By Manik Rege
Note: This post first appeared on Education Street’s blog
Ma briskly pulled out my iPad’s earplugs and snatched it away. I had been caught streaming A.I.B’s ‘Knockout’ roast for the third time. Couldn’t help it, man. It was all the rage back then. Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, Bollywood’s rising stars, had sat through third-degree verbal burns to raise charity funds.
Brushing with race, sexuality, religion, obesity, and other sensitive issues, Knockout’s script went completely against our notions of appropriate public dialogue. When we heard of such outright slandering, that too, done in good spirit, our generation was completely hooked- everyone wanted to be a roastmaster. Adults, however, felt their morals were being attacked.
“Do you know what AIB stands for? Do you even get what they’re saying?” Ma said. Trying to gather my thoughts, I mumbled, “Ehh, AIB? I think it’s All India…All India…”
“All India WHAT?” She knew the answer. Just a few weeks earlier, at a wedding gala, my fam had ganged up to warn us kids about the dangers of streaming such ‘unsanskaari‘ channels online. Geetha aunty even went on to deliver a 20-minute speech on how these ‘anti-nationals propagandists’ (in half pants and geeky specs) encourage kids to disrespect their parents and fly off to Pakistan.
Still in Mumbai, Tanmay Bhat, the comedy troupe’s founder, continued to gleefully roast his artist friends. With the earplugs removed, a wave of laughter from my iPad filled the room. Although I’d heard Tanmay’s jokes before, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing like a drunk lil chimp.
Shaking her head in disbelief, mum strolled out of the room. “We’ll talk to your father about this!” She said. The following night, I was given yet another long lecture on how stand-up comics and artists are destroying our culture. “They should be banned- All of them! And this man should have his stuff taken away for a while.” Geetha aunty protested.
Of course, her sermons didn’t stop me from returning to AIB’s channel via a friend’s phone. I’ve always been in awe of their creativity and guts. And I’m not alone. Far from it. The brand has a following of 3.6 million users on Facebook and well over 2 million subscribers on YouTube. It has managed to grow from a small podcast into a pop icon in just 4 years.
From myths about mental health to sexism in films, from women’s health issues to overblown Indian weddings and senseless campus placements- AIB has left a footprint in almost every social squabble, giving stiff competition to dear Arnab da.
The nation wants to know- What’s the secret ingredient of their controversy, success, and fame? Why are they so good at going viral? Today, I might have some insights into their strategies, at least the ones you can observe online.
So strap up for a monster-sized seminar on (i) how AIB manages to top the trendlines every month, and (ii) how you, as a student, can use their strategies to launch your own career into the stars.
Here’s an outline of the post to give you a gist of what we’re going to explore. You can choose the read the entire essay at your leisure or go for a point at a time, starting with the one that interests you the most.
- Point 1: General: History: Skim through the team’s origin. The brief backstory will give context to my future points.
- Point 2: General: Experiment! Experiment! Experiment: Observe the underlying philosophy that has contributed to their success as artists. This mindset is crucial for youngsters who’re just starting out in the corporate world, as I shall argue.
- Points 3 & 4: Technical: Minting Social Currency and 10 Buzz Buttons: Get technical with AIB’s virality strategies. This might be helpful for students who want to know how they can stand out and be heard in an extremely noisy, fast-paced, and competitive world.
- Point 5: Technical: Engage your Audience: Break down some promotional tactics AIB uses to engage their fans. This can come in handy for students who want to learn how to keep audiences and customers hungry for more.
- Point 6: General: Innovation is a Team Effort: Learn some of the leadership and team-building qualities that the Bakchodians display. This is essential learning for future CEOs & community leaders.
Point 1: History
Back in 2012, Tanmay was still struggling to make it big in Bombay. His love for comedy had driven him to work on several television shows, college fests, and stand-up gigs. But there was an entrepreneurial flame in the chap, eagerly waiting to be sparked by someone who shared his passion.
Fortunately, he met Gursimran Khamba at an open mic event. The Delhiite had been doing a solo podcast for quite some time. Tanmay asked if he could hop on. So the duo started a parody of AIR (All India Radio), casually talking about politics, social issues, and personal experiences. Two more budding artists, Rohan Joshi, and Ashish Shakya, joined from the third episode.
They started touring for live performances at small events. All the while, a partner manager from YouTube kept nagging them to join as creators on the growing platform. With a little hesitation, the boys agreed to try out something new. Unsurprisingly, their first few experiments turned out to be complete disasters.
