The noxious duo ruining brand building: Shubhranshu Singh

When the new media evangelists broke the fences and became the most feted folks at the party, they forgot that brands need to entertain and inform with intelligence, says Singh

e4m by Shubhranshu Singh
Published: Mar 27, 2018 8:58 AM  | 5 min read

Provocation is hardly one’s style but the truth needs to be inquired after.
Can you mention five brands in India that have been built relying on social media?
How about three?
Not even one?
What a long time a decade seems to be in the frenzied rush of marketing. Recall how digital and social was the new gale force blowing us forward. The World Wide Web as a phenomenon itself was described by Sir Tim Berners –Lee as “an interactive sea of shared knowledge …made of the things we and our friends have seen, heard, believe or have figured out”. It was portended that a new breed of creative would emerge. Extinction seemed imminent for the legacy agency world. A suite of readily available technologies would come shrink wrapped and place your branded content throughout the social sphere for willing consumers to encounter.
“And I said to myself…what a wonderful world!”
The futurists said the future had arrived. Buzz without virality was deemed improbable. Every meme had the potential to create brand equity.
And what is the report card we have in hand? A poor ‘C’ is quite fair per my reckoning. This is despite the boom in the digital ecosystem, hundreds of millions of keen young consumers, cheapest possible access via near ubiquitous mobile phones and steady support from brand builders.

The issue emerged because of a noxious duo - expert-itis and department-itis.
Expert-itis is wedded to legacy. They have a family of old breadwinner relics. Almost the entire brigade of decision makers who evaluated and opined on social media for brand building were of the generation born from the early 1960s to early 1980s and I am indeed no exception. Marketing was learned at a gentler pace. There was a network of peers – mad men and media men, strategists, business operators. They owned the apparatus. No outsider could come past the gates till these peers had signed off on admittance. Everything was Germanic in its pre planning and narrow as a needle in scope. Ah, and for the most part things happened one at a time. The arrival of any ordinary crowd into creative development and dissemination was simply anti –gravity. When regular consumers got this power all hell broke loose. Yet everyone was pretending to be in the know. Nobody had a good enough understanding. Vigorous nodding soon lapsed into a resigned shaking of the head sideways. The crowds were take over….we were all on thin ice. Time for the final goodbyes.
But it never did materialise quite as claimed. Why?
Because, when the new media evangelists broke the fences and became the most feted folks at the party, they forgot that brands need to entertain and inform with intelligence. Social was only a platform not manna from heaven. And as luck would have it the demographic explosion happened alongside lighting up of hundreds of millions of smart phones. The mix up was of Kumbh Mela scale.
The consequence is that the old apparatus is pretending to know how to talk to Gen Z consumers who have lived their entire lives online. This is department-itis. Without exception, social media mavens remained the flock of the marketing department. This was a revolution that ought to have engaged HR, Ops, Customer Care, Sales and the CEO. But everyone was lassoing the beast to tether it at the marketing gates.

What are the obvious manifestations of Expert-itis and Departmental-itis ?

Inability to grapple with new era story telling
Short video and small screen is it. Long form needs a mutation. A constant refresher. Jung’s primal archetypes won’t change. The form has to adapt to the substance. Desktop, email, banners, textual advertising are paleolithic.
Thinking that Self-praise is content
Brands without any polarity or opinion are like Tofu.
Collective opinion discounts and reacts against self-advertisement even if individuals may politely suffer it. Listen actively. Think customisable chatbots. Think of solicitation for feedback.

Imagining that Community building will get done via gimmicks
If it is something seen before and will live a small life span, just don’t do it.

Unable to do stuff Fresher and Faster
Ephemeral imagery, video is what works. Make your audience collaborate. Let the story meander but let them own their story with pride.

Not getting that consumer clusters are creating their own magic
The audience does most things better than the brands in terms of spontaneity and topicality. Social media is flat earth whereas traditional media is about privilege, control and commerciality. But that’s still where brand originated content comes from – the old media mindset. As ridiculous as a man wearing a parrot green three-piece suit for beach volleyball.
Be with the culture.

Thinking that Influencer is Influenza
Stars, sports icons, musicians, fashion models, rich and richer….they have following and evoke interest. Celebrity comes packaged with mass curiosity and craving. But it is Katy Perry and not the Pope and mass following doesn’t mean there is a rub off on the brand. It happens only with genuine resonance.

Treating Brand Purpose as a tactic
Do it small if there is no grand purpose but don’t airbrush. Don’t put the right angle on every mugshot. Time is a stress variable when it comes to puffery and lack of authenticity. Show it as it is. As the consumer will have it. Brand promise cannot be on puppet strings.

In conclusion, Experts and departmental men (Yes, mostly men !) have failed the test thus far. Engagement and stewardship cannot be euphemisms even for well-intended deceit.

Manipulation is toxic.

No matter how well your brand hypocrisy is camouflaged, it will be discovered.

Till then all the department folks and experts can keep designing the Emperor’s new clothes.
(The author is a Mumbai-based marketer)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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