Brands Gained, Social Media Influencers Thrived During Pandemic
Oreo’s social media campaign (Source: Oreo India Instagram page)

Brands Gained, Social Media Influencers Thrived During Pandemic

Towards the end of India’s festive season last year during the pandemic, Mondelez India Pvt. launched an online Oreo cookie recipe contest. But the confectionary maker didn’t pick its usual brand ambassadors—cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his daughter Ziva. Instead, it hired two social media influencers—celebrity chef and patisserie owner Pooja Dhingra to recreate winning dishes; and comedian Rohan Joshi to host the event.

The #OreoReciPic videos—posted in November—garnered over 230 million views and 5.5 million engagements, according to Digitas India, a Publicis Groupe agency handling the initiative. More than 1,600 recipes were created and shared. Without doubt, it was a success.

Mondelez’s online campaign came when people preferred to stay indoors unless it was absolutely necessary to step out. And the owner of Cadbury is not the only brand that strengthened direct connect with buyers during the pandemic. Increased online focus meant that spending by companies cushioned the digital advertising segment when every other category of India’s Rs 65,053-crore ad market suffered in 2020, causing an overall 21.5% contraction.

Brands had been reaching out to consumers through influencers even prior to the pandemic. Covid-19 only accelerated the demand.

While companies looked to tie up with at the start of the lockdown, they were not willing to pay and only sent products, said Trupti Muralia, a food blogger. This has now changed and collaborations have picked up, she said.

But pandemic or not, Tushar Vyas, president-growth and transformation, South Asia at GroupM, cited three reasons for increase in digital engagement. The quality of internet infrastructure has improved; video as a format has grown in the last two years for categories like FMCG; and the measurability the medium provides in terms of tracking the reach helps.

Sonia Khurana, chief operating officer at Digitas India, said the shift was partly driven by focus on return on investment and effectiveness of online campaigns during the pandemic. Brands, she said in an emailed response, also wanted a more empathetic and conversational approach to engage with their audience.

Dabur India Ltd. is among the firms that increased online engagement. In last nine months, the company said it has worked with more than 1,700 small and big influencers across health and fitness, lifestyle, beauty, sports and parenting themes.

“The new-age consumers trust influencers more than celebs when it comes to product recommendation,” Minoo Phakey, head—media marketing at Dabur, told BloombergQuint over email. “This made us realise that if we want to talk to the millennial and GenZ consumers, and build awareness for our brands, we definitely need to on-board social media influencers.”

Dabur using influencers to promote its products. (Source: kitchenmai Instagram account)
Dabur using influencers to promote its products. (Source: kitchenmai Instagram account)

The company used social media celebrities to talk about immunity, health and wellness. Most Dabur brands, Phakey said, have increased spends on this channel of marketing.

Mondelez India increased its digital advertising spends, making it the second-most preferred promotional medium for the maker of Bournvita.

“TV still remains a lead medium for us because of the scale and reach that it creates,” said Anil Vishwanathan, director-marketing (chocolates) at Mondelez India, told BloombergQuint over the phone. “However, digital is now the strong second medium and over a period the salience in digital has gone up.”

“In television, you put out a piece of content, and consumer sees it there is no way to respond,” he said. “In the post digital world, what you're actually looking for is not just a one-way communication for the brand putting out a message but also an opportunity to build engagement, get feedback and conversation going.”

Higher demand, on the other hand, allowed influencers to charge more.

Nehal Karkera, a restaurant consultant with more than 82,000 Instagram followers, said his following on the videoblogging site nearly doubled during the lockdown. From getting one or two collaborations a month, he has started to get five to six and increased his prices by 50%.

Auto and travel companies are also increasingly relying on social media influencers. Yet, they are mostly hired based on the gig.

“Very few brands have an ongoing relationship with influencers; influencer activations are a part of campaigns,” said Khurana. There is value for brands to explore an always-on relationship—a long-term ambassador in social media could yield more credibility and prolonged awareness."

Nehal Karkera’s give away contest on social media. (Source: Nehal Karkera’s Instagram)
Nehal Karkera’s give away contest on social media. (Source: Nehal Karkera’s Instagram)

Cost Advantage

Traditional celebrities charge upwards of Rs 1 crore for a video or Rs 60-70 lakh for one static Instagram post, according to data shared by Khurana.

Category-A social media influencers or the biggest names online, however, charge Rs 2-15 lakh for an Instagram video and some other deliverables. Category-B influencers earn between Rs 15,000 and Rs 2 lakh, while category-c earns Rs 5,000-20,000.

Apart from being cheaper, GroupM’s Vyas said digital advertising is flexible as well. “Based on the demand-supply, it allows you to adjust, and it may vary based on the category seasonality and the kind of format you are using it."

According to Khurana, social media influencers are going beyond plain endorsements. Citing the example of affiliate partnerships with social media influencers, she said it allows them to create their own storefront.

Traditional celebrities have also found their way to social media, she said. “ But from the consumer lens, it is a function of how they identify with and trust the influencers (compared to celebrities)," Khurana said. In some cases, we have seen both in action. It's really boils down to the objectives.”

But Khurana cautioned against the pitfalls of overdoing engagement through influencers. “A story from an influencer is as skippable as a regular paid advertisement that uses a celebrity,” she said. "Authenticity and storytelling are critical in both.”

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