Then, in September 2013, AIB got its first breakthrough with a sarcastic monologue on victim-shaming culture, ft., Kalki Koechlin. Titled ‘Rape: It’s My Fault,‘ the video clocked millions of views in no time and catapulted them to a whole new level of fame. Over the next few years, AIB would go on to inform and entertain through sharp observations of modern Indian society.
As Newton’s law of actions and reactions dictates, our young renegades have had many clashes with the Orthodox mob. Butthurt aunties and uncles file dozens of FIRs against Bakchod’s offensive content after every release. Thankfully, AIB has survived all their onslaughts, and its creative fire continues to blaze on.
So how do you keep climbing up when you regularly get death threats from haters vowing to bring you down? How do you keep your chin high when your own leaders declare bounties for beheading artists with different views? How do you discover your own voice and make it heard in such a noisy world? Keep reading to find out…
Point 2: Experiment!
Before we delve into the technicalities of AIB’s viral content formula, I want to share a different angle of looking at the brand, one that aligns with their core ideology. A caveat, this point is largely philosophical. If you’re someone who likes to directly get to the practical core of a subject, I’d humbly advise you to move on to point ‘3’ (Social Currency). You won’t be losing out on anything technical, rest assured.
Nevertheless, I for one, am of the belief that our beliefs are extremely powerful. Without the right mindset, no amount of knowledge will help you get ahead in life. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, “People who know how to think fare much better than those who simply know what to think.” The way in which we use our minds is as important as what we use them for. Hence, I’ve put this point first up.
Coming back to the different ‘angle’ I was talking about- to me, Khamba, Tanmay, Joshi, and Shakya, aren’t really comedians at all. They’re damn hilarious, don’t get me wrong. However, I personally like to think of them as scientists! After all, they do exactly what scientists dedicate their entire lives to- observation and experimentation.
The only difference here is what the two groups investigate. While most scientists study nature, stars, minds, bodies, or chemicals; AIB scans India for our most private stereotypes, prejudices, superstitions, and insecurities. Then, it throws them in our face. We’ll see how they do this so effectively.
Point 2.1: Understanding Innovation
First, let’s understand that this is how all good art is made- by building and pointing out links between diverse thoughts, texts, and perspectives…by borrowing ideas and adding your personal touch, as Austin Kleon notes.
AIB borrows more from Western comedy than we’d like to think. Roasts have been going on in America since 1974, Bart Barker has been churning out music parodies since 2010, podcasts have been vogue since 2004, and branded content is as old as business itself. AIB is just extremely good and taking inspiration from older creators and selling it to desi viewers.
These aren’t my personal views. Tanmay himself has been very modest about how India’s artist community is still in its creative infancy. We certainly have a lot of lessons to learn from the West before we can label comedy as ‘mainstream’ entertainment like Americans do.
See, this is our problem. We get offended when someone deems our ideas as ‘stolen.’ In reality, no idea is completely independent or stoic in form. When we think of innovation, we fantasize about apples falling on our heads and brilliant ideas sprouting out of the blue. We sink deeper into our metaphorical bathtubs, waiting for a Eureka moment that is never going to come.
News flash! There’s no such thing as completely original art. To make something innovative, you have to go out and hunt ideas for years and years. All artists simply observe the world, borrow available information, and dare to question its foundations.
Witch tales existed centuries before Harry descended on Pivet Drive. MySpace was live a year before Facebook was conceived. Blackberries were the fad when Apple introduced touchpads. Rowling, Zuckerberg, and Jobs simply made existing ideas better, faster, and more convenient. Only, they did it like no one else had ever imaged in their wildest dreams.
For a more current example, check out this trailer for the upcoming movie, ‘Downsizing.’ Does it seem familiar? If you think you’ve heard this story before, you’re not entirely wrong. The concept of little people, or Lilliputians, was first proposed by a man named Jonathan Swift two centuries ago in his fable, ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ The creators of Downsizing’ have simply used his basic idea and leveraged modern cinematic technology to reintroduce it in a new light.
Here, it’s important to note that all initial attempts at innovation are bound to fail. A new artist’s links are far too weak. As you read, observe, and experiment, the links will get stronger, and your ideas will start to make more sense. It takes years of stuttering, mumbling, falling, and screaming before genuine applause finally kicks in. It takes a lot of awkward exits before you get to make your first grand entrance.
Point 2.2: How to Fail Successfully
AIB is no exception to this law of hard-earned success. Their first online creation, a parody of ‘Breaking Bad,’ flopped big time. Some of their initial ‘test-tube’ experiments with new recruits fizzled out. Their personal debuts as young comedians didn’t pay off for quite some time. Knockout almost landed the entire panel in jail. But these struggles haven’t stopped them from observing, pivoting and experimenting with new styles. Their failures have only made them bolder, better and ‘only much louder.’
