The bane of brands

Almost all brands are getting on the content marketing bandwagon with pressure to add to the content deluge

Illustration: Kishore Das

The rise of social media has given birth to a new phenomenon in marketing: the urge to be present across all platforms in some form or the other, throughout the year. This has resulted in an artificial pressure to be present in ‘media’ (and I use it within quotes to connote every platform where a brand places its message) virtually 365 days of the year. And that’s not a good thing. 

Brand communications have always been about two broad sets of creatives: strategic and tactical. Prior to social media, strategic communication revolved around brand campaigns on TV or print and tactical communication was about one-off activities like promotions. Some brands had memorable, relevant big ideas, which could be carried forward across both these. Some examples include ‘What an idea, Sirji’ from Idea Cellular, ‘Mera wala blue’ from Asian Paints and the ‘unbreakable bond’ of Fevicol.  

Another aspect which came into play during the days of traditional media was seasonality, when it came to visibility and media spends. Consumer durables, fashion brands and jewellery would advertise heavily during festive season. Air-conditioners and ice creams during summer months, moisturisers and lotions during winter and so on. Consumer goods like toothpaste and soaps would aim to be present almost every month to create awareness & recall during grocery purchases. Aside from the primary medium (be it television or print), brands would seek to maintain visibility through the year in some form — outdoor, shop signage or radio. Essentially, a primary medium supported by reminder media for visibility. 

In today’s marketing scenario the choice of platforms for a brand is mind-boggling and very tempting. The options include television, print, radio, web banners, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram, YouTube channel, website, native mobile app and Snapchat to name a few. Within these platforms there are emerging technologies like chatbot, augmented reality and ‘tactics’ like hashtag trends. So the temptation for a brand manager (and his agency) to make use of these platforms is huge. It is the classic ‘everything looks like a nail’ for brand mangers with a hammer. 

As a consequence, we have a check list approach to every platform available. The urge is to simply put out content without worrying too much about its relevance to brand strategy and how it will help build the business. This approach has created a content deluge in online media with most of it being white noise’ across categories – both in B2B and B2C.  And so we have brands tripping over each other to create content during festivals and special occasions like Independence Day or Mother's Day. In fact, ‘everything’ is a content opportunity driven largely by fear of missing out. A brand manager of a cement brand might fear that his boss will take him to task for not creating a Facebook post or video tweet on Independence Day. So out comes a ‘Lets resolve to make a strong nation this Independence Day’ paid tweet. Strong cement, strong nation — get it? And once the brand gets on this train, there’s no stopping. 

It is very rare to find a brand which places premium of ‘quality’ over quantity. In B2B marketing, a content agency called Velocity Partners does some plain-speaking and calls Crap: the single biggest threat to B2B content marketing’. This is true of all marketing communication, it appears.

This urge to put out ‘something’ is not limited only to consumer brands – news brands suffer from this syndrome too. Today, a ‘reputed’ serious news brand like Times of India has click bait content similar to thousands of other websites as both think they are competing for the same eye balls. Both rely on advertising to monetise their content and hence maximise ad space and aim for ‘stickiness’. In other words, cram every available space with advertising and create content which you hope will pique interest of the average reader. It is not uncommon to see ‘articles’ which are simply made up of three embedded tweets from a famous personality. The same article will then be cross-posted on the news brand’s social media feed automatically.

The emphasis is more on meeting targets like ‘3 social posts a week’ or ‘’one blog post a week’ rather than creating content which is engaging, relevant (for both the audience and the brand) and differentiated. So most brands end up creating content which is un-remarkable, poorly executed with little or no relevance to the brand promise. What else explains content like this for India Today’s ‘Life Tak’ or Radio Mirchi’s ‘Mat Aao India’?  On YouTube, Life Tak says it is ‘Your one stop to learn and enhance your knowledge on all the trending topics from the world of Beauty, Fashion , Wellness & Life!’ With this goal they are only competing with about a million such channels on YouTube. The amateurish execution of the videos suggest a low budget at their disposal. The videos listed there have low view counts and seem like a perfect example of content which does nothing but add to the white noise on the web. 

Even brands like Santoor soap, who traditionally relied on TV commercials and whose core audience is unlikely to be on Twitter, fall prey to ‘hashtag marketing’ by engineering a trend for a day.  As Raj Kamble, an advertising professional says, "Suddenly equipped with cheap media, marketers and agencies find themselves under pressure to fill the space with something. And that something is usually cheap content." So ‘we trended on Twitter the whole day’ is a trophy for the brand manager and his digital agency – business relevance be damned. Almost all brands are getting on the content marketing bandwagon with pressure to add to the content deluge. It takes a lot of guts for a brand to aim for ‘less quantity, more quality’ content which has relevance to the brand’s business objectives. 

The writer blogs about advertising, branding and marketing strategy at and tweets @bhatnaturally