Anirban Roy Choudhury

AIB to 60+ artistes, 220+ hours of OTT content: Gunjan Arya on the big OML story

It was early 2015. Before Reliance Jio rolled out, much before YouTube got 275 million monthly active users before Bhuvan Bam or Ashish Chanchlani (most popular YouTubers in India) launched their channels. A team from production, events and artistes management company, Only Much Louder — renowned as OML — went to meet the brand managers at Snapdeal, a hot e-commerce platform back then. “We said, ‘Hey you pay Rs 2 per view for YouTube ads. Instead, give us Rs 2 per view and I promise we will over-deliver’ and of course we over-delivered. That was the first time we cracked a brand integration deal for AIB (All India Backchod),” recalls Gunjan Arya, managing partner, OML.

In 2015, she had just joined OML as business head, Brand Solutions, after running her own brand consultancy and design firm, 'Design Of Information' which she founded in 2009. A 14-member team, Design Of Information won national and international accolades including a Lion at Cannes in 2012. “Many giants in advertising (JWT, BBDO) wanted to buy us out as they were losing clients to us,” recalls Arya. “But we were clear that we do not want to become a small set of people in a larger organisation. That is exactly what we wanted to fight. Since the beginning, I had been inducted into the school of thought that what advertising agencies do, don't really serve brands,” she adds.

Who were the teachers who schooled her? “The Maharatis of advertising, Anand Halve and Kiran Khalap,” she replies. Before starting her own firm, Arya worked for three years as a brand consultant at chlorophyll. “Outside the five founders, I was the first kid they recruited and so I worked directly with Kiran and Anand,” she divulges.

Going back to her chlorophyll days, she recalls she had spent some exciting time. “Meru and Ginger Hotels were a few exciting brand launches that we worked on. Ginger Hotels was right out of the Taj stable and it was our idea to not make it a part of the hierarchy and that is why the Taj name is not associated with the Ginger brand. There I learned how to think for brands,” says Arya.

At Chlorophyll, while she spent most of her time strategising, at Design of Information, it was strategy and execution. Dewar’s a scotch whisky brand from Bacardi was one of the clients at her firm. For that brand, an intellectual property 'Dewarists' was launched. It was a music show on the roads. “That is when I first associated with OML. I was the brand consultant and OML was the production house for Dewarists,” she informs.

In 2015, after running her own firm for more than seven years, she says stagnation started bothering her. “I felt the path of servicing brands was done for me. If I could take those learnings and apply to artistes, I was going to be able to do a lot more and that would made me happier than another brand pitch,” she confides.

“If I look at OML five years back, 70 per cent of our revenues came from brands through sponsorships, branded content. That point of time, I was brought on board to lead the brand solutions team. Obviously, OML has changed a lot since then,” she says.

Gunjan Arya, Managing Partner, OML
Gunjan Arya, Managing Partner, OML

One of the largest producers of digital content in India, OML claims to have created more than 220 hours on content in the last two years. It handles live properties such as NH7Weekender, Breezer Vivid Shuffle, LOLstars and Headliners. Spreading its presence outside India, it has a Global Creator Network or GCN, which is spread across 22+ countries across the globe. OML identifies talent in other markets around the world and then reaches out to them. Following which the brand team pitches the talent to the brand trying to make an impact in those markets. “We tell brands that the markets are different, artistes are different, but YouTube is the same. Our pitch always is, we will help you make the best use of your media spends,” says Arya.

Over the last two years, OML’s GCN has co-created more than 4000 pieces of short and long-form content working with over 200 creators globally, delivering 245 million views for brands. GCN has recently renewed the mandate to enable Bacardi’s global creator programme across 18 countries for its brands including Grey Goose, Martini, Dewar’s, Bacardi, William Lawson’s, Bombay Sapphire, Oakheart, Breezer and Eristoff. It also developed a ticketing platform, Insider, which has now been acquired by Paytm.

At one point of time, OML’s claim to fame was managing AIB, arguably India’s most successful comedy collective, which has now disassembled. It was AIB that got brands spending on artistes and influencer marketing started evolving in the country. “Then we saw a flurry where brands started saying we want to associate with a creator but don't put it on their channels because their followers are not our target group. We want to cast them on our TV ads and we will pay whatever their daily actor fees are,” reveals Arya.AIB

With AIB, OML started building its artistes rooster, which now has more than 60 big names including, Zakir Khan, Kanan Gill, Kenny Sebastian, Kaneez Surka, Sumukhi Suresh, Prashasti Singh, Sidin Vadukut and Melvin Louis amongst others. “Brands and brand managers have now evolved and so has the audience. Earlier brands used to say, the comedy is below the belt, we do not want to associate with the creator, now they are fine associating, look at popular creators, their jokes are below the belt and brands are paying them way more than what we used to ask for the likes of AIB. And when it comes to audiences, they are happy with brands integrated into the video, which they earlier detested. It is a much-evolved market now,” she says.

OML’s business model is to identify the talent, start pitching him/her/group to various brands and then get a pie of the advertising dollars. But, it does not end there. There are live shows and ticketing revenue, too. “If we can help artistes reach more audiences and new platforms, I think OML has done its job” Arya concludes.

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