Reebok India’s managing director Subhinder Singh was convinced he wanted his company’s commercial, created for the cricket World Cup, up on YouTube. The video-sharing site allows users to upload or view videos, and gets around 12 million viewers a month—from all over the world, but at least a few hundred thousands of that number could originate in India.
The thing about YouTube is that if an advertisement is really good, or has some striking visuals, it will, sooner or later, show up on YouTube, courtesy a viewer who liked the ad enough to grab it and upload it, or the company or any of its representatives. Around the same time Singh hired an online interactive agency, Quasar Media, to put the Reebok cricket ad up on YouTube, Nike’s Cricket Crazy commercial also went up; the site shows that it was posted by a user called Mindshrblr. Mindshare Bangalore is the agency that handles Nike’s account in India. Both ads were seen by several users. Singh claims the Reebok ad received 2,000 hits in 72 hours. And the Nike ad was written about in several blogs, including Youth Curry, a blog run by Rashmi Bansal, the editor and publisher of youth magazine JAM. “This (YouTube) is an alternate channel for advertisers to optimize their reach and allow audience to take their brand communication forward in a viral fashion,” says Manish Vij, co-founder and business head, Quasar.
From Microsoft (for its gaming console Xbox) to Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani (R-ADA) Group-promoted gaming site Zapak.com to online travel company Makemytrip.com, several companies have discovered that it makes sense for them to use web 2.0 companies in general (no one can really agree on a definition of web 2.0 except that it involves user-generated content, networking and interactivity) and blogs in particular to market themselves. Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Cadbury India and General Motors India have created their own blogging sites, essentially extensions of their corporate websites, where their customers, potential customers, and just about anyone can talk about anything, including their experience with the products these companies make.
If you’re looking for customers, the net may not be a bad place to start, according to Subho Ray, president, Internet and Mobile Association of India, an industry body. Ray says there are around 1.25 lakh active blogs maintained by Indians that have either been set up or are frequented by people in the 20-40 years age group.
“These consumers are largely working professionals and account for considerable purchasing power,” he adds. Ray expects blogs to become a standard feature on most corporate websites soon.
Hindustan Unilever, the country’s largest consumer products firm, believes blogs are a good way to receive consumer feedback. Blogs are part of several of the company’s marketing initiatives. “Imagine getting millions of potential and regular consumers telling you what they feel about your product. One can gauge consumer response on prospective launches as well. Which other medium can give this kind of scale and result?” asks N. Rajaram, general manager and category head (hair care), Hindustan Unilever Ltd.
According to Rajaram, the company’s Sunsilk Gang of Girls website (sunsilkgangofgirls.com), launched last year, has more than 5.4 lakh members, 30,000 ‘gangs’ and 9,500 bloggers. He adds that the total number of hits received by the site thus far exceed 220 million and that the average member spends 15 minutes on the site.
The fact that blogs seem like a good way to understand what consumers want isn’t lost on companies, says Faisal Farooqui, CEO, Mouthshut.com, a website that reviews consumer products and services. “Blogs give marketers access to what consumers feel about their products without having to pay research companies to do a time-consuming research study for them,” he adds.
With companies scrambling to get a toe-hold in blogs and other web 2.0 sites, consulting firms such as Blog/Works Consulting and Web Chutney have emerged on the scene to proffer advice.
“People who are on the blogs are not looking for any brand communication. They are there for infotainment. So companies have to embed their message in such a way as to not irritate users,” said Rajesh Lalwani, founder, Blog/Works.
Lalwani wouldn’t disclose names, but said several companies were already making silent sales pitches on blogs.