Aishwarya Ramesh
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Meet Shikha Gupta, the creative mind behind Swiggy’s funky puns, emailers, social content

In conversation with the creative director of Swiggy who has taken charge of the app’s social media and creative content for the past 3 years.

If you’ve ordered food from Swiggy, you’d know that the relationship isn’t limited to finding the right restaurant and ordering a tasty dish. Sometimes, when checking emails, you may find a love letter from biryani in your inbox, courtesy Swiggy. When it’s dark and rainy outside, it might send a push notification on your phone, prompting you to order chai and pakoras.

The team behind Swiggy’s content is headed by the (in-house) creative director Shikha Gupta. She is responsible for overseeing the content, ranging from push notifications and social media posts. She also spearheads the larger campaigns.

Shikha Gupta
Shikha Gupta

When the Coronavirus broke out in 2020, lockdown was declared across India in March. Over a Zoom call with afaqs!, Gupta acknowledges that the lockdown was a challenging time. The Swiggy team understood that it wasn’t the time for the usual humorous content.

She acknowledges that in the early days of the lockdown, the consumer psyche underwent a change. People suddenly had no idea what they were doing.

“There was this sense of impending doom, fear and uncertainty. At the time, people did not even know what COVID was, or how to handle it. At that point, it was very important for us to understand how to speak on social (media). We couldn’t speak like we always did, and pretend like nothing was happening. We had to be sensitive to the ongoing pandemic and couldn’t create humorous content.”

Gupta says that during the whole COVID ordeal, social media has been a place of escape for most people. “This was the time when people were resorting to social media as a kind of reprieve from the drudgery of real life. Even when we were talking about serious issues, such as how to collect Swiggy parcels safely, how often to wash hands and so on, we made sure that our tone didn’t completely change.”

The lockdown was declared on March 25, 2020, and shortly afterwards, Swiggy announced that it would be delivering groceries and essential items on the app. On April 14, the government announced another lockdown. That’s when Swiggy Genie, a delivery service which customers can use to send parcels and essential items across the city, was launched.

We wondered if her creative process had been affected because of remote working and lockdowns. Gupta disagrees. She confesses that she enjoys sitting in a quiet room by herself, with a brief in her hands, chiselling away at it until she hits the right idea.

“I acknowledge that there are people who need a sound board to bounce their ideas around before they can go ahead and chisel. We do group brainstorming sessions on Zoom and try to dedicate time to give feedback and work on new ideas together. Technology has made idea sharing even easier.”

In order to personalise the creative content (especially mailers and push notifications), Gupta explains that the team has access to multiple sets of data and that it’s up to them to package it well.

In order to personalise the creative content (especially mailers and push notifications), Gupta explains that the team has access to multiple sets of data and that it’s up to them to package it well.

“For emails and push notifications, we try to make sure that the click through rate and open rate is higher than the industry standards. Wit and humour are important, and it’s crucial not to bore people. With non-glamorous mediums, like email and push notifications, it can be really easy to lose sight of that aspect.”

With emailers and push notifications, most of the work is planned in advance – since the marketing team gives the creative team clear briefs on the amount of work that needs to be done.

Discount campaigns and events like Valentine’s Day or Diwali are also planned in advance. “But we have to leave room for reactive communication. The team has trained themselves to keep their eyes and ears open at all times to get a sense of what’s trending and what people are talking about. That’s when we decide to send a particular communication that’s relevant to our customers.”

On social, she calls the content a mix between the larger planned campaigns for certain occasions and moment marketing-based communication. “We have to make real-time marketing essential to what we do on social.”

Gupta says that the reaction time is also important – and if they can’t react to a trend with a content piece within 24-48 hours, they refrain from jumping on the bandwagon at all. She calls a fast reaction time the key to staying at the ‘top of mind’ of the consumers, and admits there’s no fixed formulas to track what’s trending.

Before her stint at Swiggy, she worked as a content manager at Urban Ladder for two years (between December 2015 and November 2017). She has freelanced as a writer and has spent three years at Rediffusion Y&R as a creative partner, in charge of copy.

She elucidates that the primary difference between working on the agency side (as a creative professional) and the brand side (as part of the creative team) is that in the former, you get to work on multiple accounts. There is something on the other to always keep you on your toes.

She adds that when she was on the agency side, she worked on a variety of products, from trucks to body lotion. “What’s interesting about being on that side is that you get to learn a lot about industries that you probably would not have had a lot of interest in, to begin with. From the brand’s side, you get a deeper understanding of your brand, which is not something you’d normally get at the agency end.”

Gupta explains that being part of the internal creative team of a brand means that you’re a lot closer to the problem. She mentions that the ‘What’s in a name’ campaign was something that an agency wouldn't have come up with because it simply wouldn’t have known that this problem existed.

She calls the campaign close to her heart – and it wasn’t borne out of a brief at all. “We were going through a research deck. One of the lines we noticed is that the delivery personnel mentioned they feel very bad when their name comes up on the Swiggy app, but they are still addressed properly.”

Gupta points out that this is such an Indian thing to do, because even when we go to a restaurant, we don’t address the staff by their name. “We realised that we need to change this consumer behaviour and the film pretty much wrote itself after that. It wasn’t a brief, but we still spotted the problem and tried to come up with a solution.”

She adds that ‘Voice of Hunger’ is another campaign that the team is proud of. She credits Webchutney for the work and calls it a fun and silly idea. “I think that as advertisers and marketers, we have forgotten how to have fun. If you actually listen to the idea, it sounds crazy, but we received so many entries that Instagram crashed.”

“At Swiggy, our creative team is modelled on some of the best aspects of working with an agency - with vendors, designers, production people and more. Within Swiggy, we have multiple properties like Swiggy Genie, Instamart, etc., so it’s similar to working with different clients at an agency.”

Gupta adds that as a creative client, you have to start looking at creative ideas beyond the right brain and maintain a sharper lens on the effectiveness of ideas as well. Working on the 'Better Half Cookbook' was an interesting experience because it was her first time working as a creative client.

“It's interesting to be a creative director, who has her own creative team, and also works with an external creative team,” she signs off.