Shreyas Kulkarni

Coca-Cola’s Arnab Roy on Coke Studio Bharat, his lack of worry about its rivals, and the decreasing relevance of 30-second ads

The beverage giant’s VP of marketing says the music show won’t broadcast on MTV but will reach viewers through the show’s YouTube channel.

Comebacks have been the trending act in the recent past. Cricketer Virat Kohli rediscovered his form after a two-year slump, actor Shah Rukh Khan is ringing the Box Office cash registers after a series of misfires, and Manchester United, a football club, has hit red hot form last seen nearly a decade ago.

Beverage giant Coca-Cola will take comfort from these because it has brought Coke Studio back to India. The music series returns in a new form. It is no longer Coke Studio India but Coke Studio Bharat, and the first season will feature over 50 artists from across the country coming together to create over 10 memorable tracks celebrating the roots of Bharat.

Along with the name change, the music series comes with a new home as well. Coke Studio Bharat is a digital-first series and all episodes of the maiden season will feature on the show’s YouTube channel.

Coca-Cola’s Arnab Roy on Coke Studio Bharat, his lack of worry about its rivals, and the decreasing relevance of 30-second ads

Coke Studio was first broadcast on MTV India in 2011 and its final season aired in 2015. “MTV were our phenomenal partners,” states Arnab Roy, VP, marketing, India and Southwest Asia, and adds that when they thought about how they wished to go this year, “we decided to go on our own.”

It is always best to be prepared when making a comeback. Coca-Cola had launched Coke Studio Bangladesh in 2022 as a deliberate attempt to test the waters before the India launch.

The success of the digital-only Coke Studio Bangladesh helped Roy and his team choose the same fate for Coke Studio Bharat.

Another alternative would have been to partner with a video streaming service but Roy brushes it aside because “they come with some restrictions”. A self-owned branded channel keeps the restrictions low and “makes it easier for you to get much bigger reach.”

Leading the promotions for Coke Studio Bharat is an ad, the brainchild of Ogilvy and voiced by Amitabh Bachchan, which resembles a film of national importance based on its treatment. “We did not start with being national,” explains Roy and adds it is not about being national for the sake of being national, it is to appreciate the beauty that is India.

This India he appreciates is teetering with rivals for Coke Studio Bharat, and it is not just Bollywood or regional film industries. From a T-Series on YouTube to Instagram Reels, standing out is the real challenge.

Roy is not too bothered because India’s vastness, in terms of content creation and consumption, works in their favour. “India is so big that you'll never be late. If you think you are late, you will never do it.”

To stand out from the crowd, the show will, for every song, have BTS, interviews, and influencers creating their own tracks. What it and the beverage giant will start depending less on are the 30-second ads. “How do you stand out in between 7 million pieces of content being uploaded every day in India, a 30-second TVC won't do it,” states Roy.

The 30-seconders will go “very low in terms of proportions.”

He, speaking about the marketing model, says he does not know how it will appear in the future “but I think branded IPs and platforms like Coke Studio will go a long way in becoming ecosystems.”

Activities like Coke Studio Bharat and Coke is Cooking are on-ground real experiences while the beverage giant is active on the digital experience ship as well such as Coca-Cola’s QR-code-driven campaign for the Chinese New Year. When asked which one – on-ground or real – matters more to Coca-Cola India, he was clear “you have to do both.”

It is always a good move to retrospect on past events for they sometimes emit important lessons for the future. Coke Studio India, as per Roy, was “one of the many things going on. Coke Studio Bharat is going to be very different; it will be a critical part of the ecosystem you want to create around music.”

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