At the 9th edition of Indian Magazine Congress, Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands spoke about ‘Emerging Consumer Trends and Implications for Magazines’.
He started by saying we become what we behold so the impact that media has on us is two-way impact. We create media which in turn shapes us. In a world which was dominated by print, we saw that news that are important took priority over news that were popular. In the traditional scheme of print, this is significant and is the old mindset of print which is ‘profession over business’. In that context the role of magazines was to expand exposure, build perspective, deepen analysis and sense-making. Sense-making was a key objective of magazines at a time like this, explained Desai.
“TV is about transience; it is about desire, it is about currency. The world rushes by on television. You can’t retain things, you cannot go back one page. You are caught in this flow of time. It’s a flickering, it’s a simulation of reality. In advertising, you talk about getting eyeballs. You reduce human complexity to an eyeball. That’s all you are interested in, you’re not interested in the person or the emotion. You say just give me the eyeballs, keep everything else. Reduce a person to a synaptic flicker. That’s the interest television has. Therefore the world that TV creates, is a world of TRPs; is what holds interest over what’s significant,” observed Desai. The suit that the Prime Minister is wearing becomes much more interesting than the content of the speech that he might give. Desai further elaborated that this idea that news is perpetual trial that is taking place. People come into the studio to be tried and they are executed on the spot. In a context like this, the role of magazines is largely to amplify what is popular and mainstream (cricket, Bollywood); the key subjects and celebrities get amplified in an overall sense. The larger cultural imprint of TV is therefore the primacy of the popular, flattening of currencies, the popular becomes the important.
Desai also explained how ‘Consumer’ has begun to become the primary identity of people. Earlier when you asked people who are you, the first thing they will describe is where they come from. Today it is where am I going to? In Desai’s opinion it is an incomplete self, asking for completion through consumption. That’s the fundamental shift when we talk about how markets get built. “Markets get built when the source of identity changes. When the source of identity is fixed and given, the role of consumption is limited. Today what I have to do increasingly is because I am identified by the car I buy, which part of town I live in, how big my house is, where I shop, am I buying upmarket or downmarket things, all of those determine who I am. That’s the shift where markets get constructed and built,” he said.
The emerging force on this is digital. Digital means consumers are choosing and picking content, the user is in control, it’s a very strong, decentralising impulse. Everyone is their own consumer and publisher and in that sense the world becomes fragmented in a series of very powerful individuals. There is a diversity of form, text and image. “When people talk of the young generation not reading, to my mind it is an absolute myth. The internet is still largely text. When we talk about digital, social media, you’re still largely talking about text. So the idea that text is dead is not true, its form may have changed, the way in which it is being consumed has changed, but text if anything has returned rather than gone. Digital is about interaction, it’s about recirculation, multiplications, these are the codes of digital. TV simply put, creates desire. But flattens it. Digital puts individual at the centre expands interests. That’s the role of digital,” according to Desai.
The need of innovation we speak about is actually coming from the consumer who is saying (to brands) - you have only three ways of figuring me out but I am much more complex and interesting than your ways of figuring me out. The consumer is saying figure me out better. People on the other side are not understanding that and responding as per Desai. “The individual is a sum total of passions. Earlier the individual was a fixed entity. The digital world is about people wanting to be many things simultaneously. Look at this word ‘foodie’. I find it a fascinating idea when so many people call themselves foodies. Earlier I would call that person a ‘gluttonous individual’ who cannot think of anything but food. Now you cannot say anything because that person may make you feel stupid, talking about exotic food you may have no idea about,” said Desai. This transition from what was an activity or a pastime to becoming a quasi-occupation. What was seen to be indulgent, wasteful pastime is now a full-fledged pursuit. Talking about some Twitter bios he picked up from his followers he quoted, “This is somebody who calls himself life-coach, adventurer, gear-reviewer, cutlery-collector, outdoors, camping and wild life enthusiast, fitness and kraav maga student, food lover and home chef. The point is that this is a very significant shift. These I would argue are advertisements for magazines. This is the consumer telling us, these are the magazines I want. There are no newspapers that can cater to this. This is not television. This is digital. And this is magazines.”
Today’s mindset is a magazine mindset. “Looking at a broad theme, this is my interest, within that I curate, and I figure out what I must pursue and read and expose myself to. You are looking for each of your interest to be satisfied. The deep generalist, not the specialist necessarily, is the new kind of consumer. It is echoed by brands who talk about not the benefits but the larger purpose they serve. Even brands are talking in a language that is completely different today,” he said.
He further said, “Look at the long format ads brands are doing. Conceptually, that is a magazine view of advertising. This is the magazine's role (that no other category can play) is to develop new categories of consumption. Consumption is nothing but ways of encoding behaviour. Who teaches consumption? New categories get created when you create new vocabulary, new rules. Where do you learn consumption? On magazines. The great opportunity is to recognise that this is the central role of magazines. People are looking to expand their range of consumption but they don’t know how. I may want to make wine but I don’t know how. In India there is a problem of people not having enough money, but also people having a lot of money and don’t know what to do with it.”
Desai said the role of magazines is to educate, create hierarchies, implant codes, show rules of discrimination, (e.g. what is good fashion and what is bad fashion), manufacture celebrities. “TV will make celebrities big but magazines create celebrities. Consumption needs celebrities. Consumer society is crude at its base level. All of them chase the same thing, but with time and stratification, people want purer more refined experiences,” said he.
In Desai’s opinion newspapers have a fabulous distribution model. Magazines have to be picked up, for which they are struggling. Eventually it is about content although he said he did not like the word as it was too generic, it is like chefs saying feed them calories today. “What we do should have more passion and specificity than saying content. Creators over managers should be believed in. Creators make money, not managers. The print industry has gone the other way in the last few years. Money chases people who create stuff rather than people who sell stuff,” concluded Desai.