advertising, campaigns, communication, conversations, digital, how to, measurement, social media

Marketers, Rethink What Your #SocialMedia Should Be Doing


Sound familiar?

For the longest time, marketers have had the wrong expectations from social media.

I’ve spent years, both on the agency side and the client side, hearing about the need to “educate”, “drive engagement”, “sell”, “build awareness”, “drive traffic” and other such goals. All devised with the intention of “moving the needle”.

To be fair, I’ve been part of the problem, pitching these expectations to clients. And at this point, I’m willing to go out a limb and suggest that I’ve been mistaken.

When marketers write an integrated communications brief, we do it with an end goal in mind:

  • Increase usage by x points over the course of the year
  • Sell y units by the end of the quarter
  • Convince z people to sign up for the programme
  • And so on.

The error we make is the assumption that (organic) social media can have an outsized impact on these ROI/revenue-driven goals the way that paid media does.

Why is this assumption an error?

As of 30 June 2016, India’s Internet-going audience was estimated at about 462M users. This is roughly 37% of India’s population.

Here are the reach figures for the top 3 social networks in India.

  1. Facebook: 161M (Source: Facebook Ads Manager)
  2. LinkedIn: 35M (Source:
  3. Twitter: 23.2M (Source:
  4. Instagram: 16M (Source:

It’s fair to assume that everyone with a LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram profile is also on Facebook. So, the size of India’s social media population is 161M. This works out to 35% of India’s Internet population and 13% of India’s overall population.

We also know that, courtesy algorithms, current Facebook organic reach for pages with over 50,000 followers is at a mere 1%. Or even less for pages with high fan following. This article dated June 2016 pegs it at 2% and declining fast, towards zero. Facebook will also cut organic reach for posts that they deem too promotional.

So, here’s best case scenario for a brand with 18M fans on Facebook, assuming no further decline in reach:

The absolute maximum reach a single Facebook post can get is 1% of 18M = 0.18M = 0.000144% of India’s population. Assume that a brand creates 5 organic posts a day, each of which reaches a different audience (which we know is not true), you get to about 0.9M people a day. Or a mere 0.00072% of India’s population.

With figures like this, there is absolutely no way organic social media content can move the needle on ROI/revenue goals at scale for large brands.

So what should the end goal of social media be?

Let’s remind ourselves that social media is not a place people visit to shop. They’re here to kill time. To be distracted. To be entertained. To see what’s going on in the world at large. To share stuff that helps them build the image they want for themselves.

It’s true. People share things that help them appear interesting, knowledgeable, opinionated, concerned, trendy, cool, fashionable, successful, happy, and so on. Things that they subconsciously believe will raise their esteem in the eyes of their networks. Every analysis I’ve ever read points out different things that people share, and different reasons. The common thread uniting them all: the not-so-latent need for everyone to be seen in a very positive light by their peers.

This is where we marketers have a chance. Because, among all the other things people post to boost their image, are the products and services they use; the useful products and services they want to tell their networks about; and the brands they feel suit the image they want to create for themselves.

If we can create content that builds both brands – ours, and the user’s – we have found a recipe for social sharing, a recipe for starting positive conversations about our brand.

A recipe for brand love and advocacy.

Which, of course, has a knock-on effect on sales and revenue.

And that, grasshopper, is what we should orient our social media towards.


advertising, content, copywriting, digital, industry

Return Of The (Long) Copy Writer?

My love affair with long copy began in 2002, during my internship with Ambience D’Arcy. My then boss, Raghu Bhat, suggested I focus on learning how to craft copy. So during my next internship, I pestered my Creative Director, Elvis Sequeira, to teach me how to write, and never looked back.

All through my mainline stint, long copy was my – pun intended – long suit. I set myself a goal – every year, I would present at least one long copy campaign to a client. In a period when everyone wanted to crack a TV commercial, I became the long copy guy. A lot of work remained unpublished as clients showed ever-decreasing belief in print and long copy. But there were some memorable releases, and I fed off those.

