Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Making sense of the JCB Ki Khudai viral phenomenon

A social media carnival worth noting, for the uniquely desi insight it is rooted in.

It was only a few days back that a senior ad-marketing executive told us that's is really difficult to 'make something go viral' today, given the control social platforms wield over organic content. Most of it is paid, we were told. But the latest social media mania around the black and yellow excavators from JCB has made us re-think such gyaan, after all.

For the past few days the hashtag #jcbkikhudayi has been trending on all social platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Memes around the way Indians tend to gather around to watch these vehicles dig and transport earth/mud/tar, have been going viral. Psst: if you find your sub-ordinates cyberslacking today, odds are they're looking at JCB related content on social media.

Although it's hard to say where and how this started, it is undoubtedly a much-needed break from all the politics related memes (we all know how disturbing those can be, sometimes) that have successfully sabotaged India's scrolling space since the elections took centre-stage. All the memes and jokes around #JCBKiKhudai got a shot of credibility when the official Twitter of JCB acknowledged the 'love'.

Also, the entire movement has brought about a ton of free, 'earned media' attention for a brand like JCB which concentrates mostly on B2B communication and has very little to do with the aam janta. Never mind how it began, the phenomenon now has a life of its own. And the adage 'success breeds success' is apt in the world of virality - once something begins to trend, it exponentially gathers more and more digital moss as it rolls along the internet. Social media algorithms are skewed in favour of viral content, so to speak.

So, what is JCB, exactly? Founded in 1945 by Joseph Cyril Bamford, JCB or JC Bamford Excavators is a British company that manufactures equipment for construction, agriculture, waste handling and demolition. There, now you know!

All this virality is the result of the very 'relateable' offline interest Indians have in a JCB vehicle in action. Moreover, JCB is also an umbrella term for the entire excavator category. Be it an excavator from CAT or Hitachi, for Indians, its a 'JCB' by default. Much like Bisleri is for the bottled water segment.

In fact, the JCB brand name has already found mention in the Oxford Dictionary as a word - it's classified as a noun that means: "A type of mechanical excavator with a shovel at the front and a digging arm at the rear."

Netizens have even dug up old videos of the earth-digger in action to produce memes and have even dragged cricketers, popular politicians and Bollywood actors into their graphic images to enhance the meme experience. Check out some of the excellent memework here:

Hilarity aside, one thing worth noting is that the very people that are aiding this virality, are the people brands call 'consumers'. These social media savvy netizens are the same people that comprise a significant slice of the TG pie of many brands. What insights can brands glean from the way they are enjoying JCB memes? That they need comic respite from their hectic day jobs? That they are spending a large part of their waking hours staring at their mobile phone screens? That they will unquestioningly share something that makes them laugh? All of the above, we reckon.

We spoke to an expert about this virality.

Making sense of the JCB Ki Khudai viral phenomenon
Saurabh Uboweja

Saurabh Uboweja, chief executive officer, Brands of Desire (a management consulting firm) says, "There are millions of digital users online at any point in time, many of them do it as part of their profession and are looking to capitalise on potential memes to drive their audience and following."

"A trend like this is spontaneous and completely unplanned. Brand marketers should look to leverage such trends and create memes around trending topics for driving traffic to the brands they manage. It's serendipity for JCB, they simply got lucky here and were smart enough to drive attention to their profile by putting up their own post around the hashtag," Uboweja adds.

Making sense of the JCB Ki Khudai viral phenomenon
S Yesudas

S Yesudas, co-founder and managing director, Y&A Transformation, says "The biggest opportunity as well as the disadvantage for brands in the current brand-consumer connect ecosystem is that every consumer is a potential broadcast channel. The Millennials and Gen Zs that will form the majority of consumers in the next 4-5 years, operate differently from the Baby Boomers and Gen X. For the former their “affluence” comes from what they do, unlike the latter where affluence is still determined by what they own. Some in the former segment spot certain “signals” and create their own unique experiences and the others follow the “trend” where again they try to be unique in their expressions."

Adding, "Brands in JCB's category are also referred to as JCB. I believe a bridegroom arriving at his wedding on a JCB was the beginning of this. JCB as a brand has had a long journey with many of these consumers, who are making the content viral; beginning with their playsets. It is perhaps the subconscious level of trust that made the groom step into one. While that is at the product level, at the experience level too, particularly the B2C brands, have to understand that building trust with consumers by reducing friction, time, effort, offering solutions to problems and last but not the least empathy are critical ingredients to brand love. JCB has surely got huge free media. This is can also end up becoming a one-day wonder unless the brand now comes forward and enables/channelises the conversations and build a community, working with all of these real influencers."

Making sense of the JCB Ki Khudai viral phenomenon
Karthik Srinivasan

Communication consultant Karthik Srinivasan says, "There are many trends that trend purely because everyone else is wondering why it is trending. This is one of them. This one started when someone casually remarked about the millions of views for JCB digging videos on YouTube. Then it trended almost like an inside joke, and everyone wanted to be in the joke and made it viral. There is some esoteric pleasure in watching an excavator work given its giant proportions and effortless movement. But it is esoteric, not common."

"This trend is not worth writing about or worth digging (pun unintended) around to extract nuggets of wisdom for marketers. I'm sure a few social media savvy brands would use this hashtag to good effect in their communication in the next few days and then it'd die an organic death soon. JCB is in the B2B space and people who are trending this may never ever be users of a JCB. I noticed they replied to this trending hashtag as if people are trending it because of some mad love for the machine. But, I think their reverence is truly misplaced. People are literally sharing the trend as a joke. If JCB had an India-centric campaign running, and the content in the campaign had a combination of B2B and B2C angles, this would have been the right time to plug that, in context. There's nothing much they can gain from this organic, short-lived trend," Srinivasan explains.