As I look back at the year, the usual powerhouse categories are not the ones that did something outstanding this year. The colas, the detergents, the shampoos, the automobiles, the mobile phones did what they do every year, that is produce communication that convinces its audience to buy them more often. There wasn’t a single landmark communication that came out from the stables of the large brand owners.
The year 2014 will actually be remembered for a political campaign. There were two political parties that went up against each other, and the challenger trumped the defender by a wide margin. While creatively the quality of both campaigns can be debatable, the depth and width of the BJP campaign was truly staggering. The campaign also taught a few lessons to the large brands and brand marketers on how to create a wave for a political party. In a country like India, heroes in the public domain are normally from the world of sport or the world of movies. A politician of any kind or hue has little chance of being the hero, of being an icon of pop culture. Possibly for the first time in the history of the country the campaign produced an iconic individual who is a politician. Narendra Modi achieved almost the impossible. From the campaign perspective, the party did everything that brands speak about but often don’t implement it with the clarity of thought and purity of intent as the BJP did. It used social media as the mainstay of the campaign, used search actively to push its agenda, used social listening with great effect to counter or further its agenda, and used content aggressively to build a feeling of being the flavour of season. Slowly they added mass media to the mix. This too they did with a sense of purpose, they did long format content, quick animated commercials for leveraging topical subjects and very strategically ensured that the social conversation and word of mouth too is structured and guided in such a way that all of it combined works for the brand.
Remarkably, the brand managers of the brand (party) have not let go of the intensity and have used event marketing with as much clarity and strategic ability to keep the good thing going. The lesson from a political party to brand managers is simple, succinct and clear: it takes a political stratagem to create winning brand campaigns.
The second thing 2014 will be remembered for is the long format television commercials that brands have started to invest in. More and more brands are investing in long format contents that they run on their dedicated channels on YouTube. Kissan produced a very emotional 3.5-minute commercial that was viewed by 2.5 million and was very well-received. McDowell’s did one better and produced a 7-minute ode to friendship that has been viewed by 1.5 million, Jabong created an anthem that topped global charts and was viewed by 1.5million, BMW India produced a 90-second web film with Sachin Tendulkar that celebrated BMW owners, and these are just a few examples. YouTube is making it easy for brands to push long format branded content and brands are actively looking at breaking the tyranny of 30seconds. 2015 may be the year of really long format content with brands turning into serious storytellers. This is the evolution from the time when Amul went and turned its brand story into a Bollywood movie. We will soon see feature films that celebrate a brand and live on the web.
Year 2014 was also when e-commerce became mainstream for shopping across categories. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, Jabong, Zovi, Zivame, CarTrade, and many more fought pitched battles for the share of the wallet. All the e-commerce brands aggressively advertised on all the mass media channels to drive awareness, conversions and deals. Deals became the buzzword with sales being branded innovatively. Flipkart’s “BigBillionDay sale” became a landmark giving India its first major cyber shopping festival. The way competitors reacted to Flipkart is a clear indication that this war will not see any decrease in intensity in the coming years. I expect all the mainstream retailers to join the rush in the coming years and fight tooth and nail for the non-shopaholic shopper.
This was the year when content marketing took wings and some brands cleverly used it to create social chatter. Surprisingly it wasn’t a brand that topped the chart here, but a celebrity that used it to stunning effect. AIB (All India Bakchod), a standup comedy group and Alia Bhat (a celeb who was the butt of many jokes) created a film that has been viewed 6.8 million times. This singular piece of web film turned the perception of Alia on its head and made her an icon that brands started to chase for endorsement. Her stock continues to rise thanks to a clever use of content marketing. Make My Trip, the travel website, also cleverly used contextual content on Twitter to create highly engaging conversation. A standup comic and a clever community manager were at the top of their game to push the brand’s offering. Not all brands got it right though; Star Sports’ relaunch had a snafu that left it red-faced and it had to bear the brunt of inappropriate content.
By the end of year we heard the new term “breaktheinternet”. This was done by a small-time magazine and a self-proclaimed celebrity who wanted to “break the internet” The chatter it generated around the brand and the celebrity was enormous, and we did hear the podgy Korean singer with the silly dance style saying he did break the YouTube code of count by crossing its count. Officially, he has been viewed 2.162,565,563 times! #Breaktheinternet is a pointer that hashtags are the new clutter and brands have to look at breaking the clutter. In the hash-tagged world brands have become an acronym, conversations are aggregated, and trending is a word that gives joy to the brand. Hashtag will be a battle that will not be an easy battle to win, and imagine what will happen when competitors ambush your hashtag.
The year 2014 was not of cutting-edge creative commercials, it was the year of cutting-edge brand conversations. Control has moved from brand marketers to consumers and this change will have a seismic impact on how brands will be marketed in the future. The coming year 2015 will be the year of chatter and hashtags, and brands that have the most innovative one will win the battle of chatter. I do see a big role for TV in doing this, it’s just that TV can’t be used with the same primacy as it has been used till now.
By Naresh Gupta
The author is CSO & managing partner of Bang In The Middle