Copywriting became a bit frustrating about three years ago. There wasn’t much appreciation for the carefully crafted paragraph, or for print as a medium itself. Most long-copy ads were written as scam entries for Goafest, hung on the walls for an audience comprising twelve jury members and a few hundred festival delegates. Worst of all, it became impossible to find young talent that could actually put together a grammatically correct sentence in the Queen’s English. Fewer still possessed the ability to vary their tone and vocabulary to suit different brands, the way David Abbott taught us.

And so long-copy advertising in India seemed destined to fade into oblivion.

Until the digital explosion came along.

Portals like Yahoo have long known what digital marketing professionals are just beginning to cotton on to – content, if interesting, relevant and well targeted, will be consumed, no matter the length or format. Long-form content, mostly text, keeps websites alive and audiences engaged. Millions of text-heavy blogs are consumed each day, read through from cover to cover. While video views are increasing rapidly in India – YouTube is the second most-widely searched site in India – bandwidth considerations mean that text is still the primary form of content online.

The other aspect of this is the explosion of social media. Brand engagement on Facebook and Twitter is growing exponentially. Each day, users’ timelines are populated by a plethora of content from brands, be it long form or short.

Here’s the rub. What I’m seeing right now is an explosion of social media content, but an appalling paucity of good writing. I see strings of cliches masquerading as headlines, reams of soulless copy packaged and labelled as blog posts. Take the line, “Winter fashion just got hotter!” How many times have you read this line, in print or online? Replace ‘winter fashion’ and ‘hotter’ with ‘travel’ and ‘easier’, and you have yet another bad headline. Look at brand blogs next, and you will see generic news coverage instead of engaging brand content.

Social media and branded content demand a mix of advertising and journalistic writing skills. The best-written Twitter account I’ve seen for a brand in India is the one for Hippo. It’s run by the copywriters at Creativeland Asia, and brings a distinctive brand voice to popular news and culture.

The other problem with journalism in India is that ideas have become stale and worn, giving way to sensationalism and battles to coin a superlative. Every sale is India’s biggest sale; every party is India’s most happening party. What happened to the idea of positioning each piece of content to make it distinctive, impactful and memorable? What happened to the need for command over the English language? (If you’d watched the TV coverage of the Indian F1 Grand Pricks, you’d know what I mean.)

I believe that there are skills each discipline can learn from the other. But I also believe very strongly that if we can get the hardcore journalists among the social media fraternity to understand nuances of brands a lot better, we’ll be in a happier place. After all, those nuances are what distinguish a Red Bull page on Formula 1 from ESPN F1.

It’s going to take a whole lot of effort to train journalists to think differently when writing for brands. But at the end, my aim is that in my company, we blur the lines between the Content Writers and the Advertising Writers.

And then, perhaps, our people will truly deserve to be called copywriters.

advertising, digital, office, publisher

Agencyguy In Publisherland

“It’s different!”

Shortly after I began my stint at Yahoo, my friend Nishad from Contract Advertising asked me how it was to be working at a publisher.

I couldn’t give him an appropriate answer – it was too soon, honestly. So, a short while later, he asked again. And so did almost everybody else I’d worked with in my previous life.

Now, four months into my journey at Yahoo, it’s time to answer his question. Here, in no particular order, are my ten key discoveries after diving into this strange new world.

The first thing to realise at Yahoo is that, as a creative person, you don’t take centre-stage. Agencies live and die by their creative product, and thus treat their creative teams like demigods. The team I lead exists purely to help sell our media properties, which is the core of any publisher’s business. We do so by adding value to brands through cutting-edge digital solutions. It was a tricky adjustment for me to make – but once you realise your place in the system, once you let go of the attitude, you can figure out how to do the work you want.

