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India Brand Building | The Next Generation

Brands need to listen attentively and tailor their content and tone

By Devang Raiyani

Assistant Vice President, Planning


Members of the breakaway Unsanskaari generation, born in the post 1991 liberalization era, have a tough time dealing with the dogmas of previous generations. In spite of their potent rocket fuel of ambition, global exposure and self-confidence, they continue to be grounded in a world where someone else sets the agenda.

In that world, this generation finds that the media is biased, politics is dirty, laws are archaic, TV entertainment is clichéd and the moral codes thrust upon them are stifling. Mainstream culture has failed them. For some time now they’ve been resorting to “jugaad” ingenuity and clever subversion of sanctions to meet their goals.

But lately there’s a marked shift in their attitude towards these old world values and impositions. And open platforms like YouTube reveal what’s actually brimming underneath – Indian youth have had enough of the negotiated existence that they’ve been granted.

Hacking mainstream culture

Comedy forums like All India Bakchod and India Viral Fever have hacked mainstream culture and have made some space for the real voice of the youth to be heard. The biting sarcasm and the liberal use of profanity in their videos are telling signs of a change in tack. They’re ripping apart cultural clichés and are even comfortable mocking their own flaws and insecurities.

Their tongue-in-cheek humor allows them to take on burning issues without sounding too abrasive. Our embarrassments, inconveniences and hypocrisies can no longer hide in the shadows. Topics that were once taboo are out in the open and the reality of our everyday lives is laid bare by the Unsanskaaris.

The pressure points

The Unsanskaaris are up against ridiculous rules and unwarranted sanctions on their free speech by the self-certified moral brigade. They can’t figure out why the Supreme Court can’t handle same-sex relationships, why there’s a curfew limit on partying in Bangalore or why they have to be over 25 years old to buy liquor in Mumbai. These archaic laws, stubborn old practices and heavy censorship just don’t add up in the minds of young but mature Indians.

From the assertion of a Khaap Panchayat, or local council, that chowmein creates hormone imbalance that can lead to rape, to the claim by spiritual leader Baba Ramdev that yoga can “cure” homosexuality, the youth have been dragged into controversies by those who have taken it upon themselves to protect the youth from the evil influences of western culture. To counter these ridiculous notions, the Unsanskaaris have employed their sharp wit and reduced this moral high ground to sheer nonsense.

In principle, the Unsanskaaris are training their wit on any subject that is outdated, irrelevant, ridiculous or pretentious. For them no topic is taboo, no one is spared. They are in the mood to puncture mainstream conventions and they aren’t missing any opportunities. A line has been drawn and it’s time to take sides.

Lessons for brands

Brands that continue play it safe and depict the youth as party loving YOLOs (You Only Live Once) without a care in the world risk being irrelevant or even worse, being a part of the mainstream. Marketers need to acknowledge this shift in mood and employ strategies that resolve this tension. There’s an opportunity to create ideas and platforms that channel this prolific creativity, which is showing up organically without much help from official sources.

YouTube has recognized their impact and promoted some of these groups via YouTube FanFest – an offline engagement platform for fans to connect with YouTube celebrities. A few brands like Snapdeal, India’s online marketplace, have even started adopting these channels as legitimate advertising opportunities, but have limited their exposure to brand mentions and not-so-subtle plugs. There is huge room to create content in a way that endorses a brand’s point of view without hard-selling the product. A case in point is Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” video, which promotes the brand’s sustainable farming practices using satire to make a point. This approach of values integration rather than product integration seems to be the apt formula for creating branded content in this space.

The success of the Unsanskaaris also points to a growing maturity of this audience. In the past, brands and content makers have contested whether we have a refined palate for intelligent, layered narratives. The viral success of these groups shows that there is a wide appreciation for finer, nuanced story telling, which was probably limited to smaller audiences earlier.

The time is ripe for creating ideas and platforms that channel their Unsanskaari cravings and creativity and help them break free. Until that happens they will continue hacking away at mainstream culture and it will get increasingly difficult to engage with them from the wrong side of the fence.

This article first appeared in the publication Campaign India.