I’d go on to say that AIB owes all of its current fame to the culture of experimentation. When approached for making YouTube videos, they were skeptical of the project, worrying the platform wouldn’t suit their standup ‘live mic’ style.
Eventually, they took a leap of faith and launched the brand online. Today, AIB’s entire business is based on the trending channel. If they hadn’t taken the risk to try out something that was completely out of their comfort zone, they wouldn’t have reached millions of people worldwide. Furthermore, AIB doesn’t restrict itself to a single style of content. In addition to their core satire sketches-
- They have a music playlist called ‘Geetmala,’ which consists of song parodies…
- They command a special wing for brand sponsors. ‘Vigyapanti’ introduces new products…
- They run a podcast featuring celebrities from the media industry…
- And they’ve even started a coaching school for aspiring artists called ‘First Draft’ (see point 4)…
Do you notice the diversity of voice and genre? They’re always coming up with new ways of approaching the same political issues. Similarly, as a student, it’s important for you to learn to step out of your comfort zone and pick up complimentary skills. It’s even more important to be mentally prepared for the inevitable pain linked with personal growth.
You’ve got to be okay with screwing up on your first few days in any new environment. You need to be comfortable with failure, rejection, and embarrassment. You gotta accept your mistakes and own ’em with dignity. Once you give yourself the space to mess up, you’ll begin to open new doors to your destiny. So keep an eye out and keep moving ahead. Say, “Ancora Imparo- We’re always learning.”
Point 3: Sparking Buzz
We’ve seen some of AIB’s brilliant work ethics. Next, we’ll be dissecting their content strategy, which is based on the theory of ‘buzzmarketing.’ A marriage of two ideas, ‘buzz,’ and ‘marketing,’ buzzmarketing means converting your audience into your ‘salesmen,’ giving them a reason to talk about you, your ideas or your brand with their family and friends.
At a basic level, buzzmarketing translates into free publicity, ‘word-of-mouth,’ or social endorsement. Hughes (2008) defines it as any strategic campaign that “captures the attention of consumers & the media to the point when talking about your brand or company becomes entertaining, fascinating, and newsworthy.”
Before we delve any further into the crazy world of buzz, let’s take a moment to think about how buzzmarketing is relevant to young adults. We’re not managing any brands, right? So why do we need to know anything about this?
Here’s what I feel- You ARE managing a brand. Just go look in the mirror. Do you see it?
When you graduate very soon, you’ll be competing against thousands of other options for your dream job. To get hired, or if you’re an entrepreneur- to get invested in, you’ll need to sell yourself as the best product in the market- for your managers, consumers, and staff alike. This is exactly what buzzmarketers do. They give people a reason to invest their ‘talk time’ in their brand. They harness word-of-mouth.
How do they do that? And on the flip side, why do we tell our friends about their links, photos, videos, or posts? Why do some stories, products, and celebrities become breaking news? Why do things catch on? Enter Social Currency.
Point 3.1: Minting Social Currency
Our search for the secrets of buzz takes us back in time to August 2014. Poor Alia had become the ‘Bhatt’ of all jokes, thanks to a silly blooper on Karan Johar’s famous talk show. Everyone was laughing, shaming and trolling the young actress. Everyone except AIB. They spotted an opportunity to fight back. So they called up Alia and filmed a public statement. Here’s the catch. The resulting mockumentary wasn’t a defense at all- rather, it was a nod to Alia’s stupidity.
This was a totally unexpected response from someone who was getting so much slack for nothing. People were hungry for Alia to lash out. Nobody thought she’d rise up to the occasion and laugh at herself. When she finally did, the entire room fell silent. Whether you hate her or love her as an artist, you gotta agree, it was an impressive move.
Titled ‘Genius of the Year,’ the video follows Alia signing up with a ‘mental gym’ for a ‘brain enhancement’ course. Sharp and candid, this 10-minute short has amassed a whopping 18 million views over the years, making it the most popular piece on the channel till date. Why has it attracted so many eyeballs? Why is it still the most popular video when there have been bigger (in terms of budget, cast, topic, etc.) and more controversial uploads after its release?
Almost all the marketing professionals I’ve consulted on this topic say it was just a matter of the right timing. Since Alia was already trending online, any good content on the hashtag would organically gain traction as well. But is that it? Is buzz simply about getting the right timing? Well, yes. And no.