The second thing that hits you about working at Yahoo is how knowledge-driven the place is. We know stuff about the web, about our users, about tools, about activities that would stun you! Hard numbers! Not surprising, really, considering Yahoo is one of the places that has literally powered the evolution of the Internet, and is continuing to do so. Even better – what we don’t know, we find out. If agencies had the wealth of digital knowledge that we at Yahoo do, they’d be churning out some seriously brilliant stuff. I guess that’s why clients see us as the digital experts.

At number three is my one bugbear. At Linteractive, I had pretty much the freedom to develop a solution wholly based on Facebook, or a micro-site, or QR codes, or whatever. At Yahoo, I’m tasked to develop a solution based primarily on Yahoo. Thankfully, it isn’t as restrictive as it sounds. Yahoo has deeply integrated with Facebook (you can access your Facebook account from your Yahoo home page) and we openly use social media connections on our properties. We also do mobile, apps, on-ground, the works – but all of them rest on Yahoo and its properties.

Number four is something I’m really proud of. We at Yahoo are proud of who we are, what we do and what we know. Yet, we don’t have the ego traditional creative agencies do. An example: we were recently stuck on a particular brief. Like, really, really stuck! And the pitch was the next day. We needed help – and asked for it. The team spent six hours with the media agency handling the account, running them through our pitch presentation, taking aboard their perspective. The next morning, we rewrote the entire presentation…and won the account later that afternoon. Can you imagine an agency creative team doing that?

Number five is a spin-off from number four, and is more personal than general. In my short stint here, I’ve met and collaborated with a number of people from different walks of life. These include media agencies, cutting-edge digital and social media agencies, copy editors, game designers, techies and many more. My world isn’t as insulated as it used to be.

Number six – Yahoo is a global company…and acts like it! We interact with our global counterparts on an almost daily basis. Insights are shared. Ideas are critiqued. Help is offered. There are no barriers to collaboration.

Number seven is every geek’s dream. We’re a digital company. So everything here is digital. Every system, every report, every form, every tool – it’s all on our company Intranet. We don’t circulate Excel sheets with everyone’s extensions on them – we just look ’em up! We use VoIP phones, Adobe Remote Connect and British Telecom Bridges to get together remotely (anyone decipher what I’m saying?), all without first calling for IT assistance. And if our Internet connections were F1 cars, they’d leave Sebastian Vettel eating their dust. I’m in heaven.

Eighth on the list is how accountable we hold ourselves. We’re always tracking, measuring and optimising our campaigns. When banner clicks drop, we develop more creative renditions overnight. When pageviews slide, we make an aggressive editorial, social and promotional push. This partly comes from the nature of digital as a measurable and quickly modifiable medium – but mostly it comes from a hungry, positive attitude.

Ninth is a lesson I should imbibe if I ever start up my own agency. The first position I’ll fill is that of New Business Director – and I’ll hire a salesperson from Yahoo to fill it.

Finally, number ten. I now work in a company that believes that life isn’t all about work. A company for whom the phrase ‘work-life balance’ isn’t just something out of an HR manual. On normal days we come in at 9 and leave at 6. By 7, the office is deserted. By 8, the lights are off. On days that we have personal errands to run, we log in remotely and work from home. I still don’t get it sometimes…but who’s complaining!

It’s a whole new world, Publisherland. I don’t know yet if this is the last job I’ll ever want and I don’t know how long it’ll remain new and fun and exciting. But for now, my amazing journey through the rabbit-hole continues.

advertising, digital, industry

Are Advertising Agencies Speaking The Right Language For Digital?

"Mayday!" radios the English ship. "We are sinking!" The German Coast Guard replies, "What are you sinking about?"

A few days ago, we went to meet someone who’d be a massive and extremely prestigious client to have.

And the senior client opened the meeting with a statement I will never forget.

“Eventually, I plan to pull out all mainline advertising for brand XXXX and do only digital advertising.”

What the…!?!?!

Make no mistake here – this is no lala company we’re talking about. This is a brand (I obviously can’t mention the name) that’s a quintessential part of Indian womanhood. No Indian woman goes through her life without interacting with this brand. ‘Nuff said.

