campaigns, challenges, industry, influencer marketing, social media

Making Influencer Marketing Credible Again

Is influencer marketing as influential as it used to be?

This post is probably going to rake up some controversy, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching social media closely. I’ve been hearing whispers from agency folk and brand managers. And everything points to one irrefutable fact.

Influencer marketing just isn’t as credible as it used to be.

I’ll go out on a limb, one step further.

Influencer marketing just isn’t credible any more.

And here’s why.

One. Brands aren’t being discerning enough. Anyone with enough followers or readership qualifies to be an influencer. No matter how tenuous the connection between the influencer and the brand promise.

Two. Influencers aren’t being discerning enough. Most influencers today seem to be happy to work with any brand that is willing to work with them (read: pay them well). Rather than the brands they really love. The faked enthusiasm shows in every overexcited tweet, in every hard-selling blog post.

Three, following on from my previous statement. People today are becoming more and more aware that people who randomly start promoting a brand are being paid to do so.

Having been one of the earliest exponents – and practitioners – of social influence marketing in India, I can’t help but wonder – whatever happened to the influencer marketing we used to know and love?

For those who came in late, here’s how it’s supposed to work.

  1. Brand identifies potential influencers. These are usually people who are perceived experts in a particular field (related to the brand’s sphere of operation), or die-hard brand fans.
  2. Brand contacts influencer. Influencer agrees that the brand is a great fit for them.
  3. Brand and influencer work together to co-create content.
  4. It’s a win for both, the brand and the influencer. In the truest form of influencer marketing, there is no money exchanged. The brand gains credibility. The influencer gains readership/following/indirect revenue through their association with the brand and wider exposure. And/or merchandise and/or products and/or an exclusive experience.

So here are a few thoughts on how to make it better again. Very simply, going back to the basics.

Brand Managers, be picky about the influencers you work with. Frankly, there’s a limited pool. And every social media agency has pretty much the same list. Look for a few really good and relevant influencers, rather than a wide pool of irrelevant (to your category) influencers. Or work even harder, and discover someone who could become an influencer through your campaign. Your campaign will look and feel more authentic. And you’ll save a few bucks too.

Brand Managers, avoid your instinct to hard-sell. The more sell-y the content you co-create, the more people will avoid it. Don’t be lazy. Find a way to subtly weave your brand promise into your influencer’s natural content. It’s a brand-building exercise, not a sales one.

Influencers, stay true to yourselves. If music is your passion (and the reason people follow you), you have no business working on a food brand. And if you love rock music, don’t pick up a campaign related to Bollywood pop. If you’re an iPhone fan, don’t work with an Android OEM. If you’re a jeans-and-tees person, avoid the business/formal clothing brands.

Influencers, don’t do every campaign you get. I’ve seen people tweet for OLX one day and Quikr the next. The agreement you sign with a client may not be exclusive. But being loyal to the brands you actually respect or use will win you more credibility with your audience. It’ll also keep your client loyal to you. Money is always tempting. But eventually, you’ll end up diluting your brand equity. And your follower count.

Influencers, be transparent about your engagement with the brand. There’s no need to pretend that you wrote a post out of sheer love. Talk about how you’re engaging with the brand. It’s also ok to tell the world that they paid for your trip, or paid you to write the post, and leave it to your followers to judge for bias. It’ll just help you build further credibility.

As usual, I’d love to know what you think. Do leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

Footnote: I want to touch upon the issue of brands paying an influencer. I personally believe that paying an influencer to engage is antithetical to the concept of influencer marketing. It’s no different from hiring a celeb to endorse your brand. I do also believe that influencers work hard to create content and build a deeply engaged following, and deserve to be rewarded for the work they do. It’s a grey area; so in the end, you should just do what seems ethical to you.

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challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

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careers, challenges, creative, industry

Confession And Inspiration

Advertising is supposed to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

But somewhere down the line, you tend to forget exactly how much fun it can be.


It begins when you allow yourself to get sucked into the quagmire of briefs, deadlines and client issues. Before you know it, the term “fuck-all” has become a part of your daily lingo.


“This is a fuck-all brief!”


“How can I crack a great idea with this fuck-all deadline?”


“What a fuck-all client! He just doesn’t get it!”


The attitude you develop in your formative years is the attitude you take with you into your middle years. 