Timing is a crucial factor for virality. It’s not an essential one, though. AIB’s second most popular video, ‘Honest Indian Weddings’ was released in May, far away from the winter wedding season. Most of their famous videos like ‘The Great Media Circus,’ ‘Honest Campus Placements,’ ‘Times of Boobs’ and ‘Shit Indians do in Theatre’ have very little to do with the date of their releases.
So in addition to timing, there has to be another element responsible for the success of all these videos. Let’s take some cues from another event which led to a similar spike in the conversations centered around the brand.
Yes, you guessed it. I’m talking about THE ‘Knockout.’ By the time Bakchod was forced to take down the official version, netizens had already downloaded it on their drives. It spread like wildfire in WhatsApp groups. Even torrents popped up. AIB became the talk of the town once again.
I remember my entire class going berserk over the video, watching it again and again on their phones. The Roast was embraced by our generation. It was worshipped as the ‘coolest’ event of the year. Its still talked about at parties and alumni meets. New uncensored copies are uploaded by YouTubers every month.
Whenever I mention it to some of my close friends, I get the same reaction- “These guys have such balls, man. I could never say those things in front of my parents. They have all my respect!“
That’s it! ‘Balls’ is our secret ingredient.
Point 3.2: Cool as a Water-cooler
Back in 2002, a beverage company named ‘Snapple‘ started printing trivia inside their bottle caps- Human eyes have over two million working parts. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the Sun. A piece of paper can be folded only seven times. The average person spends two weeks over his/her lifetime waiting for traffic lights to change. You blink over 10,000,000 times a year.
Woah, who knew, huh? Like Chinese Fortune Cookies, the idea became extremely popular in no time. “The facts were so surprising and entertaining that it was hard not to want to share them with someone,” Berger narrates in ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” Snapple drinkers enthusiastically shared their new-found knowledge with family and friends, subtly promoting the brand in the process. But they weren’t just doing it because the facts were remarkable and rarely known. They did it because sharing the facts made them look cool as well.
When we share stories, secrets, and information, we mint something Pierre Bourdieu termed as ‘social capital,’ or in more recent terms, ‘social currency.’ Just like we use actual money to buy products, we use ‘social currency’ to form a desired positive image in front of our family, friends, and colleagues. We tend to talk about topics that make us seem cool, capable, knowledgeable, privileged, rare, interesting, and smart.
Social currency is the price we pay to get a certain position in the society. If we have boring hobbies or listen to outdated music, it’s unlikely that we’ll be the life of a party or the talk of our town. But if we’ve been through adventures and have visions to change the world, there’s a strong chance of people gravitating towards us.
Let’s not forget, they’re trying to mint social currency by hanging out with the cool kids, too. The rule applies to every single human being- A man is indeed known by the company he keeps- not just of people, but of ideas as well.
Considering this theory, it may be argued that people who were sharing the Roast weren’t doing so simply because of the verbal jibes. Call me crazy but I feel they were doing it, at least in part, for the symbolism behind those outrageous remarks.
The Roast, like the first ever iPod, was a symbol for youth, hippy culture, and all things cool. Talking about it satisfied our inner drives to be a ‘free-speech’ rebel, challenging the notions of what we can say out loud. Asking our colleagues if they saw the uncensored version made us look ‘chill’ and ‘unusual.’
Similarly, those who shared Alia’s mockumentary were trying to send a subliminal message to their social groups. They were using the video as a medium to express their belief in a mindset of being calm under pressure and reflective under scrutiny. Alia had become the new M.S Dhoni.
Even folks who had trolled her initially began to declare themselves as her fans, claiming to have found new respect for her remarkable response. People just wanted to make their thoughts clear to the public- “We’re mature as well. We can laugh at ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes. What’s the big deal?” If you think I’m making this stuff up, I invite you to take a closer look at the comments and shares-
- To be able to laugh on oneself is probably the greatest gift one can ever have… making the negative into a positive is an art and the Bhatts are great at it… kudos to Alia for this giant step, she will leave all behind in time to come… all the best Alia!
- This is very bold. Though I am not a fan and you are much younger than me, kudos to you for standing up. Anybody can make a mistake and you just happen to be a celebrity. CWK should have edited it out and just kept to bring some fun element to the show…but as usual media and people turned the whole thing against you. Just do what you do best and that is acting. You have a long way to go and improve a lot. Thank you, AIB for supporting her and making a point.
- Such a sport this kid is..for all those who laugh at her for being a goofball@20,I know many people who@40, despite being well educated, do not know who our President or Vice President is?? I think she’s got a pretty sensible head on her shoulders for a 21 yr.old…
- I love how she is completely okay with people making fun of her. And she is making fun of herself too. This is amazing…
- She took it on herself…. she might didn’t have the general knowledge of who is the p.m but she is brave enough to make joke on herself.