And what this brand has just said is, “Our mainline communication isn’t doing the job for us. We may be selling brilliantly, but it’s not taking us where we want to be. I’m willing to pull the plug on my mainline agency, my brand custodians, my strategic partners, and bet on a digital shop. They may not have the biggest creative minds, or the most well-known planners. But they understand my business, where my audience is and what drives them – and they can make it work.”

That’s huge.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that if this client tastes even a hint of success, more will follow. Leaving their mainline agencies in the lurch.

Now, it’s tough to imagine this client going to the digital wing of a mainline agency. Because few mainline agencies look beyond the 30-second television commercial. And fewer still have account managers, planners and creatives who actually like, use and understand digital.

So how do mainline agencies make sure they retain business in a post-digital world?

Most agencies – the large ones especially – are trying very hard to integrate. But I can think of only two that have got it right – DDB Mudra and Contract. Because, IMHO, they’ve got the definition of integration right – sharing brand custodianship across multiple verticals.

They’re speaking the right language.

Better minds than mine have developed, implemented and rejected better solutions than this. But here’s an idea how a large mainline agency with multiple verticals can pull things in tighter. Keep the best brains on the brand even as it shifts focus to digital.

The structure can be used across Creative, Account Management and Account Planning. I’ll use the Creative Department to illustrate it.

At the top, a Chief Creative Officer (CCO). Reporting to him, a National Creative Director (Mainline) and a National Creative Director (Digital). Let’s call ‘em NCD-M and NCD-D.

NCD-M has an army of Creative Directors (Mainline), each of whom commands teams of mainline copy and art personnel. NCD-D has an army of digital creative personnel, copy and design.

Now here’s where the fun begins. Each CD-M has, seeded into his team, a digital copy-design team. Said digital creative team works with the CD-M on all his brands and briefs. They sit in on all briefs, working with mainline to crack the big idea, all of that. Except that they’re focused on bringing alive the digital solution while the mainline creative teams grapple with the TVC.

Once the ideas have been cracked, this digital creative team reports in to NCD-D. Their work is vetted by him before making it into the presentation.

CCO, of course, overlooks both mainline and digital. And thus needs to be up to speed on the digital medium, and enjoy working in it.

The same structure can be expanded to include verticals that churn out fresh work every day – like PR, for example.

What works well for this structure?

Firstly, each member of the chain has clear and distinct roles and responsibilities, and is yet tightly integrated with other disciplines. Which will work beautifully when, a few years down the line, digital will be thought of as part of mainline, as both teams learn invaluable skills from each other.

Secondly, and most importantly, each and every person on the brand will be a brand custodian. He or she will be thinking on the big idea from day one. No disconnect between what mainline is doing and what digital is doing. Imagine the cohesiveness, the integrity of the communication solution!

One more function needs to be taken care of – production. Agencies already have print production teams in-house, and get films outsourced. I believe agencies also need in-house digital production teams, up to speed on the latest technologies. Specialised work – animation, augmented reality, digital outdoor, etc. – can be outsourced, but daily jobs need in-house teams. Such a team would be headed by a Production Director (Digital), who’d report to NCD-D.

I believe that this could be one potential way to take agency integration. And I would love to know what you think.

advertising, jay ka freelance, pepsi

Jay Ka Freelance: Youngistaan Ka Blechhh!

what the fuck is "youngistaan ka wow" anyway?

A former colleague of mine, named Jay, and I used to have a running gag.

Every time we saw a shitty ad on TV or on the back of a bus or pasted on the train, we used to tell each other, “Haan, yeh tera freelance hai na?”

Over the years, that imaginary freelance portfolio grew rather heavy, packed with work that would get each of us NCD gigs in shops like Amar Advertising (all agencies mentioned in this post are fictional; any resemblance to agencies currently existing are purely coincidental).

In that spirit, I’m going to post the occasional affront to human dignity on this blog, in a category all of its own.

Welcome to Jay Ka Freelance. We kick off with the shittiest ad on TV at the moment, and raise a Coca-Cola in its honour.