At some point, you realise that your Creative Director is being paid a lot of money. And you start thirsting to reach that same level. The journey is forgotten – all you think about is the end destination. You lose the Zen, the ability to focus on the here and now, and life suddenly becomes about hitting a target. And whining when someone hits that target before you do.


Along the way, the nature of your work changes. Gone is the edginess, gone is the humour, gone is the youth. You end up trying to play Creative Director when you’re not ready to yet. You may not notice. But your bosses do. And in that process, all you do is push that end goal further and further away.


The time comes when you manage to put out a significant piece – or pieces – of work. Or you take a path less travelled. A couple of jobs later, you’re where you wanted to be. The designation. The salary. The cabin overlooking the sea. A bunch of bright young people reporting in to you. And the ego boost to go with all this.

Then you find yourself in a rut again. Caught up in “senior management” things. Targets. Results. Client relationships. Processes. Evaluation. Playing mentor. Board meetings. Visions and missions. The whining begins. Again.

Slowly, it begins to feel that your job profile is, very simply, to deal with shit.

Where’s the fun in that?

Sound familiar?

A few days ago, I finished reading Dave Trott’s Creative Mischief.

Creative Mischief. Available on the Kindle store: http://amzn.to/NrBh2p

Dave Trott is one of those names you’ve seen in the award books fairly often. A former CD at BMP, he’s now at CST The Gate, a London-based agency with a global presence.

Creative Mischief isn’t the best primer on advertising there is. But it is by far the best primer on the attitude you need in the advertising business.

It’s exactly what you need when you’re feeling mentally jaded at any point in this exciting, fun, dirty, all-consuming, incestuous, joyful, overworked, underpaid, vain, glorious industry of ours.

It’s certainly reminded me of the mindset I had when I joined Lowe fresh out of college. It’s made me think, once again, of how much fun this business can be. It’s made me want to feel the fun again. No matter how long it takes. No matter what stands in my way.

It’s made me write this blog post. And, for the first time, write on this blog as the Creative Head of Jack In The Box Worldwide.

To all those young men and women in my team, I say this:

Find the fun in your job.

The fun isn’t about joking with your teammates and colleagues, or downing a beer with the boss on the terrace. It’s about the fun of coming up with an idea – under extreme stress, for a tough client, without a clear brief – that’ll solve a business problem. A headline that’ll make people laugh or cry. A web design that you’ll be proud to show off to your mom. The process is fun. The idea is fun. The joy is infectious. You just have to want it to be.

If you can’t find the fun in your job, maybe this isn’t the job for you. Maybe you’ll be happier doing a similar job in another agency. Maybe your fortune isn’t in advertising. In either case, I will be very sorry to see you leave. But I will be the first to encourage you to find something that makes you truly happy.

Don’t crib. About deadlines or briefs or clients. Look at it this way. Somebody out there is giving you the license to get creative by developing a campaign for their brand. Without them asking, you’d never have gotten the chance to show off your creativity. Yes, you need time and clarity to create the work, you need support to sell the work. But remember: the shit will always be there. It will only increase as you grow up. Whining won’t clean it up.

Don’t get bogged down by rules and restrictions. Yes, your work will always need to be on-brief and on-brand. You can’t do a sob story for Happydent. Or an adult joke for Surf. But ask yourself, “What are the boundaries and how far can I push them today?” If your idea isn’t doing that, push harder. Boundaries only expand when you push them. If you don’t, they’ll close in and strangle you.

Don’t knock the mundane processes. Job lists and job status meetings exist to make relatively unimportant tasks mindless and easy. Every ounce of your attention should be devoted to one thing and one thing only – pushing that boundary to create the best work you can. Work that solves the problem and makes you happy. Make the job list the mundane, not the job.

I could go on, but I’d rather advise you to buy Dave’s book. It’s the best $9.99 you could spend. 

Happy people = happy work = happy clients = happy people.

We all have big dreams. For ourselves. For our company. And we can only achieve them if we’re happy while achieving them.

And if I seem to be forgetting these thoughts at any point in time, you have my express permission to whack me over the head and remind me of them.

Let’s do this.


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campaigns, challenges, social media

Hashtag Wars

Call me a troll, but some things need to be trolled.

[<a href=”http://storify.com/smartkani/hashtag-wars” target=”_blank”>View the story “Hashtag Wars” on Storify</a>]

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challenges, digital, ipr

Digital And The IPR Conundrum

what ipr laws are doing to digital media in india The digital revolution has completely changed the way we communicate.

