Sangram Surve
Guest Article

From brand-controlled to creator-controlled narratives

Our guest author Sangram Surve says the rise of the creator economy is a clear sign that a lot has radically changed in the advertising world.

The creator economy has been the buzzword right through 2022, and will continue to drive growth through 2023. The rise of the creator economy, is a clear sign that a lot has radically changed in the advertising world. The days are fast fading when creative geniuses in the advertising industry – whether in copy, art or film – dictate the flavour of brand conversations.

Today, we depend more on 'creators'. And no, they don't sit in ad agency offices. They sit out of their homes and create content from anywhere. Increasingly, brands need them and their voices to take their narratives forward.

So, where and why did this shift happen? Here are a few things that changed in the ecosystem that have driven these changes:

Shift in content consumption platforms

The TV and the newspaper held centrestage, when it came to content consumption for most families as a unit. Content – especially news – soon moved to digital.

In the early days, it was all consumed on desktops. Mobile phones started bidding for this space ever since they became 'smart'. It began with the iPhone, and there was no looking back after that.

We began to consume news on mobile phones too. Social apps also migrated from static content to images (Instagram), and later to TikTok and Reels. Suddenly, this content produced by individuals, was engaging enough to keep eyeballs glued and thumbs scrolling. The phone delivered personalised news, content and entertainment to people. The TV and the newspaper lost their seat at the attention table. 

Shift in content producers and content choices

Content that keeps most of us engaged, became rapidly democratised. Three factors contributed to this. The increased processing power of mobile phones, the rapid scale-up in Internet bandwidth and speeds, and the ecosystem of apps made content production very D-I-Y. The root of this content revolution was a social connection, because it was born on social apps.

Therefore, content produced by my friend or someone I identify with – someone who is just another guy or girl like me, was appreciated. It was relatable, less plastic, relatively agenda-free and more authentic.

We loved watching people learn to dance, music, crack jokes, give gyan and offer news, even though it was slickly produced. The sincerity, rawness and authenticity that this content brought, more than covered all the finesse it missed.

This was largely a Gen Z and young millennial trend. They like narratives from close-by and relatable sources, rather than manufactured by big media companies. In many ways, it reminds me of the spirit of the 1984 Apple commercial, which took potshots at the factory image of IBM. 

Influencing by authenticity and relatability

In this world of content, traditional advertising had to find its space. So, no mass-manufactured message. No synthetic narratives. Rather, messaging had to be democratic, more next-door-type, believable and authentic.

Enter influencers. The rising species of apex creators in this new creator economy, whom their audiences trust. They could be the vehicles that brands could hitch a ride on.

But, wait a minute. They differ from your agency, which will do as told for a fee. Sure, they charge a fee. But they are loyal, first to their fans and audiences. Because if they lose those, they don't exist as creators. And the fans put them on their pedestal, because they were authentic, believable, raw, creative and like them.  

The most important shift: moving from brand-controlled to creator-controlled narratives

So, here we are. Brands no longer only produce 30-second commercials, carrying creatively crafted clever films for TV. They still do it, but a lot of their budgets are spent on influencers from the creator economy that they partner with to tailor their message, as per the flavour and style of the individual creator. They do so with lots of such creators.

The brand gives broad direction and guidelines, but the creator controls the final message. Brands are okay with it, because it works better that way. It is the language of the audiences today – especially Gen Z. This is a refreshing trend. It celebrates the democratisation of creativity, the redistribution of opportunity, the personalisation of narratives and, more importantly, the rise of authenticity.   

(Our guest author, Sangram Surve, is the managing director, Think WhyNot.)

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