“I just don’t like the sound of the word. It automatically puts so much pressure on you. I am myself at an age where I can be influenced by anyone. How can I influence people? I just want to entertain them.” That’s how Bhuvan Bam, one of the country’s most sought-after social media ‘influencers’, reacts to being called one.
For the 27-year-old, the journey to success began with a 32-second vine (a short-form video) that he released on his YouTube channel BB ki Vines on June 20, 2015. Within a span of six years, the Delhi boy has garnered over 20 million YouTube subscribers.
His list of achievements is quite long, too. He won the Filmfare for his short film ‘Plus Minus’, has received the ‘Global Entertainer of The Year’ at the World Influencers & Bloggers Awards 2019 in Cannes, and has even featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. A passionate musician, Bhuvan also made it to Spotify’s list of the most-streamed Indian indie pop artists in 2020.
But, it’s his first web series, Dhindora, featuring nine characters from his light-hearted BB ki Vines universe, that he is really excited about. Depicting the common man’s larger-than-life dreams, the series revolves around Bhuvan and his family’s everyday lives when an unexpected purchase leads to a hysterical series of events.
“I always wanted to take all these characters out into the real world and create a universe of my own. Now that it’s happening, it seems unreal,” he says. But, what’s surprising is Bhuvan’s decision to release the show for free on YouTube despite several OTT platforms offering good money to host it. “The loyalty of people towards my work and my loyalty towards them drove me to take this decision. They gave me a career, something every aspiring creator looks up to. Why should I now put them somewhere else where people will have to pay and watch?” he asks defiantly, adding that he had calls with many people, including YouTube.
Does that mean he will always stick to YouTube? “Not really.”
“Netflix has some amazing content. While they wanted to host my show, it was different as it wasn’t just about me. It was about those characters who’ve taken birth on YouTube,” he adds.
The show brought him to Mumbai and from making vines on his phone, he has transitioned to working on large sets with a large crew. “The industry people in Mumbai don’t really accept you. It’s something that every non-Mumbaikar faces. But there’s a lot to learn as well,” he says.
A large chunk of his content is derived from his and his relatives’ lives and reflects his personality. “Content is one aspect of it and your personality is the other aspect of it. If the two gel well with the audience, there is no disconnect,” Bhuvan says.
Bhuvan tries to portray this amalgamation of his content and personality in his brand campaigns. “I would never do a Dalda ad. I would rather go for a shampoo ad because I have long, shiny hair. If I use it in my personal life, then even without the brand asking me to constantly give it a recall value, I’ll go ahead and tell people to buy it,” he says.
Relatability is at the centre of Bhuvan and his brand tie-ups, with the ‘regular boy from Delhi’ image being captured in advertisements and promotional videos. It is what makes him stick, says Rohit Raj, his business partner who overlooks the deals.
“Brands would definitely like to partner with someone who is more relatable, right? That’s what we try to do. We come on board as a creative advisor who speaks the voice of the audience. The image that the audiences had in their mind for the first four to five years was of Bhuvan being their elder brother, it still prevails,” Rohit tells Outlook Business.
It is this image that brands such as Ola Electric and Tissot have tried to bank upon. “If Bhuvan drives an Ola Electric, it seems more achievable. For Tissot, the brief was that the watches range between Rs 15,000 and Rs 2 lakh. But being a Swiss brand, it is perceived to be expensive. They got Bhuvan on board to make people believe it’s something they can invest in as well,” he adds.
Bhuvan also prefers long-term associations such as his collaboration with headphone brand Mivi, with whom he has been on board for over three years. “If I say Hyundai, you think of a car. But I think Shah Rukh Khan. That’s because I’ve grown up watching that association. In today’s day and age, it’s very easy to earn money in the digital space. But somewhere, we forget that these long-term associations are the ones that will take you ahead,” says Bhuvan.
What stands out in the campaigns Bhuvan associates with is also the use of the fictional characters he has created and portrayed for a long time. Is that a conscious decision?
“The idea of using those characters in brand endorsements is tied to the idea of creating a universe. I have to feed it to the people that these characters exist. By bringing the characters to life in brand videos, I also get to play a full hand. I have to get people to believe it’s not just one guy. There’s more to it.”
Portraying quirky characters has brought with itself several requests for whacky campaigns. Bhuvan recalls the craziest one he did for a brand whose name he didn’t wish to reveal. “This brand wanted me to jump off a plane from 15,000 ft and read out top 10 news of the day from across the country. It sounded interesting. On the day of the shoot, I jumped as required. There were several cameras on me but I couldn’t see from the height. I had my glasses and a pair of goggles on top of it. I jumped and passed out because I couldn’t breathe.”
The ordeal didn’t end there. “The instructor who accompanied me slapped me hard to wake
me up. I somehow read the news. Then, they told me the cameras weren’t on so I had to do the entire thing again!”
The incident was a lesson for Bhuvan and Rohit. “It taught us not to risk our health or say yes to illogical campaigns.”
To take his content closer to his fans, Bhuvan launched his official merchandise via Youthiapa in 2017. “Merchandising is very important for viewers who’ve been watching the content over the years. By buying merchandise, even if it’s something as small as a keychain, they feel associated with Bhuvan,” says Arvin Bhandari, Bhuvan’s childhood friend and co-founder of Youthiapa.
“We had an offer; we could tie up Bhuvan with an existing brand, commit numbers and let them take over. But we felt that way his identity as a brand would not be created.” The humongous response at the launch of the website on March 23, 2017 caused the website to crash and encouraged the founders to keep moving ahead. “It blew our minds. In the second year, the sales tripled,” added Arvin.
The team now partners with other brands, licenses their products for sale in outlets, and branches out to selling products around other memes and trends.
With success coming so early in life, isn’t the pressure of constantly outdoing oneself difficult to handle? “I would be lying if I say the pressure doesn’t affect me. Every time you post something, you want it to do better than the previous one. It’s a never-ending greed. Initially, when I got 15 views, that equalled 15 million for me. But today, even if I get 15 million views, a part of me feels ‘why isn’t it 20 or 25 million?’” Bhuvan says.
But that’s true for every artist, isn’t it?
Bhuvan’s Favourite Brand Associations
- Pizza Hut – Works perfectly for the audience and the age group I cater to.
- Lenskart – Neither my characters nor I can do without eyewear.
- Ola Electric – Was one of the most exciting launches in the country this year.
- Myntra – It is a platform I shop from myself.
- NBA – Because I love basketball and the association was super cool.