaborations resonate with both young and old alike? 

To answer the second part of the raging question, Gupta says, “The authenticity and cultural significance associated along with the enduring charm of iconic figures like Aman make these partnerships memorable, holding attention beyond fleeting digital distractions.” These content formats and collaborations, therefore, can be highly effective in breaking the 'goldfish attention span' stereotype.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Kusha Kapila (@kushakapila)


Seconding this, Natrajan mentions: “Remembering the good old days makes the grown-ups happy, and for us, the younger crowd, it feels real and not just another ad. It's like our favourite throwback playlist but in fashion and lifestyle.” She adds that for brands, this strategy is rooted in the emotional connection that consumers have with the past to enhance brand appeal today.” She applauds Cred for successfully evoking the sense of correlation effectively, purely from a branding point of view.

However, Vyas believes that we cannot completely ignore the goldfish attention span theory. He adds, “In an era of mindless scrolling where you don’t even remember the last reel you watched on Instagram. Mindful creators or accidental creators like Zeenat Aman are exceptions. Brands that have understood how to leverage these OG creators are working well to revolutionise the content creation game.”

The Future of Brand Collabs

As we move forward, will this trend of leveraging nostalgia to capture GenZ and millennials continue to gain traction? And what implications might it have for future marketing strategies and celebrity endorsements? 

Authenticity and diversity will be key to endorsements in the future, believes Natrajan. “Long-term partnerships will replace short-lived endorsements, leveraging digital influencers with a strong online presence. As storytelling remains key, celebrities are expected to actively participate in content creation, contributing to a brand's narrative”, she adds.

Gupta chimes in with a similar thought, suggesting that the trend of brands collaborating with classic icons to attract the attention of GenZ and millennials is likely to continue. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Zeenat Aman (@thezeenataman)

Long-form content will retake precedence in the coming future, says Vyas. He mentions actors who are great at the influencer game in their 70s like Amitabh Bachchan, Mammootty and Anil Kapoor.  How Aman stands out is with her mindfulness and norm-breaking authenticity. He adds “Long-form narratives will have a bigger space in content creation and people will be able to connect with brands on a personal level due to this. It's promising, and more creators could help achieve this level. An integration of brands and classic icons could generate a revolution in the influencer content creation realm.”

Additionally, as Natrajan suggests, it is essential to note that the success of such collaborations depends on the authenticity of the connection between the brand, the iconic figure, and the target audience. If executed well, these partnerships can create a memorable and emotionally resonant brand experience, contributing to a larger shift in how companies approach marketing and consumer engagement. Until then, this is a trend that’s relevant on a campaign level for many.