- It takes a lot of guts to make fun of yourself……she deserves respect.
- That’s how people should be. The ability to laugh at your own self shows strength. Which is AWESOME !!
- Making mistakes is a natural tendency of human beings. I make u make we all make!!!!
- ….And many more comments along the similar lines…
It’s no surprise that a video about laughing at yourself is the most viewed piece on a channel that is all about laughing at our own irrationalities as a society. AIB’s very agenda is to use humor as a soft mirror to reflect on our own biases, desires, and social customs. The videos put out on their channel exemplify rare values of courage, self-introspection, and entrepreneurship. Sharing these videos gives us a social ‘voice.’
This is precisely why AIB gets so much buzz. It doles out ‘social currency.’ Its unusual content makes us feel like we’re a part of a special artistic revolution set to overthrow current political systems. They give us the chance to express bold opinions, simply by sharing their sketches. We look cool in water-cooler conversations and hot in social gatherings when we support such daring ideas.
If making people feel cool ups your brand’s chances of getting mentioned, then a deeper question follows- Why? Why does a particular story make us feel like it matters and we should share it with those who matter to us? Why did the videos about the roast or a dumb actress owning up to her mistakes make for effective examples of social currency? Are there any features that all these viral stories contain?
Yes. Meet the 10 buzz buttons.
Point 4: Buzz Buttons
Pick any currency. There will definitely be a guide on how to identify fake notes from real cash. For example, ET explains how the ₹2000 note has watermarks, electrotypes, latent images, angular bleeds, and specific digit fonts that are unique to its denomination. In fact, every note ever made has some distinctive features to avoid misuse as far as possible.
Similarly, social currency also travels through a very specific set of stories or ‘events.’ People gain desirable emotions, or at least expect them, when they share certain types of news. We can spot most of these ‘story structures’ in Hughes’ book titled ‘Buzzmarketing: Get People to Talk About Your Stuff.‘ He uses the concept of ‘buzz buttons’ to describe how all viral marketing campaigns share similar qualities.
When you push these 10 buttons, you mint social currency. We’ve already brushed through 2 of them, ‘breaking’ (timing) and ‘unusual’ (experimentation) in points 3.1 and 2 respectively. In point 3, we’ll be touching on 6 of them, and in point 4, we’ll discuss the remaining 2 buttons, ‘useful’ and ‘entertainment.’
Note that for the sake of this article’s length, we’ll only be skimming through the buttons and their application specifically in AIB’s ventures. If you’d like to go deeper and see more examples, I highly recommend picking up Berger’s and Hughes’ classics on the subject.
David Vs. Goliath: Save the Internet Series
Let’s start with the buzz button, ‘David Vs. Goliath.’ Everyone loves to see an underdog go against the big boy on the block. The story has all the excitement of a Dragon-and-Prince folk tale. Two years ago, a Chennai-born rapper, Sofia Ashraf, exposed Unilever’s destructive practices in Kodaikanal in a spoof of Nicky Minaj’s ‘Anaconda.’ Her video titled ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’ clocked 4 million views, driving people to urge the giant to ‘clean up its mess.’
AIB played to a similar sentiment when it wrestled against TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India), Facebook (internet.org), and many telcos threatening net neutrality. Their ‘SAVE THE INTERNET’ videos garnered 6M views. They gave them some major airtime with media houses like CNN, NDTV, TimesNow, and Headlines Today.
If you’re guessing all this coverage must’ve given them a good bump in reach, your guess is on fleek. Note the spike in views at around April 2015, thanks to the neutrality campaign’s effect, compounded by some post-Roast controversy.
The takeaway? If you want the jungle’s attention, be bold enough to call out the lion. Go attack the giant and even if you lose, you’ll have gathered enough eyeballs to show everyone who’s really the better choice.
Controversy: The Demonetization Circus
Moving on to controversy, it seems we have a strong urge to be correct about our initial views. AIB has capitalized on this urge time and again. Look at their shorts, ‘Congress vs BJP,’ ‘The Demonetization Circus,’ and ‘The Day India Resigned.’ What do they all have in common? They pit two political polars against each other in a fiery battle.
The ‘Desi Rewind 2017 #PeekeMatChala‘ is a musical debate on whether this year rocked or sucked. What do you think? And what do your friends think? Pretty sure y’all can disagree on a lot of points.
