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PETRONAS steals Netflix's playbook in content marketing push

PETRONAS steals Netflix's playbook in content marketing push

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PETRONAS’ films have become synonymous with Malaysia’s festivities and through the decades, the films, the subjects and treatments have struck a chord with consumers. With 2022 being a fresh start, PETRONAS wanted to remind Malaysians that they have more to live for with courage and hope. As part of its annual content marketing push, PETRONAS launched an original drama series in January to commemorate the start of its 2022 festive campaign.

Titled 366, the seven-episode drama series is anchored upon the overall PETRONAS 2022 festive campaign themed “Live Again”, and sets out to portray the resilience, fortitude, and togetherness of Malaysians during trying times. Unlike the previous years where PETRONAS has individual videos under an umbrella festive theme, 366 takes on the concept of a drama and ends with a cliff-hanger, with the next episode only coming out on the next festive holiday. 

Coming out with content that is relatable and touches the heart is paramount to the brand, and Anita Azrina Abdul Aziz, senior general manager, group strategic communications, PETRONAS told A+M that it looks to Netflix's tried and tested marketing strategy.

We studied Netflix's strategy of keeping its audience hooked and engaged to its series and used the learnings for the expansion plans of the brand's festive campaign.

“With the current development as we transition to this endemic stage living with COVID-19 – people are now back outside with stringent SOPs, navigating ourselves in this ‘new’ normal by leveraging traditional and evolving platforms like TV, on-ground activation and out-of-home media to further maximise our reach,” Anita said. 

Anita said that the idea for the year came about as it wanted to inspire Malaysians to take these second chances in life and to thrive together. “The pandemic has changed the way we live. Through various workshops, we deep dived into stories of Malaysians from all walks of lives from Peninsular Malaysia to East Malaysia. Through these insights, we realised that most Malaysians have become less optimistic," she said.

Further discussions with its agency, Ensemble, convinced the team that 2022 presented the right time for the brand to reignite the passions of Malaysians – in continuing to fulfil PETRONAS' purpose and having the courage to dream a new dream. While planning for this year's concept, PETRONAS and Ensemble wanted to tell a story that made all Malaysians look forward to all of the festivities by waiting for the next episode unfolding at each festivity.

“The waiting itself unites Malaysians by a universal feeling of empathy and care towards the characters and their lives. By having the audience hooked to the year-long series, PETRONAS is able to convey to Malaysians that they are with them at every part of their journey this year. In short, instead of giving a warm hug at each festivity, they can feel the brand’s love for them continuously throughout the year,” Anita added.  

petronas film still1

The series title, 366, was the result of an intense but productive brainstorm session which saw rapid suggestions of names. PETRONAS initially came up with the name "365" since the series will take a year to conclude. However, the team eventually added another day to "366" and the reason for this decision will only be revealed in the seventh episode. 

At the same time, the animation treatment that was done in 2020 and 2021 remains to remind Malaysians of a time where they were battling with the uncertain times of the pandemic and where PETRONAS was taking both a progressive and pre-emptive steps to try a new method of storytelling while enabling remote production without the need for video shoots.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 is back for its 10th year! Running from 26 to 27 April 2022, the hybrid conference covers topics including the creator economy, value-based storytelling strategy, consumable content on social, as well as video and community content. Register today to learn, connect and level up with the best content marketers in Asia! 

While audiences’ attention span on ads and brand films might be short, PETRONAS’ data revealed that attention spans on a drama series is a different ball game altogether. To ensure viewers are left wanting more, PETRONAS looked towards experienced partners in the field, such as Jehan Miskin, founder of Mastermind, and film director Kabir Bhatia, a multiple award-winning director cum producer who has spent the last 20 years in Malaysia.  

The first episode, Day 32, was released on Chinese New Year (1 February) on PETRONAS' Facebook page and official YouTube channel. Day 32 revolves around the main character Zhi Yi, as she prepares to spend a day with her father on Chinese New Year, while her mum tries to convince her otherwise. The video shows how her families and new friends along the way navigate unexpected situations and life’s complexities. Day 32, has since garnered over four million views on YouTube, as at time of writing. The next instalment of the series, Day 123, will be released on Hari Raya Puasa (3 May). 

Moving forward, PETRONAS plans to focus on social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube, tapping on drama series as a key creative output. Depending on the episode and the specific festive, PETRONAS will venture into other platforms as part of its media buy strategy such as radio, TikTok, Instagram and others, reliant on the media trends of its target audience. 

Anita said:

Our communication strategy focuses on creating value while being prudent on advertising.

"Understanding that the media landscape has evolved at a speedy rate, we keep tabs on our target audiences’ media consumption for a more effective reach, especially in this pandemic where digital technology is essential, more than ever," she added.

While a series like 366 would typically take at least nine months of preparation, PETRONAS and Ensemble only had a fraction of that time to work with. With Chinese New Year starting early this year, both parties faced a mad rush against time to craft an intriguing story for the whole year. In addition to developing characters that would resonate with Malaysians for each of the following episodes in advance, the team had to juggle the many uncertainties of the pandemic when it came to preparing for production. 

According to Anita, both parties set very high expectations and demands to challenge themselves against the very best drama series out there. "And we didn’t want to limit ourselves to comparing and competing amongst other brands in the ad space. Like any epic partnerships, we argue, a lot! Coming up with 366 and putting it out there for the first time tested our courage," she said. Nonetheless, both parties knew that being able to be honest with each other is simply a cornerstone to come up with a work that’s honest and authentic.

petronas film still3

This is not PETRONAS' first foray in creating a series. In 2019, PETRONAS launched a three-part film titled Land of Light Bulbs as part of its branding campaign in India. The series paid tribute to India’s spirit of ingenuity as part of its long-term branding campaign in the country.

The three 20-minute episodes centre on Aman, an organ donor, who grapples with impending death and makes an effort to give meaning to his remaining days by travelling across India to meet the child recipient of his gift of sight. Chairman of PETRONAS India, Rizan Ismail, said then that the series reflects the meaningful partnerships PETRONAS has cultivated in India over the years, built upon the essence of trust, collaboration and friendship.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 is back for its 10th year! Running from 26 to 27 April 2022, the hybrid conference covers topics including the creator economy, value-based storytelling strategy, consumable content on social, as well as video and community content. Register today to learn, connect and level up with the best content marketers in Asia!

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