Samosa Talks: Role of Branded Content in the New Normal


branded content

Industry Stalwarts from media outlets and prime social media channels discuss the state of branded content marketing in the ‘new normal’.

The panelists talk about the upsurge of content consumption in India, changes in the branded content ecosystem, the pricing & measurability of branded content, the new normal, and more.

The Panelists

  • Vishwanath Shetty, Vice President Sales & Brand Solution, Pocket Aces
  • Meghana Bhat, Chief Strategy Officer, Scoopwhoop Media
  • Angad Bhatia, Founder & CEO, Indiatimes Lifestyle Network
  • Gunjan Arya, Chief Executive Officer, Only Much Louder
  • Mayank Yadav, CEO, Rusk Media

Content Consumption & The State Of Branded Content

Angad Bhatia from Indiatimes Lifestyle Network that owns channels like iDiva, MensXP, and more says that brands under the India Times Network time spent per visitor(per month) have grown by 18-19% in the month of April. The first week into June the surge was about 42-43 percent from last year same time.

Consumption on Instagram Pages IGTV or YouTube, Facebook Watch till text content on the website has observed an average of 35% plus time spent per visitor(per month).

He quotes a Comscore report saying in April 2020 Indian consumption had breached the 3400 minutes per visitor(per month) mark, which was the highest ever witnessed in India.

Commenting of the state of branded content marketing, he says signs of limited recovery have been observed, but advertising has not been able to catch up to the rise of consumption. “In March and April we saw a limited push from advertisers, May-June was a different story”.

Meghana Bhat from Scoopwhoop Media says that user growth has been phenomenal with new users entering digital. She adds that from the creators’ point of view, the pace of innovation has gone up constantly.

Consumption trends revolved around ‘COVID-19’ in April, Social Impact of the outbreak in May, and the state of the economy in June. The changes in life at an individual level played a big role, ‘at-home’ being a big trend, & mental health will continue to be a part of the new normal according to her.

She says as several restrictions are placed on brands’ voice, the importance of a creator or a publisher’s voice has come out. Publishers & Creators engaging with brands regularly may become the new normal.

Gunjan Arya from Only Much Louder says that the surge in viewership was not matched with the advertising, in terms of branded content.

She says as lockdown has also been unusual, and restrictions are not the same everywhere, production had not been stable, but was later streamlined and they were able to pull off projects such as Home Stories for Netflix.

Mayank Yadav from Rusk Media mentions that as they are a new company, the growth they had witnessed was stalled during the lockdown.

They remodeled content across the four channels they run. March-April was slow, during May-June brands started to look at branded content marketing.

He reckons that all companies have to focus on where the ad spends are going, and moving further either the spends are going to be lower or more focussed.

He also says that viewership has gone up but not on branded content. He has not observed growth similar to news, it has not grown across categories.

Going forward, Mayank believes the pricing(of projects/accounts) has to be more genuine, and long term value has to be offered to brands.

Vishwanath Shetty from Pocket Aces that owns channels such as Filter Copy, Gobble, and more says that from a revenue point of view, it has gone down to one-third. There have been cuts in budgets.

Brands have had to change their messaging, a Close Up that says “Paas Aao” cannot do the same during COVID. Although new formats have emerged, they pulled off a fictional web series on Instagram that got 30% more visibility views than Season 1.

They have been talking to brands and looking at the UGC space, throwing challenges. He agrees with Mayank on saying the “pricing has to be right”, as there is also a reduction in production value with videos shot from home, so one can afford to cut down prices.

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Angad shares they’ve had a lot of clients asking for discounts, and they have caved a lot of times but, he reckons the creative community is not unionized.

There are a lot of micro-creator ecosystems that have disproportionate pricing, the landscape of the creator ecosystem has changed, businesses who do not have a social identity would have few problems.

Commenting on why the discounts shouldn’t be as heavy, Angad says, they’re not just creating content and handing it out to them(brands), the brands don’t just pay for studio capabilities, they also pay for the community that the channels have that the brands can tap into.

Gunjan says it is also not necessary to compensate when the prices are not discounted if the fans are engaging and building a relation with the brand. There have been instances where they were able to sell out merchandise and more during this time.


Meghana says the briefs have not changed as such but more brands have matured and many also understand the value of creators and publishers, as limited forms of entertainment now being available.

Vishwanath says the briefs have not changed but clients now want to give back to society. “This is the time brands want to do rather than say”.


Meghana shares brands are not just looking at reach or quantity metrics, but they are also looking at quality metrics, each creator will bring something different to the table, and every creator has their own reach.

Vishwanath reckons measurability has been an important factor to drive digital, content on digital has always been seen through that lens, now as clients are measuring where each cent is going, measurability has been an important factor to drive digital business.

Third-party reports that give an overview of the status of the brand before and after a campaign gives brands confidence to invest more in digital.

Mayank mentions, in the new normal, brands would move towards performance and start thinking more about it. But he says we need to have a standardized measure, as the current metrics are platform made.

Which means they only measure the activity on the platform and not the campaign’s impact. He adds one cannot measure branded content through CPR, and metrics like that. Brands come in with KPI, till there is a better metric, one will continue with that.

Angad adds that ROI is typically demanded by top-tier advertisers, but there is a constant value associated with storytelling. There are many indirect ways to measure performance. He believes, along with top-tier advertisers one should also focus on longtail advertisers.


Commenting on a self-sustaining ecosystem, where creators create content to promote their own brand, Gunjan says she has observed a lot of these, homegrown influencers, microbusinesses, all of these are a self-sustaining ecosystem.

This is a part of branded content, a lot of OML’s creators are able to sell high-end workshops, this is happening, creators will monetize in more ways than “we need a brand to sponsor our content”.

Angad sums this up with a quote, Once upon a time people were born in communities, and had to find individuality, now we are born individuals and need to find a community.

He says the crux is relatability, they also recommend a lot of new formats, if its a new format they give them a figure(expectations) that is comfortable but not on the higher side, as it is experimental.

Vishwanath shares that content still falls under marketing, and a huge chunk of spends is kept aside for innovation, that is where one can pull the money out.

Moreover, he believes if a brand is facing any problem, and one solves that problem, then a marketer will pull budgets from everywhere, they will figure out a way.

Gunjan adds that one can also point that if a brand’s target audience is not on TV, then one can penetrate the TV budget, most of the users have ad blockers on so spending on performance might not make sense, and so on.

That is media planning 101, the reason IPL is so big is that its a big media moment in a fan’s life, and brands would miss out on it if they didn’t tap into it.

Closing Thoughts

Vishwanath conveys E-Sports streaming is growing at a phenomenal phase, and UGC is a strong trend.

Gunjan says we will observe more crossovers, creators will not just stay on social, they will be on podcasts, OTT platforms, and are going to access audience pools, find different ways to engage with audiences, and also offer solutions for traditional platforms, radios, and books.

Mayank shares short-form content, producing content under 30 seconds will grow, brands experimenting on shorter content is something they feel will be observed over the next six months.

Meghana believes audience involvement is going to rise higher, the idea of the audience creating content for a brand and participating in activities will go on. “We used to call it interactivity or UGC, now its much more than that.

Post-COVID or during COVID, if a brand is not able to see beyond priorities of selling a product and build compassion, it will not able to imbibe a sense of community.

All brands need to understand their social identity and its need to be built.

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