As another example of using controversy to spark buzz, take a sip from the legendary 1975 ‘Pepsi Challenge.’ Blue-dressed Reps set up booths in malls, encouraging shoppers to take a single blind test taste with two cups each containing their drink and the rival Coke.
When asked which drink they prefer, most of the testers leaned towards, you guessed it, Pepsi. Taste tests popped up in schools, offices, and homes as well. Everyone was debating about which drink is better, pushing Pepsi’s sales through the roof.
The takeaway? Divide people like Trump divides America. Pit the crowd against each other and feed on conflict of opinions. War is good for business.
Taboo: Man’s Best Friend
Let’s look at a similar button, taboo. The Roast falls into this category. People will always be divided over what topics we can openly discuss. Sex, lies, religion, war, race, income, terrorism- these are extremely sensitive issues no one usually brings up at the dinner table. Openly talking about them is a guaranteed way to get buzz.
Reflect on the videos ‘Man’s Best Friend,’ ‘A Woman’s Besties,’ and ‘If People Treated Other Illnesses Like They Treat Depression.’ What topics do they all discuss? Shhhh…we don’t say such things loudly.
Emotions: Tribute to Indian Ads
AIB is particularly good at pushing the ’emotional’ button of buzz. Alia’s mockumentary belongs to this group because it evokes awe and surprise. Videos like ‘Tribute to Indian Ads’ and ‘The 2017 Song’ appeal to the nostalgia and happiness of 90’s kids and millennials respectively. Shorts like ‘Demonetization Circus,’ ‘Rape: It’s Your Fault,’ ‘Thank You Congress,’ and ‘Online Harassment, Order Now!’ feed off the growing public anger towards our patriarchal systems.
Pay particular attention to Naveen Polishetty’s viral ‘Average Mishra’ monologue in ‘Honest Campus Placements.’ Remember where you’ve seen the style before? Rajat’s character in ‘Pyaar Ka Punchanama’ delivered a similar speech on how having a girlfriend is just another way to torture yourself. Both the rants arouse extreme frustration and anger in viewers. Both of them got the same overwhelming response.
Whatever moves our heart also moves our lips to talk. Emotions lead to buzz. IPA (The UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) has confirmed that campaigns with purely emotional content perform about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) as those with only rational content.
Slurp on how Maggi from Nestlé has been appealing to our nostalgia through advertisements featuring moms, students, and office-goers. They’re celebrating relationships over a hot bowl of the nation’s favorite snack. It isn’t ‘just a pack of noodles.’ It’s a Khushiyon Ki Recipe! A masala of love!
The takeaway? Appeal to people’s hearts, not brains. Because people primarily use emotions, and they use logic to justify those emotions.
Celebrity: Podcasts with Stars
Buzz is not always restricted to our family and friends, though. It can also be sparked by ‘opinion leaders,’ folks who happen to know their industries damn well. So we look up to them for advice on what, when, where, how, and why to buy.
Examples include beauty bloggers, game reviewers, movie critiques, gadget gurus, sports analysts, fitness coaches, celebrity cooks, and news journalists. Marketers determine the perfect match by judging the quantity and quality of their fan following (lifestyle, age, sex, hobbies), their content form (images, articles, videos, memes), their most recent buzz spikes (news in media), and their predictive future value as a celebrity (considering metrics of the overall industry).
AIB has been very smart in choosing the right partners. All their tie-ups are either highly relevant to their industry or synced with ongoing controversial figures from partner fields. As examples, listen to the informative podcasts with Colin-Sherwood, Kunal Nayyar, and Anurag Kashyap.
Or think about the appearances by Kangana Ranaut (just during the Roshan debacle), Shah Rukh Khan, and Nawazzudin Sidiqque. If you observe the latter group closely, you’ll see a connection between their respective cameos/talks and ongoing media controversies.
The takeaway? Jump on what’s already trending. Reach out to influences who can take your idea and spread it further. Don’t sell to everyone at the party, just the person standing at the center. Make your job easier.
Gamification: YouTube Comedy Hunt
Next up is ‘gamification.’ It’s the art of applying game elements to any campaign, organization, or activity. Marketers love this process because games are mental chocolates- their primary purpose is to please players. And as we discussed, anything that makes a customer feel good is an untapped mine of buzz.
For example, take a scoop from Ben&Jerry’s “Which ice cream flavor are you?” quiz on Buzzfeed. You need to pick a movie, select a social issue you care about, choose a book you love, guess at what you’re likely to do on a Saturday- and vanilla! You’ll know just the kind of ice cream flavor that describes you best.
Instead of plainly promoting their products, Ben&Jerry’s gave people the chance to fool around and share the quiz’s results. It’s a silly thing but people still took the bait in millions. Everyone loves a fun game.
