Ajay Ravindran, Director, Planning, and Strategy, VMLY&R India shares insights on how ‘Bharatization‘ of social media is inevitable & how brands can prepare for it?
In the past month, two things have happened that are bizarre even by Desi Internet standards. One, Slayy Point made a fairly commonplace, innocuous, boy-next-door name, Binod, omnipresent. PayTM changed their name to Binod, Tinder right-swiped on the meme, Netflix found look-alikes of him, and the police departments of Mumbai, Nagpur, and Jaipur raided the party.
Two, Yashraj Mukhate converted melodrama to (alleged) melody, and out came ‘Rasode Mein Kaun tha’ – a tune that was as hummable as it was annoying; as hilarious as it was infuriating and more omnipresent than even Binod. Even stars from across the border jumped in.
As an avid consumer of the Interwebs, in all its profundity and its abject mindlessness; I couldn’t help but wonder if these two were somehow connected. Are they just two random memes, of a random internet? Or are they murmur from something deeper?
The WorldWideWeb Is Not
The promise of the Internet is borderlessness. It is seen as the ultimate breaker of boundaries, the leveler of hierarchies.
Except it is not.
Social Media in India has been an English-first medium. Every social media platform has started at the very anglicized end of Indian society. Orkut started at that point, so did Facebook, and Instagram is largely still there. And it is not merely language either, after all, we all know those guys who wanted to make ‘fraandship’ with us. It is the idiom and the culture of these platforms. The large parts of it have been decidedly urban.
This has excluded large swathes of heartland audiences. When we recently pitched for a social media platform, we saw it clear as a day – people who were prolific on vernacular social platforms like Helo and Sharechat, had barely a tweet on Twitter, barely a whisper on Facebook, and a pretty awkward Instagram profile. It was as if they were in a party where they had no idea about how to look, how to speak, and how to behave. A culture whose vocabulary they did not understand.
Occasionally, at such times, a ‘Dhinchak Pooja’ would be like a breakthrough. But for all the wrong reasons, as an example of people who do not quite belong to the ecosystem.
So, while social media did bring a lot of us, urbanites closer together, it locked out larger parts of vernacular middle India from the social media world. It never closed the door on them but made it clear that they did not quite fit in.
Jio, TikTok & Rise of True Internet
Things have changed in the past 1000-odd days. Jio put 4G into the hands of crores of people. Tik Tok gave them a place to hang on.
Tik Tok was like the proverbial ‘Mohalle Ka Chhat’, where you could dance, sing, whistle without being judged.
There was no airbrushing required. You were surrounded by those like you.
As the process continued, the mainstream crowd-culture started percolating the glass ceiling of social media. Tik-Tok stars started creating deo brands and hogging headlines. Watermarked videos started appearing with a startling frequency on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
For the first time, the hitherto water-tight worlds of social media, collided.
A Playful Clash of Civilizations? Well, Mostly…
As the space of urban social media gets squeezed to make space for more mainstream culture, it evokes reactions. Some violent (Witness Carry Minati’s roast of TikTokers), some more playful. The incumbents see the newcomers as bizarre, awkward, and quite different.
Binod and Rashi make us chuckle precisely because they caricature the newcomers and their culture.
‘Binod’ evokes a more rustic and earthy image than the more suave Vinod. He is the most extreme case of the hinterland netizen – the only thing he can confidently write in English, it would seem, is his name.
‘Rasode Me Kaun Tha’ is an extreme caricature of the trivial statecraft of the kitchens of India. It has all the stereotypical elements – the micro-managing Saas preening into cookers, the bahus fighting for supremacy, and a life that revolves around cookers and chanaas.
Barbs, notwithstanding, there is no stopping the Bharatization of social media. The platforms themselves are gunning for it. This is why Facebook has struck a deal with Jio. It is to mop up this audience that Instagram was quick to launch by leveraging Reels, as soon as TikTok was banned in India.
So the battle will only intensify. What will it throw up? More caricaturization? Reverse caricaturization by the Hinterlands socials? Grab your popcorns, and keep swiping up, the game is on.
Brands Need to Go Beyond Memes
Brands got some mileage out of all this. They rode the memes, got covered in media, and congratulated themselves for being agile marketers. All of this is true, but there is more to be done.
One, brands have the opportunity to play in the larger cultural tension here. Brands that target the masses would do well to take a stance.
For instance, could there be a Social Media finishing school for the real Binods and Rashis out there? Can brands champion hinterland influencers? Many don’t fit the stereotype – take MN Hemant or Sonu Sharma, for example.
Two, Brands that aspire to ‘go viral’, need to embrace a Creator’s mindset. The Binod Video was Slayy Point’s 110th video on their YouTube channel. They have created some kick-ass content along the way (including hilarious ones on Maggi Recipes), some arguably better than Binod. They admitted not knowing if this one would reach so far and wide.
Viral trends such as these are not products of science. They are a product of experimentation and the instinct that comes out of that. So, Create passionately. Consume internet voraciously. Inform your gut.
If enough brands develop the Creator’s Instinct, they could create the next trend themselves, rather than merely riding on one.
This article piece is authored by Ajay Ravindran, Director, Planning, and Strategy, VMLY&R INDIA