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India 2016 | Thought Leadership | The “YOUniverse”

Brands must mirror diverse reality of how people live now
Consumers respond to true stories about individuals
Vartika Malviya Hali
Regional Director, Client and Solutions, AMAP

Ten years ago, a Time magazine cover read, “You – Yes, You – Are Time’s Person of the Year.”  It celebrated the World Wide Web becoming a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Today, this story about community and collaboration has reached humongous scale and diverse reach. It holds the power not only to change the world, but also to change the way the world changes.

In the digital democratic decade that followed the Time cover, we consumed raw feeds from war zones, funny home videos on YouTube, real book reviews, and original experiences. In addition to our job designations, we took on new identities—as bloggers, contributors, and “YouTubers.” The digital content explosion left us curious, confused, hungry for information, and so much more aware!
Our new digital regime made us savvy and forced us to shed naivety. Packaged, predigested, edited, photoshopped, and paid brand content didn’t hold appeal, relevance, or credibility. We could access naked truths and realities through our screens.
With 100 million Indians accessing Facebook on their mobile devices, we’ve moved from accessing information to sharing content. Online content now results from collaboration: open sharing of points of view, and co-creation. In this new world, humans going through different life experiences share them openly and vehemently. It is no longer just a few Internet-savvy bloggers typing their experiences, but a massive mix of inspiring, cringing, distasteful, motivating, depressing life stories—and all of them real.
Marketers and brand custodians need to recognize that people connect with real human stories and not just brand-created stories. The power of real human stories–stories of real people with real life experiences, real problems, real challenges, going through real moments–is unmatched. It is more transparent and authentic than brand-created content.
Brands need to be real
We now have stories about people of all backgrounds, abilities, sexual orientation or gender role. These human stories include people from a diverse “YOUniverse” that make us challenge our social prejudices. On TV, the angst of a gay character is depicted in the context of a traditional Indian family. Second marriages for both men and women are a social possibility through matchmaking sites. Social media makes everyone mainstream.
Many companies are opening communication channels to allow consumers to tell the brand’s story. They are beginning to realize that supporting inclusion of all kinds of people doesn't stop at having inclusive workplace polices. It also means being inclusive in advertising. Global brands like Dove are going “uncelebrity” to promote their products. Dove expanded the ideal of female beauty. Lately, Axe's view of masculinity has grown far more complex. In fact, brands targeting millennials are telling more inclusive stories.
Indian brands began featuring human real stories and promoting inclusion a while ago. Nestle has featured people with inspiring stories overcoming the challenges of real life, most notably a young man who works through a halting stammer to achieve his dream, performing as a stand-up comedian. Ads for the jewelry brands Titan and Tanishq, have featured themes that portray societal changes, including the empowerment of women, the expansion of career choices, and more liberal attitudes toward marriage.


When ceramic tile company H&R Johnson wanted to sensitize Indian society about making public places more accessible for people with disabilities, it launched the “Red Ramp Project.” To promote an “access-friendly India,” the company built a ramp on the sand of a well-known beach in Goa and filmed the freedom and joy this project brought to the lives of many people in wheelchairs or on crutches.
The “YOUniverse” is about each individual hero with a real story. Brands need to tap into this “YOUniverse” to generate some real, relevant, authentic content.