dentsu India Team

This column was originally published at EXCHANGE4MEDIA. 

Brands’ guide to navigating the content landscape

Guest Column: Mahek Chhaya, Group Head – Strategy, Carat India, explores the growing fandom of independent content creators in India

The heavily promoted and anticipated ‘Jugg Jugg Jeeyo’, a film from the house of YRF, had posters boasting A-listers like Anil Kapoor, Neetu Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, and Kiara Advani. But a new face, not belonging to the existing fraternity, quietly crept up to the top, hobnobbing with the stars. Prajakta Koli or Mostly Sane (her social media alias), was one of the first alums of the founding wave of content creation in India. Her trajectory includes starting with vines, and short videos on Instagram, followed by collabs with other influencers. Gradually, as her followers picked up, brand associations picked up. Her community grew with partnerships with content giants like Netflix. The rest is history, as she makes a splendid debut on the celluloid with one of the biggest banners in the country. 

This is a testimony to the hustle and the subsequent fandom of independent content creators in India. These are the creators who are ‘consumer-out’. They are the ones who started from scratch, experimented with varied genres, found a niche that ticks and stuck to it. A lot of them have also started to sprout from small towns across India with the lockdown playing a huge catalyst. 

There is another set of creators who are ‘skill-out’ – the ones who disseminate their know-how. Their pre-existing qualifications, passions, or aptitudes have formed the bedrock of the content they create. These include Ankur Warikoo, Kabita’s Kitchen, and so on. 

Ranveer Brar is a renowned chef. But the bridge between him being renowned and being a household name was content. He cracked the code of YouTube and transcended into our homes and kitchens. No surprise then that he too made his acting debut on Amazon Prime with ‘Modern Love’. 


With OTT and cinema being the pinnacle of content in the country, it seems that the future roads of content creators lead to the big screens.  The fact that these platforms and production houses are willing to hedge their ROI on niche creators to wow the larger audience in a completely different avatar, is a clear indication of how gigantic the creator economy in India is touted to be. 

As the horizon of content spreads to different formats and languages, this is snowballing every day into a gigantic phenomenon. To give you a perspective of its enormousness, a report by Oxford Economics quotes that the creator economy on YouTube alone contributed Rs 6,800 crore to India's GDP in 2020. 

The creator economy is not limited to online creators and influencers. There is an entire generation of first-time internet users who are now able to build a direct channel to their fans to sell their unique products and offerings. 


A report quoted that the creator reach is almost 2x of brand reach. Unsurprisingly, we are looking at a future where not the platform hosting the content, but the creator is an un-skippable medium. 

The new radical wave of content creation and its subsequent influence on people has just begun and is an open field currently. A keen observation throws up select codes which brands today can leverage to be a thriving part of this ecosystem. 

Look for ‘audience-fit’ over ‘genre fit’

It is increasingly clear that the new breed of creators is not bound by boxes and is trying to dabble in a range of themes. At the same time, even the audience’s consumption range is growing wider by the day. It is difficult to compartmentalize the audience into particular themes of content. Given the context, a genre-based approach may be irrelevant. 

For instance, Smallcase is a fintech startup that allows people to invest in small baskets of stocks based on a concept or idea. Their audience is the agile Gen Z and Millennials. They went ahead and associated with Ankur Warikoo, the modern-day finance guru who endorsed and explained the product on his detailed vlogs. 

But the current approach forces us to look beyond our immediate genre to fit, into spaces where our audience is likely to be present. So, to put out an expansive outreach program spearheaded by influencers, they also tied up with Tanmay Bhat. Post the AIB fiasco and pandemic, Tanmay Bhat has resolutely resumed his dialogue with the audience, but this time with vlogs laced with humour, gaming, and reviews. His content resonates with Smallcase’s audience. Just because they are not on a financial vlog, does not warrant that they are not potentially interested in a financial product. Bhatt’s vlogs organically introduced Smallcase, making it a very effective source of brand discovery. 

Latch on to the individual, not to the host platforms

The mathematics and economies of the current platform ecosystem compel creators to have a solid base on both, Meta platforms and YouTube, to monetize effectively. Currently, YouTube has 49 crore users, Instagram around 21 crore users and Facebook has 41 crore users. This is of course, notwithstanding multiple other host apps. Fans are engaging with creators across platforms. They engage with vlogs and go back to Instagram to comment on a picture they may have posted from the same day. Hence, if as a brand we see merit in leveraging a certain creator’s equity then it makes sense to align the brand presence with the creator’s presence. If it means investing on multiple platforms, it is a sensible way forward since the audience is following the creator’s trail across the digital space. 

Ek Se Bhale Do

The third but immensely powerful element of the holy trinity of 3Cs in India, besides cricket and cinema, is celebrities. Close to 50% of endorsements in India feature celebrities as compared to around 20% in the U.S. The last 2 to 3 years shaped a new pattern of celeb endorsements. While power couples always existed in the fraternity, one would seldom see them advertising brands. But as the love for #Virushka, #Deepveer or #Ralia grew in epic proportions, brands from PepsiCo to Manyvar to Flipark to AirBnb were quick to leverage the double impact. 

This trend has percolated down to the creator ecosystem and the doubles enjoy a cult status of their own. Komal Pandey and Siddharth Batra are revolutionizing the fashion game, one post at a time while Kusha Kapila and Zorawar Ahluwalia, the husband-wife duo is capitalizing on their styles of humour to create a unique brand of collective humor. 

Today, digital creators enjoy a sense of stardom that is hard to beat. Therefore naturally, the fans want to know a little more about their favourites. These couplings thus create a formidable, unit that their fans root for. There is also a greater sense of comfort with creator duos, for, unlike the silver screen celebs, creator couples are built on the fabric of relatability, not a mystery. 

Growing intimacy with creators making inroads

Over the last 2 years, we as consumers have grown to be more vicarious. At the same time, from the creators’ end, there is no such thing as oversharing anymore. They are committed to their connections in a way that from their deepest sorrows to ongoing struggles to family moments, everything is up for the audience to consume and to feel like a part of it all. To reiterate, while the movie and sports celebs like to capitalize on mystery, digital creators are keeping it real and raw. E.g., Dipika and Shoaib Ibrahim are TV darlings running a mega-popular lifestyle vlog. People love their family camaraderie so much that 3 different members of the family maintain their own channels, each recording their own perspective of their life. With 7.49 million subscribers collectively, they are devoted to documenting their life as intimately as possible. 

Similarly, Bharti Singh, the leading comedian, and TV personality documented her pregnancy and delivery journey with her followers, allowing people into her life unlike we have ever seen before. 

As brands, this is an important note to make. Up till now, we have seen creators either endorse through posts or create special content around the product. Both are executed as organically as possible, it can still seem distant. But as intimacy strengthens between the creator universe and audience, brands and products can entrench themselves much deeper into the daily routines of the creators. Opportunities are endless in terms of fitment as lifestyle vlogs today cover a whole spectrum from waking up to sleeping. 

This is an exciting decade for content creation and association. Brands must not be afraid to experiment as the dynamism of this landscape is mindboggling. Brands and creators must evolve, plunge, test and run together on the go as the codes of collaboration will continuously be in flux.