Unfortunately, the legal system has a long way to go to keep up.

We’ve been developing the agency website for a while now. And we’ve been driving ourselves nuts trying to figure how we can showcase the work we’ve done.

But legal opinion is against us.

The issue is this:

When clients commission a TVC, they pay for the right to air their work in television and broadcast media. What no contract includes – initially, at least – is permission to put the commercial online.

And when they do put it online, a problem arises because clients own the rights to the visuals of the TVC, and not the soundtrack.

Which means that – legally, at least – the composer, voice artists, singers, etc. are owed royalties. Because they can easily argue that the work has been posted online for commercial purposes – either to further build the brand, or to let the agency showcase its talents.

Now, every one of us has at some point or the other uploaded the TVC we’ve worked on to YouTube. Inadvertently putting the client – and perhaps the agency – at legal risk.

It would be simple, it seems, to solve this issue. Simply buy the rights to the soundtrack as well.

That’s right. But…

There is a body called Association of Voice Artists (India) – AVA, in short. AVA works towards protecting the rights of voice artists, and making sure they’re fairly treated and compensated.

According to data available on the AVA website, yearly licensing fees are ten times the unit fee charged by the artist. Similarly, the fee for changing the medium of the original recording is 50% of the artist’s unit fee. So, a VO that cost Rs. 3000 to put on-air costs an additional Rs. 31500 to put online. And considering that each film has (on average) three voices, that works out to a not-inconsiderable cost of Rs. 94500 – just to upload it online. For a year. The license has to be renewed annually.

And then, there’s the composer’s royalty. Which could be several hundred thousand rupees per film.

But the problem is not the fee. All professionals deserve to be paid what they’re worth. Clients who pay upward of Rs. 5000000 per TVC aren’t going to cry foul over another Rs. 100000. Especially when it’s reaching such a wide audience.

The problem lies in the medium.

Certain brands may not have an online audience. So, they wouldn’t put the film online and seed it.

However, there’s no telling who might.

Once again exposing the advertiser to legal risk.

So much so that we’ve even been asked to take down our portfolio blogs because we may be sued. (Unlikely, given the relationships agency folks share with voice artists and composers, IMHO.)

Our laws have a long way to go to catch up, and there’s no guarantee that they will for another five years.

So, we need to make buying out the soundtrack as well (in perpetuity, across all media) a standard operating procedure. This would mean an agreement on rates between AVA and an industry body that would represent agencies and clients – perhaps the Advertising Agencies’ Association of India (AAAI).

That would let us put up our agency showreel for the world to see. And let me reactivate my portfolio blog.

Until then, we’re guilty as sin.

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careers, challenges, insight, opportunities

Where’s A Lifeguard When You Need One?

They say – and I do too – that the best way to figure out if somebody’s up to a challenge is to throw that person off the pier into the deep end.

If he (or she, in which case you’d better push her off the pier gently) can stay afloat, and if the sharks aren’t particularly hungry, then you know that he (or she) is up to it.

This week, I find myself in the water, and the sharks are smelling blood.

The next five days will be game-changing for my career.

Either I will be completely shattered, left with little or no confidence in my creative abilities, destined to be a follower…

Or I will come out believing I’m ready for bigger things.

In the last three months or so, I’ve moved from being a small fish in a large pond to a (relatively) bigger fish in a smaller pond. The move from Lowe Lintas to Linteractive has brought with it serious responsibility and expectations – to lead a creative renaissance in our digital wing, helping to build it into a powerhouse that’ll chart the agency’s course for the future.

On Friday, we go into a large, extremely competitive pitch. The spends are huge and the pressure is immense. The product is a parity one, a category I’ve worked on fairly often before – which means that it’s even tougher to crack.

The nerves are jangling.

This will, after all, be the first time I present creative at a pitch – not counting freelance pitches, of course.

This will be the acid test.

For the next five days, my creative partner and I will live, breathe, eat and sleep with this pitch. We will take the brief and turn it upside-down, inside-out. We’ll squeeze it dry. We’ll look at it in a mirror. We might just tear it up and start afresh. All for that one idea that’ll hopefully win us the business, and the recognition we deserve.

And if there’s any insight I might have gleaned from these last couple of days, it’s this.

You may spend your whole life preparing for something; but when it comes, you’re never as prepared as you thought you would be.

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