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With a guarded optimism that the worst of the Covid pandemic is behind us, brands have cautiously started to loosen their purse strings for the festive season that lies just round the corner.

The brands, however, might not get as aggressive as in the pre-pandemic era, as they don’t plan to exceed the 2019 investments at the content marketing front.

Marketers tell BuzzInContent that authenticity in storytelling is going to be the most winning form of content this year and what other formats and channels will rule the season.

Petal Gangurde

Festive content will continue to be tougher to nail even this year, said Petal Gangurde, Vice-President, Brand and Marketing, XYXX Apparels, which will spend 30% of its content budget during the festive quarter.

Gangurde said brands have the power to uplift the sentiment of the nation but share the responsibility to create meaningful, impactful communication in these times.

“Eighty-five per cent consumers are extensively researching and exploring before Diwali, which means interactive content and influencer-driven content will see excellent engagement. I see digital media spends continuing to increase steadily and already crossing the 2019 levels. I see 30-40% of the branding budget for the year 2021 earmarked for the festive quarter,” she said.

Aarti Samant

Aarti Samant, Founder, Sorted and Masala Tokri, Head of Content, Future Group, said spends are not as high as in the pre-pandemic era.

Future Group, nevertheless, will spend 60% of their pre-pandemic media budget on digital on awareness, consideration and conversion for the festive season, he said.

“The market is certainly opening up and there is a pent-up demand that we foresee during the festive season,” she said.

Karthik Nagarajan

According to Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer, Wavemaker India and Head, Branded Content, GroupM India, a lot of the investment depends on whether or not original content production gets back to normal levels by the end of August.

“At this point, all indications are that it would and if that is the case, there is no reason to believe we will not be able to exceed 2019 investments in content. There is guarded optimism that the worst is behind us and even if there is a third wave, it might not be of the magnitude we saw in April-June. Hence marketers are bullish about the festive season and gaining lost ground,” he said.

Bhavna Sharma

A 30% higher growth was seen in 2020 during the festive season and the same is expected in 2021, said Bhavna Sharma, Vice-President, Bangalore and West Head, Omnicom Media Group.

Shradha Agarwal

Shradha Agarwal, COO and Strategy Head, Grapes Digital, said categories such as automobiles, FMCG and ecommerce players will spend around 25-30% on digital, which can increase further during the festive season (Dussehra to Diwali period).

For specific categories such as electronics, consumer durables, and jewellery, the festive period is the most crucial time as maximum sales is derived during this season. Such categories of brands spend high on TV, digital and print.

If the third wave doesn’t strike during this period, then there will be a positive signs for the industry, and it will be close to 2019 in terms of advertising spending.

“Branded content serves its purpose when it is able to capture attention without being pushed and is stitched seamlessly with storytelling because the audience doesn’t prefer repeated interruptions by ads. Branded content is a better way to reach out and also helps in creating an impact on the audience. This year too, we could see brands creating unique content. Creative teams will need to work effectively to bring engaging content to the table,” she said.

While the pandemic has reinforced the importance of content for all kinds of brands, they are readjusting their marketing strategies and spends before the festive season begins.

Brands to bet more on short-video platforms, influencer marketing, online gaming, OTT

Given the audiences’ present sentiment and keeping in mind speculation around a third wave, brands are expected to be more empathetic and less loud this year.

Gangurde said authenticity in storytelling is going to be the most winning form of content this year.

“From raw, real emotion to documentary-style back stories to a look behind-the-scenes, brands will look to connect with on a more personal, human level. I foresee content being tailored to become a symbol of hope, new life and renewed optimism,” she said.

Marketers will need to find the fine balance between sounding positive but not seeming tone deaf. While most brands will stick to cliché templates of family, togetherness, kindness and indulgence, it will still need to be interwoven with the challenges of a socially isolated celebration.

Ephemeral content in terms of reels and story will rule, she said. Livestreams and audio content will gain significant traction. Content driven personalisation will be big.

Sharing XYXX’s content plans for the festive season, Gangurde said, “The idea is not to be generically festive (which ends up having a wallpaper effect). We will build coherent and compelling festive messaging capturing micro-moments of consumption to drive a notable increase in buying both individually and for gifting. Influencers will play a vital role to put the brand message out for us and we will build Content IPs with them to create new narratives. We will take a region-specific approach and create more culturally relevant and nuanced content themes using regional influencers. We are committed to improving the overall content experience by investing in interactive content and improving our UX across channels. Our focus continues to be on conversations in terms of selection, innovation, trends and our brand differentiators.”

Brands are overall expected to be in a more performance mindset towards content.

Nagarajan said the mediums that are measurable and those that lead to conversion will be way up the radar. Short video mediums, where the creator economy thrives, become automatic choices for brands.

“One of the biggest promises of this season is what brands are able to do with the rapidly increasing number of OTT shows. The stage is set for more innovative and imaginative integrations than what we have seen so far. Advocacy and social commerce is also likely to hit new thresholds,” he said.

Future Group looks at Instagram and especially Reels as a format from a content point of view. Ecommerce and other marketplaces are currently leading for it as far as conversion mediums are concerned.

Samant said the plan is to build an aggressive commotion event while sticking true to the current context and the mood of its customers.

Hence, Future Group will focus on honest story-telling narrative while driving huge value-for-money offers to cater to the pent-up demand.

“Even if it is online-to-offline or e-commerce, we will be focusing largely on digital marketing. While Google and Facebook are still taking the larger pie of our media budgets, we are also looking at scaling up our spends on affiliate and programmatic to optimise our overall spends and experiment a bit,” she added.

Agarwal believes TV and digital will get the biggest share. Brand advocacy on digital has become quite important and brands will not hesitate to opt for the influencer marketing route like last year (as their brand advocates) in their campaigns.

Chaitanya Ramalingegowda

Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Co-founder and Director,, believes that solving problems through creative narratives and innovative marketing mediums are more effective than spending extravagantly during the festive season.

He said lockdowns and restrictions haven't really dampened shopping spirits during the festive season; rather the dependence on e-commerce has increased manifold.

Therefore, as a D2C brand, digital will continue to be a major part of its marketing spends this festive season. Within digital, it will explore multiple mediums such as video, audio and text-based content.

“Content will drive all our creative efforts to ensure deeper and long-lasting relationships with our audience. In terms of formats, news portals, news apps, OTT platforms, social media, original and creative video content, and podcasts have steadily gained prominence in the last one year. We will continue to remain invested in content and storytelling, and explore newer avenues to tap the ever-evolving audiences and share our stories with them," he said.

Digital mediums are here to stay and experts believe Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are the most reliable platforms even today for branded content to be pushed since they are primary discovery channels for the audience.

Gangurde said 2021 will continue to witness an inherently 'indoor' festive season with sports, online gaming and OTT content consumption being on a natural upswing.

“My bet is these will bring the maximum bang for the advertisers buck,” she said.