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Ankush Bahuguna and Aashna Shroff

Triggered by the pandemic and the rise of social media platforms, influencers have become popular among youth. In fact, several youngsters aspire to become influencers and choose it as a career. But this craze among youngsters, to ‘become influencers’, irks comedy and fashion content creator, Ankush Bahuguna, and fashion content creator, Aashna Shroff. They believe it is not up to a content creator to call himself/herself an influencer. One can always aspire to become a content creator but aiming to become an influencer is a totally wrong approach to the profession, they said. 

Bahuguna said, “I think it's a term that is very loosely used and disrespected by some people. Also, it is not up to you to call yourself an influencer. We are content creators and being called influencers is a by-product of that. One can aspire to be a content creator, fashion enthusiast and beauty content creator. But becoming an influencer cannot be the goal. A content creator with a voice is an influencer. One can always be a content creator and not have a voice.”

Shroff added, “I have earlier shied away from calling myself an influencer, but lately, I have become a little more welcoming to the term. Today, with a certain number of followers on a platform we know that we can influence (people) through the conversations we have, the products we wear, the things we use. It is just that the term has been used so negatively and loosely online that it makes us stay away from it.” caught up with Shroff and Bahuguna on the back of the launch of Myntra Fashion Superstar Season 3, where both are in the role of judge/mentor. 

Nowadays, we see several brands falling in the trap of social media trolls and outrage. To curb the trolling, these brands have to sometimes retract their communications and even tender apologies. To avoid such circumstances, Shroff emphasised, that brands must take care of cultural nuances before launching a campaign. 

“I see a lot of brands just picking up social causes that they assume will boost their campaigns, which the audience sees through very clearly. The brands must give a thought even before posting something on the internet. I have got my share of lessons for talking about social issues. Now I stay away from it, unless it really is something that I need to speak about," Shroff said. 

Therefore, Shroff exercises extra caution before associating with a brand on social causes. She said, “If I work with a brand on a cause, I ensure I do a lot of research beforehand. I read about what the brand is actually doing on-ground and if it is coming across as genuine to me. It is only then that I will come across as genuine to the audience.”

The influencer marketing industry is pegged to become a Rs 900 crore market in India by the end of the year, according to GroupM’s INCA influencers report. On top of that, it is expected to grow 25% (YoY) to become a Rs 2,200 crore industry by 2025, the report said. Among the plethora of influencers who made the industry this big, only 27% are celebrities, the rest of the marketing dollars are cornered by the content creators. 

Even with the existing size of the influencer marketing industry, it is still at a nascent stage in India. Brands and influencers are learning how to create effective collaborations. Bahuguna said that in order to do so, brands must not treat influencers as mere media amplification platforms, and they should also understand that influencers are content creators and not ad creators. 

He said, “When brands want to work with me only because I am someone that several people follow. Sometimes, it turns out that they haven’t really followed the content that I do. They don’t understand the tone of my content. Collaborations can’t happen only based on reach. It’s a must that my audience and the brand’s audience match. They should clearly understand the nature and content consumption habits of their target audience. My content will work for certain brands and will be a misfit for many others.” 

He went on to say that brands must understand that a branded content piece is still a piece of content and not an ad. He said that several brands still don’t get the art of integration. “When you make a piece of content that looks like an ad, it never works. People don’t share such pieces of content. If people don't share such content, then its propensity to go viral will stop,” said Bahuguna. 

Along with the rise in the number of influencers, there is also an increase in the number of influencer marketing agencies and talent management firms to manage them. But how should an influencer decide which agency to associate with, that ensures he gets the maximum possible benefit?

Shroff answered, “For me, I have always thought the best is to not get associated with any agency. From the beginning, I have my in-house team. Although, I am now associated with an agency. There isn’t any exclusivity deal with them. I have a lot of freedom with budgets, creativity, brands I want to work with. But, if influencers think they have opportunities to earn more money and can protect themselves in the deals they sign, it’s absolutely okay to sign up with agencies.”