At ad:tech New Delhi 2012/02, a panel comprising Wasim Basir, director, integrated marketing communication, Coca-Cola India and Southwest Asia; Atit Mehta, country media manager, Hindustan Unilever; Nikhil Rungta, country marketing head, Google India; and Aditya Swamy, executive vice-president and business head, MTV India discussed how branded content could be combined with marketing strategy and how brands are now becoming content publishers. The discussion was moderated by Ravi Kiran, co-founder and managing partner, Friends of Ambition.
Contributing with his opening thoughts, Basir said that a very small portion of Coca-Cola's online content is instigated by the company and is mostly one that is produced by consumers.
"It is all about the message and you have to control the dialogue to a large extent," he said.
Mehta followed with his remark that all that a marketer knows best is to sell the products of the brand he represents and it is very important for marketers to co-create content with publishers.
According to Rungta, content is anything that provides information, entertainment and solves problems and hence, to cut a long story short, is everything in marketing today.
Swamy brought forward the point of content being relevant and important to the youth. He added that it is not always necessary that a brand needs to be a publisher, too.
When the moderator asked the panellists the need for brands to embrace content, Basir said that a mere message barely serves the purpose. "At Coca-Cola, our today and tomorrow depends on how we tell our story. If we said, 'Coca-Cola is a great beverage', we are just talking to ourselves. If you believe in storytelling, you would know the real strength is in content and not just message," he said.
Rungta further added that one does not need to hard sell a product and if consumers need a certain product, they will find it. "Imagine you are lost in a desert and are thirsty. Then, you see a hoarding that tells you about water being available at a little distance ahead. That is content. It is lifesaving. Thereafter, if you see too much of the same message, it becomes advertising," he explained.
Taking forward from this point, Mehta said that consumers are increasingly ignoring ads. "We are still spending, rates are going up and then the reach is less. This is a triple whammy," he remarked.
"I don't know if any audience sits in front of the television to watch an ad. It used to be ads between content before. Now, it is the other way. If you talk to somebody who is not interested, you have to find a better way," said Basir, explaining why branded content is significant.
Citing the examples of shows such as Roadies and Stuntmania, Swamy explained how brands (Hero Honda and Bajaj Pulsar) have achieved the right connect, along with relevant content. The problem, he said, arrives when brands build content that seems like an extension of their commercials or replicate a previously successful format.
The panellists agreed that interactivity and engagement with the consumer becomes very important and regular display ads or 30-second television commercials are mere one-way conversations.
Citing examples of brands such as Old Spice and even the recent rage, Kolaveri, they explained how marketers are realising the importance of content.
Towards the end of the discussion, Basir played an audio-visual clip that presented how Coca-Cola connected with the Indian youth like never before with MTV Coke Studio, which attempted to "bring diverse music genres together and create a 'new wave of happiness'."