How real your content should be to connect with youth

Unlike the previous generations, the millennials and Gen Z have more affinity towards real life and self-help content. Hence, the brands that focus more on real-life stories instead of glossy-fairy-tail content marketing techniques can generate more traction. spoke to some leading marketers to understand the impact of real-life and self-help content can create for brands

Akansha Srivastava
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The youth in the ’80s and ’90s was obsessed with the west. The liberation of the Indian economy gave them a sneak peek into the western world as global brands started launching in India. In their communication, the brands mostly sold aspiration to the Indian youth. But as India grew over the years to become one of the fastest economies in the world, along with increasing internet penetration, content consumption habits of the youth changed completely.

Today, the mobile-first millennial and Gen Z do not necessarily seek any fiction-driven aspirational value in any brand communication, especially on the internet. Instead, they demand real stories. And brands that have focused on everyday life stories have generated much more user traction on the internet. 

According to the MTV Youth Insights Study conducted recently, around 71% of the Indian youth is keen on watching off-the-cuff, real stories that deal with common people and their triumphs. Relatability to characters and close-to-life narratives are a hit among young audiences, with 87% of them looking for content that imparts some learning or probes them to act.

Understanding the need of the hour, there are a few brands that are ahead of the curve with their content initiatives. They are sharing real-life stories in all formats.

Smita Murarka

Smita Murarka, Vice-President, Marketing, Duroflex, said, “Today, the consumers want to be a better version of themselves. Therefore, topics such as DIY content on YouTube and health improvements are huge. Anybody who can help them and create relatable content for them as this is what they consume. They want to believe their brands talking the real thing. Even celebrities are talking about their own life and not something that is unrelatable. They are exposing their real stories. That’s what the consumer wants to know.”

The advantage of real-life stories over fictional one is that real-life stories preserve life experiences in their true form. Anuj Barasia, Head of Marketing, Spartan Poker, said, “Looking at a glimpse of their own life or an inspired life opens more viewpoints, which is very persuasive to the youth today. Apart from being an opinionated audience, they love to share varied perspectives on topics that string to the slightest speck of their life.”

Some of the brands that have experimented with real-life storytelling in their content marketing initiatives are MG Motor’s ‘MG Changemakers’ on The Better India, Los Angeles Tourism’s initiative ‘LA the Kapoor way’ with sisters Rhea and Sonam Kapoor, HDFC Life’s ‘Behind the Journey’ and Gillette’s #ShavingStereotypes.

Relatable content and consistent consumer behaviour analysis is the key

While Murarka pointed out the relatability factor as an essential element for marketing content to the youth, Abhishek Joshi, Head of Marketing and Business Partnerships, MX Player, said that at a time when captivating consumer attention is of utmost priority, it has never been more important to tell the right stories. “Content in any form must be relatable, and the question you need to ask is — will my audience be able to empathise or associate with what they are watching?”

Anuj Barasia

Barasia added, “As content promoters, we have realised every story that has inspired quite a generous group of people are the ones with which they relate. I first realised this at a stand-up where the comedian simply took some pieces of his life glazed it with punchlines and created content adored by the audience category.”

Apart from this, Barasia said content should be kept short, and if created on trending topics, it will help retain the youth’s interest.

Ferzad Palia

It is understood that relatability is key for marketing content to the youth. Ferzad Palia, Head, Voot Select, Youth, Music and English Entertainment, Viacom18, says consistent scrutiny of the youth’s psyche and preferences helps create relatable content.

He said, “With 600 million people below the age of 25, India is home to an astounding young population today. To create content that aligns with such a diverse target audience calls for consistent scrutiny of their psyche and preferences. As the universe of the young, MTV has remained at the core of all things ‘Unscripted’ by creating definitive concepts and diverse formats of storytelling.”

The rise of branded reality shows

Not limiting themselves to just creating real stories of inspiring people, many brands have started experimenting with reality shows of their own. Creating a branded reality show of their own helps to maintain the balance between content and brand placements in such properties.

Last year, Myntra launched ‘Myntra Fashion Superstar’, the world’s first digital fashion influencer talent hunt, on its app. The reality show, aimed at increased audience engagement, was produced in collaboration with Wavemaker, Zoom Studios and Banijay Asia.