Similarly, Bakchod’s collab event, “India’s Comedy Hunt,” managed to turn the creatively demanding task of producing comedy videos into a competitive game for artists who were just starting out. Along with Kanan Gill, East India Comedy, Shudh Desi Endings, and a few other leaders, they launched a public YouTube channel where users could submit their entries for funny online sketches.
The organizers would then judge the entries based on production quality, topic selection, scripting, and other parameters. There were loads of prizes to be won, and of course, an ultimate winner to be crowned in the grand finale. The channel attracted more three million views. Youngsters were thrilled to get a free stage to test their creative skills.
The takeaway? If you want your audience to stay, just give ’em a chance to play! Launch fun contests, creative competitions and engaging quizzes on social media: people love to guess or work to win rewards! The harder the victory, the better the view.
By now, you should have a fair idea of how to start beneficial conversations. The job is only half done, though. Creating a viral message is one thing. Packaging and putting it out on the shelves is a different task altogether. If your product doesn’t have an equally interesting pitch, I assure you that it won’t be noticed, regardless of how good it might look on paper. This brings us to AIB’s second weapon- brand engagement.
Point 5: Audience Engagement
Watch “Close Distance Relationships,” a satire on how technology has ruined romance. The scene is set in a high-end restaurant. Richa is complaining about having gotten a job offer in her boyfriend’s city. Perplexed, Naveen asks why she thinks moving closer is bad for their relationship.
“Because texting is better than talking. The OnePlus 5T phone’s 6-inch bezel-less screen is best at hiding all the flaws,” She replies, “I just can’t be in a short-distance relationship.” Naveen tries his best to prove that meeting face-to-face is more fun than chatting.
But he always ends up contradicting himself by using a phone to debate against technology. On one occasion, when he tries to unlock the cell to show a meme, Neha reminds him of the model’s brand new face lock feature. In another instance, he’s aroused by reading Neha’s back-to-back sexts, a nudge at the cell’s speedy connectivity.
Finally, Naveen gives up and literally shifts out so that his partner can pursue her dreams. “I can’t believe you changed cities for me!” Neha blushes. “I can think of ways for you to thank me,” Naveen winks. “Send ’em in portrait mode. Suits you best.”
Smartly done. We learn about 5T’s features without the characters making a single direct reference. Its only after the climax that Biswa and Naveen go all out to sell the brand. Because the product is so seamlessly interwoven with the script, most viewers don’t even notice they’re being sold to until the very end. However, for those of us who’ve followed the channel religiously, this isn’t a new strategy at all.
Point 5.1: Sponsored Content
AIB has produced more than half a dozen videos in partnership with sponsors like Google Duo, Swiggy, Microsoft, Quickr, Truly Madly, SnapDeal, Ola, and Sallu Bhai (just kidding with the last one!). When Microsoft asked to help boost sales for Xbox One, they chose to literally play around with the gadget, showing how games and gamers have both evolved over the ages. We get to know about the console’s seamless activation and voice recognition technology, dual screen split, Skype integration, and many other cool features. There’s still no direct mention, though. Just a damn funny story.
Quickr’s ‘Mobile Bechna Hai’ and ‘Date Film’ are both hilarious depictions of our price-conscious bargaining culture. Google Duo’s ‘Mummy Ka Call’ is a quirky commentary on the desi mom’s surveillance habits. TrulyMadly’s ‘Creep Qawwali’ is another piece of genius mocking India’s stalker community in its search for bobs and vagenes.
For dessert, Swiggy’s ‘Honest Bars & Restaurants’ is a delicious case study of our dining etiquettes. My personal favorite is Ola’s #PeekeMatChalaa campaign. It manages to raise awareness about drunk driving and sells Ola as the solution to the problem- talk about knocking two birds with one stone.
AIB’s tactic of using narratives isn’t restricted to marketing products. When they wanted to raise awareness of how tabooing mental health is affecting our nation’s progress, they didn’t just list out statistics or complained about the issue. Instead, they put a creative twist on the problem by ridiculing our baseless assumptions in a short parody, ‘If People Treated Other Illnesses Like They Treat Depression.’
Through an entertaining script, AIB managed to pull us in and take action on the issue. The video currently sits at 1.5 million views. Do you think they would’ve gotten the same response with the title, ‘People treat Depression like Shit’?
All these clips highlight the golden difference between buzzmarketing and traditional sales. While companies promote, brands engage. Companies spend millions to push their ideas all out. Brands, however, envelop their visions with entertaining and informative content.
