Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

A nearly five-minute advertisement has been trending on YouTube India over the last few days, in what is a rare occurrence on the video-sharing platform.

India’s top YouTuber — Ajey Nagar aka CarryMinati – features in the satirical video endorsing lifestyle brand Arctic Fox’s gaming backpack.

It can be viewed on YouTube’s “Trending” tab that lists the most popular videos of the day across categories on the site for each country.

Conceptualised by creative agency Humour Me, the backpack ad video has fetched over 8 million views on the Google-owned platform since its roll-out on October 2 and is essentially one that liberally criticises all existing advertising tropes.

At a key moment in the ad, Nagar is seen speaking directly to the audience about how sick he is of brands making highfalutin claims – “without this bag, you are nothing” — in their commercials. “At the end of the day, it’s just a backpack. It’s decent at what it does but it won’t change your fortune,” he says.

In an environment where buying fake views and followers have become common practice across social media platforms, one may really question the significance of an ad trending on the platform on the back of views.

To this, Dhruv Sachdeva, founder of Humour Me, points out that the video fetched over 50,000 comments across platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and others, within two days of going live. “Not even Nike gets that,” Sachdeva adds, for the sake of example. He highlights that engagement metrics like comments should be weighed more than the number of views while determining the success of a piece of content.

The ad also seems to have evoked a few reaction videos — where a user reacts to a piece of content, often while showing the said piece of content within their video.

What’s so special?

There are several reasons that make the trending of this ad noteworthy.

One, Arctic Fox claims not to have spent on media to push the ad across digital platforms. Founder Sridhar Thirunakara says he plans to continue banking on the video’s organic reach across platforms to drive sales. That means instead of spending more money — he says the ad was made on a budget of Rs 15 lakh and shot in Delhi — the brand stands to make some money in the form of YouTube ad dollars (not a substantial amount given India’s abysmally low inventory rates, but still).

The company has witnessed a 5X jump in sales for the backpack since announcing CarryMinati as its brand ambassador last week, adds Thirunakara.

Two, as per Deepak Char, Nagar’s business manager, Nagar garners “a similar number of views for both original content and branded content as long as the content rests on CarryMinati’s channel since the audience is more proactive and focussed there.”

This time around, though, the commercial uploaded on the brand’s channel is the one that got trending. “I’m not sure if any Indian creator has witnessed this feat in the past,” Nagar tells ET.

Branded content videos often trend on YouTube but not the ones where an advertiser is selling a product outright.

That’s the third reason that makes the trending of this ad worth paying attention to.

Most importantly, says Pooja Jauhari, CEO of digital agency The Glitch, the ad got trending because “it is culturally relevant, as it speaks authentically to the youth and the ever-growing gaming community in the country.”

Why it matters so much?

Having their video trending on YouTube is an important KPI (key performance indicator) for most agencies, Jauhari points out.

If a video is trending on YouTube, it gets even more views because, for unsuspecting users, the “Trending” section serves as an important source of content discovery on the platform, says Praanesh Bhuvaneswar, CEO of Qoruz, an influencer data analytics firm.

Getting an ad to trend organically on YouTube is a phenomenon that advertisers covet as it cannot be bought or gamed easily.

“At one point in the recent past, getting videos trended on YouTube was a service some agencies offered,” says a digital marketing professional who does not wish to be named. “However, YouTube started pulling down those videos and removing those brand channels, so advertisers are a lot more careful now,” the person adds.

According to YouTube’s fake engagement policy, “YouTube doesn’t allow anything that artificially increases the number of views, likes, comments, or other metric either through the use of automatic systems or by serving up videos to unsuspecting viewers. Additionally, content that solely exists to incentivise viewers for engagement (views, likes, comments, etc) is prohibited. Content and channels that don’t follow this policy may be terminated and removed from YouTube.”

Starting a new trend?

For Jauhari, the ad sets a benchmark for how influencer marketing should be done right as the video plays on influencer CarryMinati’s personality and reach as a gamer. Who knows, maybe it’ll end up inspiring other advertisers “to take advertising out of their content while talking to the consumers,” she says.

At one point in the ad, Nagar asks his manager if the client (referring to Thirunkara) has paid them yet before receiving his phone call.

Upon hearing that the money has not in fact come in, Nagar decides to massage the client’s ego by saying things like, “the bag is amazing. It can make a donkey look like a horse.”

Switching off, he turns to the audience and says one has to do these things for the money.

Nagar says he wrote all the dialogues for the ad himself and “changed the structure a bit…”

Many brands might hesitate to give CarryMinati a free hand in bringing his tone of voice into their brand messaging, says Thirunakara of Arctic Fox, alluding to the gratuitous use of swear words in Nagar’s content.

“It was a high-risk decision for us as well, as that kind of language doesn’t go well with our brand,” he adds.

The risk, however, seems to have paid off.

Has Nagar also been paid for the ad in real life though, we asked.

But he decided to skip this one.

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