Branded content is not ‘sprint’, but ‘marathon’, says Ashiish V Patil

In the interview, he spoke about bringing authenticity, purpose, humour and technology to content, while denouncing random moments and influencer marketing tactics deployed by brands

Akansha Srivastava
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Ashiish V Patil

Delhi: The three mistakes brands make while pursuing the content route, as highlighted by Ashiish V Patil in an interview with, include hiring a content expert and then dictating to him/her what to do, measuring branded content with the same traditional advertising metrics, and expecting immediate results from branded content while dropping some truth bombs.

Patil, a writer, producer, director, author, and proud autism dad, currently heads ‘Isspeshal’, a Content Hotshop, leveraging his extensive 30 years of experience in Media & Entertainment. Previously, he served as the CEO of MTV India and Head of Youth Films, Talent Management, Brand Partnerships, and Digital Originals at Yash Raj Films.

During the interview, he emphasised the importance of bringing authenticity, purpose, humour, and technology to content, while criticising random moments and influencer marketing tactics adopted by brands.

Patil was part of the team that produced India’s 1st Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion for India’s ‘6-Pack Band’ and played a key role in creating India’s 1st Branded Feature Film, ‘Mere Dad ki Maruti’, along with campaigns such as ‘Roadies, Splitsvilla, Bakra, the MTV Style Awards, and the Ranveer Ching Desi Chinese’.

Recently, Patil authored a book titled ‘Branded Content Boss’, which distils his career experience in the realm of branded content. The book offers simplified steps for producing branded content, features effective case studies, and provides insights from thought leaders on branded content. 

This is part one of the interview. Part two of the interview will be published on Friday. 

Excerpts from the part one of the interview:

You have closely observed the evolution of branded content in India. What’s your take on its evolution?

India has come a long way from where it was in terms of branded content. We're all familiar with classics like Binaca Geetmala, the Bournvita Quiz Contest, and the iconic Amul hoardings that have been around for decades. We just didn't have a specific label for it. This phenomenon isn't very old globally, either. In 2001, BMW decided to create five mini-feature films with the world’s top directors. At that time, Cannes introduced a new category called branded entertainment because they didn't know how to classify it—it wasn't a typical ad. This was when the concept began to take shape. YouTube was also launched later in 2005.

Similar to the rise of social media, which has now become standard for brands, content marketing has become essential. More advanced brands already have well-developed content marketing and branded content practices. The formats and genres of branded content have also evolved significantly. Additionally, I see diversity in content due to India's nature. Every three kilometres, the dialect and cuisine change, adding to the richness of content diversity.

Do you believe that Indian-branded content is on par with global markets?

India harbours exceptional talent that wants to venture beyond traditional 30-second advertisements. They are now exploring long-format content, music, and integrating technology into their work. However, advertisers have not fully embraced this shift yet.

I would argue that branded content in India is not on par with global markets for several reasons. Firstly, it lacks scale compared to global examples like Mattel, which produced a film for Barbie, and Louis Vuitton, which established a production house focused on fashion. Secondly, the volume of branded content generated globally far exceeds that of India. Companies like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Red Bull are prolific creators of content. Thirdly, the production quality in India often falls short of global standards. There is a tendency to expect viral content at minimal cost. Conversely, some global brands have realised they are not just competing with other brands but also with the high-quality content produced by Amazon and Netflix. Lastly, India still has progress to make in utilising technology for content creation compared to global standards.

Which trends do you think will have a lasting impact on the branded content ecosystem, and which trends do you see as fleeting?

The most fundamental trend that is here to stay is authenticity. A brand will be exposed if it’s dishonest, particularly among Gen Z and millennials, who are quick to call out greenwashing or tokenism.

While it’s a much-used term, the second fundamental aspect impacting the branded content ecosystem is purpose. According to a Wunderman Thompson report, 71% of Gen Z and millennials believe that brands without positive or inclusive portrayals will become irrelevant. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate greater purpose and meaning into your content.

Another interesting trend that brands should capitalise on is humour. Especially after the pandemic, there is a lot of pain and stress among people, making humour in content appealing to many. It’s not just cola and chewing gum brands creating funny content; even unlikely brands like BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance) are resorting to humour in their content.

Fourthly, the use of AI, whether it's for utilising data to gain deeper consumer insights or providing customised content.

One of the fleeting trends, in my opinion, is engaging in moment marketing just for the sake of it. The second fleeting trend in content marketing is generic influencer marketing. For example, brands often engage 50 influencers to participate in challenge videos, irrespective of whether there is a meaningful connection with the brand. 

However, I don’t discredit authentic moment marketing and genuine influencer collaborations.

Do you think the future is all about branded entertainment? 

The answer is both yes and no. The truth is that relying solely on advertising to reach people is becoming increasingly challenging. Approximately 70% of all Gen Z and Millennials use ad blockers, while older generations often opt for premium subscriptions that eliminate ads. Those in between, who do not use ad blockers or have premium subscriptions, can easily skip ads with the touch of a button. Even when advertising does reach individuals, many are sceptical of it as awareness grows regarding paid endorsements by brand ambassadors.

Entertainment comes to the rescue by breaking firewalls. People are more likely to engage with brands' content if it's entertaining. Branded entertainment will play a significant role in capturing attention, which is increasingly difficult in today's cluttered environment. However, it will not replace advertising but complement it. Even major branded entertainment producers like Red Bull continue to use advertising. Brands that rely solely on advertising risk losing the game; integrating both branded content and advertising is essential for effective marketing strategies.

What are the most common mistakes brands make when creating branded content?

The biggest mistake brands make is when they hire an expert and then dictate exactly what the latter should do. It's like raising a dog but barking yourself. For example, in many influencer collaborations, brands work with influencers who excel in storytelling, know their audience well, and have great comedic skills. However, these influencers are often directed to hold a can in a certain way or wear specific clothing, which can be absurd. For instance, it's acceptable in an advertisement for Ranveer Singh to hold a Pepsi can in a particular manner, but for others, it may seem unnatural and forced. Similarly, instructing influencers to wear a specific colour and perform certain actions can come across as silly. It's essential to allow experts some creative freedom. Hiring an expert and then micromanaging them by providing a script and instructing them on how to promote the brand can undermine their abilities and creativity. This approach represents a fundamental mistake in influencer marketing.

The second mistake brands make in their branded content journey is expecting instant results. Branded content is not a sprint; it is a marathon. The journey of branded content is lengthy. If people don’t like your content, try something new. If they enjoy it, produce more of it. By consistently delivering quality content over time, you can build a bond or relationship with consumers. When they need a product in your category, they will remember your brand. If the consumer's product experience is positive and enjoyable, they will continue engaging with your brand over time, potentially leading to ‘paison ka nanga naach’.

The third mistake brands make is applying the same metrics as traditional advertising to branded content. Of course, they can incorporate various brand metrics, business metrics, and content metrics, but they shouldn't limit evaluation to just traditional advertising metrics like sales and footfalls. Brands need to include more engagement-driven metrics that assess long-term impacts such as trust, brand affinity, and likability.