The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore was packed to its capacity during May this year as it saw an event of different kind, the first ever YouTube fanfest was held there with thousands of 20-25 year olds present and millions watching it on YouTube’s live streaming all over the world. The two-night live YouTube showcase featured a star-studded roster of 20 breakout artists with over a billion followers! The venue heard the loudest cheer when the founder of a popular Indian YouTube channel announced – “our aim is to kill television”. This phenomenon testifies the emergence of a generation that detests TV; though they still consume the content, the context and the medium is changing and changing fast. Add to this the channel flipping, audio muting and ignoring syndrome during the commercial break, and the future of communication on TV is not encouraging.
The brand communications space as we know it is on the cusp of change and the 30-60 seconds spot are a passé. This upsets a century-old arrangement of using TV for emotional connect with the TG and other medium for reinforcement. This status quo raises some important questions – who will build the brands in the next decade – will it be the creative agency, the digital agency or some third party content generators? Given the transactional nature of digital, will the customers ever connect with a brand emotionally?
It is an exciting place to be in, it’s that phase where the old is dying and the new is still taking shape and as the cliché goes ‘time’ will answer most of these questions; but there are some basic frameworks through which marketers and advertisers should view the future. Foremost among them is the context, the context is which your message is being consumed. Today, advertisers fail to understand the context and in the name of new media content create random viral commercials with some slapstick humour and sexist comments. It may tickle the funny bone and viewers may share it too, but the long-term emotional connect is missing as the context is ignored. For the creative people this gets more difficult as the definition of a content creator blurs, today anyone who updates a status, shares a picture, comments, blogs, etc., is a content creator and every such message has a profound impact on the brand image.
The now famous or infamous case of ‘United breaks guitar’ is one of the first instances when the world came to terms with the real power of social media; here a Canadian musician Dave Carroll composed a protest song that chronicles a real-life experience of how his guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008 and posted it on YouTube. The act had far reaching impact – the video amassed 150,000 views in just one day (13.5 million views as of September 2013), the airlines image took a severe beating, they had to apologise with compensation and the company’s stock prices fell 10 per cent in four days. With this, the dynamics of brand communications are changing and understanding context is gaining paramount importance.
The second challenge that marketers face today is that most of the digital agencies in India are concentrating more on search and analytics; thereby making the relationship between the customer and the brand more transactional as opposed to emotional, and with television taking a back seat, it gets difficult to connect to the right side of the brain. Hence, there are sales messages coming out of most of the digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and even Instagram.
Consider how our relationship with our banks have changed – there was a time when we used to visit the branch frequently and spend about 20 minutes every time we entered; we knew the people, they knew us and there was a human bond. But today, whoever gives us a faster online transaction and a better mobile app is the bank of choice. So, for today’s youth bank is a commodity that they access through their mobile devices and that is the medium to reach them. Analytics and data alright, but building an emotional connect considering these dynamics is the biggest challenge for digital agencies.
So, at the end of the day if you crack the core, that is, make your brand purpose transcend the medium, understand the context and manage to build a brand emotionally in the digital space you will win. Tesco’s virtual grocery store at in a Seoul sub-way in South Korea explains this point to the T; there was a Purpose – to make grocery shopping convenient, Context – the South Koreans consider grocery shopping a dreaded task, Action – they created a virtual grocery store at sub-way stations, where people could shop using a mobile app and the grocery would reach home and the result was an unparalleled emotional connect that led the brand to reach the No. 1 position.
Lastly, many marketers have a misconception that they don’t have to spend on social media as they are free, but one has to consciously build this space to entertain, update, engage and communicate. The contextual content should draw people to this space, as left on its own people don’t visit company’s websites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels and other social spaces every day, and they will not do so if you only concentrate on transaction. I think, now is the right time for Indian marketers to really understand that and start building non-transactional messages in the digital space, create ideas that move people and are relevant to them. Remember, going forward it will be about ‘acts’ and not ‘ads’.
The author is Chief Creative Officer - India Subcontinent, Leo Burnett.