If this one doesn’t get him that Amar Advertising, nothing will.

advertising, campaigns, communication, digital, insight

Heretical Thinking

One (more) good thing about shifting to digital is that it’s opened up my mind to whole new ways of thinking.

In my last post, I’d talked about what’s holding digital back. In this post, I’m going to talk about an idea I had a few days back – an idea that might help digital find a role it can call its own.

Every brief I’ve got in my advertising career basically revolves around two things:

  • Telling a consumer about a product.
  • Making a consumer think that he/she wants to buy that product.

There’s a section of the brief titled What do you want your consumer to think or do? The general answer is: New XYZ detergent washes whiter. Or, ABC cream will make my skin soft and smooth. Or, I want to buy a JKL watch because it’s the watch for my generation.

Clients and agencies have built fortunes around objectives like these. I’ve helped too.

The thing we sometimes lose track of is that there’s a team sitting in the agency across the road writing a brief of its own to take on the brand you’ve just launched.

So, your very own target consumer will soon be bombarded with a message that makes him/her think, DEF cream will make my skin softer and smoother than ABC cream will.

So, six months later, sales plateau; the agency huddles around a conference room table once again to develop the next commercial, to take on DEF cream. And so on and so forth.

How do you keep the pendulum from swinging?

To arrest the pendulum, to lock it into place, you have to get your target consumer to subscribe not to your brand’s benefit, but its philosophy as a whole. An idea that greater thinkers than I have put out long ago.

Tata Tea talks about awakening, not tea. Idea talks about the power of a mobile phone, not its great plans or awesome coverage. Surf talks about values, not stain removal. They’re all selling beliefs. Philosophies. Bestselling philosophies, too.

That’s where the “heretical” idea I had comes in to play.

You can’t get a consumer to believe in your philosophy through a TV commercial, or a print ad. You can only make a consumer aware of your philosophy.

To get them to believe, you must communicate your philosophy using the most engaging medium you can find. A medium which is not a medium at all. A medium consumers don’t think of as an advertising medium.

For example: I could commission an author to write a book. A bestseller that spins a yarn around my brand’s philosophy. Maybe mentions the brand in passing. All in all, it’s a great read by a brand-name author. Release the book. Promote it. Sell it cheap. Hold events with the author – book readings, autograph-signings, etc. Distribute a free e-book version. If you love the book, chances are you’ll resonate with the brand when you see its next ad.

Another example: take 2010’s biggest viral hit yet – Pants on the Ground, by General Larry Platt. With one smash-hit video, Platt has heaped scorn upon the ‘cool’, low-waist, boxer-showing jeans American youth wear. Isn’t that a great philosophy for a clothing brand to piggy-back upon? Imagine if a denim brand were to say that there’s nothing cooler and more timeless than a superbly fitted pair of jeans. It would simply captivate the millions of people – myself included – who hate low-waist jeans. And it’s not advertising, just some much-loved content a brand would adopt.

A third: Diesel’s new Be Stupid campaign. It’s launched with a series of headlines that espouse the philosophy. Why not shoot a series of videos recreating the moments when great inventors and thinkers had their ideas? Why not put out an online guide to thinking bigger by being stupid? (Very mildly branded, of course.) If such content were inspiring enough, the brand’s philosophy would resonate far more strongly with more potential consumers. (If anyone from Diesel is reading this and wants me to execute these ideas, call me. I give best price, la!)

By the nature of the medium, digital plays a crucial role here. It offers a range of media choices – social media, viral films, gaming, blogs, web shows, web comics, e-books, what have you. And it’s easy to generate conversation using digital. One powerful blog post or video can start a debate. Use that power. Get feedback. Get hated, get loved, get death threats. Respond positively. Argue. Fight. Widen the debate. It shows you’ve engaged. Sell not your product. Sell your beliefs.

And this can be the role of digital – to quietly embed a brand’s philosophy among its intended consumers.

Now we just have to think big enough to make it happen.