The contestants were mentored and judged by a star-studded jury from the world of Bollywood, TV and fashion, including Bollywood actor Sonakshi Sinha and leading celebrity stylist Shaleena Nathani. The content was telecast in a series spanning eight weeks on the Myntra app and Zoom TV.

Barasia said, “Since the branded series is entirely sponsored by a single brand, it can focus more profoundly on the brands’ offerings. Consumers can see product placement as natural and harmonious. It can get the audiences associate products with a certain lifestyle—thus naturally seeding the brand in the mind of the audience.”

One fundamental reason attributed to this shift, where brands have moved on to creating reality shows of their own, is the growing demand for continuous engagement by the youth with the brands. Also, one can customise more if the content is only created explicitly keeping the brand in mind.

Palia elaborated, “The brands have realised that they need more than FCT (free commercial time) to engage with audiences and secondly, there is a wide spectrum of customisation and segmentation possible through branded campaigns. Branded content also lets you innovate without being intrusive; offer stories that are conducive to consumer interest and is in sync with their ethos.

Palia said that MTV has seen a lot of growth in curated branded content pieces, be it on social properties like MTV Winged for Lakme or broadcast shows such as MTV Pantaloons Style Super Stars.

No point creating bold content if not marketed well

While many brands are experimenting with telling real-life stories of people who can inspire the youth, to create differentiated content and be unique in a particular genre is becoming difficult.

According to Palia, creating relatable free-flowing bold non-fictional content helps keep the content unique and catchy for the youth. He said, “By doing so, we have been able to give the audiences ‘youth icons’ whom they follow and want to hear from. That, in my opinion, is at the core of keeping real-life content unique.”

He said, “From introducing India to road trips to normalising conversations on dating and relationships to bringing mainstream attention to homosexuality through our shows, MTV has steered clear of stereotypes and dwelled on issues that matter.”

Abhishek Joshi

Joshi explained that just by creating relatable and real-life inspiring content is not enough. Creating a marketing plan to distribute that content well, which is timed right and is quickly executed marketing campaigns around the campaign, makes the difference.

“Everyone wants to tell compelling stories that circle back to creating an affinity to the brand. Here, differentiated marketing plays a key role. The idea is always to tap the right audience, at the right time with the right approach and create an impulse that cannot be ignored,” Joshi said.  

MX Player launched the campaign #IdeaChor for the promotion of Thinkistan S2. The series revolved around high-octane office politics and professional rivalry that turns personal with the new boss stealing ideas and taking credit. With #IdeaChor, the OTT platform copied several posts and ideas of other brands on its digital platforms, which was an intentional attempt to give the audiences a taste of what it feels like when your ideas and credit are stolen (as seen in the show).

Barasia said that creating unique content every time is sure a great challenge, and there is no specific mantra to overcome this. It is virtually impossible to hit the mark every single time. Even the best content creators bring out mediocre content from time to time. You will have to actively promote your content and give it multiple chances to succeed.

Topics that win the hearts of millennials

 The brands should explore content themes that are trending, topical and relatable with the youth. Joshi said that today, the audience prefers brands that are transparent and that celebrate the human spirit. “Relativity is what creates affinity”. 

Going by MTV Youth Insights Study, young Indians today are proud of their country and believe that they have to take action to make it better. 85% of them feel that women’s safety is a concern area that they would like to resolve. Cleanliness and hygiene, employment opportunities, pollution, traffic conditions are all problems of grave concern.

“Hence, while trying to make real-life content for youth, one should be mindful of the issues they care about the most,” said Palia.

Also, when it comes to choosing the right medium to distribute the content, according to Basaria, “YouTube is a content platform and a dominant marketing tool. Amplification of content can be done exceptionally through YouTube. Also, the content being presented to the users based on the content searched before, gives a more relevant audience for the content created.”

OTT platforms also share a considerable pie when it comes to content consumption by the youth. “Platforms like Amazon, Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, MX Player, etc., will certainly prove to be the best option. On such platforms, the major chunk of the audience is calculated to be of the age 25-34 years, which exactly caters to our need,” added Barasia.

How real your content should be to connect with youth