Smart marketers bury their pitches under awesome stories or life hack tips, always posing as pundits, entertainers, storytellers, saints, saviors, or even friends- big hearts who just want to help and make you laugh. Who says no to such caring buddies, huh?
Point 5.2: Crowdsourcing Ideas
Talking about buddies, AIB also crowdsources stories through their ongoing social media campaign, ‘#AIBJagrata.‘ Under the hashtag, fans are encouraged to reveal intimate anecdotes and thoughts publicly. If your squad were a band, what would its name be? What would you want a free lifetime supply of? Do you regret pooping after eating something expensive? And which house was considered to be the best in your school? It was Hogwarts for me!
Point 5.3: Sell with Storytelling
Why do the sponsored stories and Jagrata’s nuggets get so much traction? One reason might be related to how our neurons respond to narratives, both real and fictional. “Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature – a face, a figure, a flower – and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information,” writes Frank Rose.
“Stories are recognizable patterns- they usually have a start, middle, and an end; a problem, struggle, and a solution; a hero, villain, and conflicting values; a beam of light, darkness, and the Force- and in these patterns, we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal of the noise.”
As every Disney movie goes to show, stories combine entertainment and utility by teaching us morals and making us laugh or cry at the same time. They are an easy medium to cash out social currency. People tell tales either because it makes them look cool and in the know (privilege, celebrity, breaking), or because they’re amazed (emotion, taboo, unusual), or because they want to help their loved ones save money/effort/time, or simply because they want to prove themselves right by analogy and example (controversy).
For buzzmarketers, the challenge is to embed their ideas deep into a good storyline, tightly knitting their products with the external narrative. “If a product’s role is integral to the storyline, our brains accept the brand and remember its presence.” Martin Lindstrom notes in his book, ‘Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy.’
This is one of the main reasons why AIB’s adverts are so popular and successful. They don’t look like adverts at all. The sponsors (or ideas) aren’t forced into the stories. Rather, the integration is seamless and subtle in every case. The videos are primarily entertainment, information, and just pure fun.
The takeaway here is that Bakchod, like all smart brands, takes great care to vessel its main ideas in entertaining storylines. This makes it much convenient and pleasurable for people to share the ideas in their groups. Just like kids are taught manners and values through Panchatantra or Grandma’s tales, adults learn a lot about brands through the stories other users share.
Now, crafting good stories needs an equally good and capable team. It’s not just 4 crazies sitting in Starbucks who make the content we love so much. More than 50 writers, actors, DOPs, line producers, make-up artists, sound recordists, editors, social media gurus, dressmen, camera attendants, caterers, finance controllers, production suppliers, creative directors, animators, spot runners, and other creatives work together to bring a rough script onto our screens. This brings us to the last stop of our journey in creative anarchy…
Point 6: True Leadership
Market leaders are known for notoriously stifling fresh talent. Whenever a new player moves in, the giants scurry to squash any and all potential threats. Rockefeller acquired 22 of his 26 Cleveland oil refinery competitors, BlablaCar bought Carpooling and AutoHop to dominate Europe, and Chicken giant Tyson foods decided to invest in a direct threat by backing the vegan startup, ‘Beyond Meat.’
You’d expect AIB to play the same game and maintain its dominance in the local content industry. Except, it’s doing the exact opposite by kindling new talent and supporting young artists. They’re actually inviting and training more creators through initiatives like ‘Comedy Hunts’ (see gamification point) and my personal favorite, ‘First Draft.’
In ‘First Draft,’ budding storytellers attend lectures, interact with top industry professionals, learn the skills essential to screenwriting, and leave with their own first draft of a movie or series – with all expenses covered by AIB. The Bakchodians believe that India is full of storytellers. But too often, their stories go untold due to a lack of training, exposure, and opportunity.
Instead of enjoying the spotlight, they’ve chosen to invite others on the stage and join them in creative destruction. They could’ve chosen to retire and spend their earnings touring the world. Instead, they chose to go beyond the call of duty and involve youngsters in the creative process.
AIB refuses to view art as a competition. Rather, they consider it a community, a family of sorts. In fact, Tanmay and the others are publicly known to be humble and simple chaps in real life, always greeting their fans with boundless enthusiasm and gratitude.
AIB also cares greatly about its employees. When Mamlesh Tiwari, the editor of over 50 AIB videos, decided to take a break from sketches and switch to film or writing, Tanmay wrote a heartwarming recommendation on his Facebook page, requesting people to approach him for potential projects.
The recommendations, free workshops, tutorials garner an aura of support, friendship, and brotherhood for the team. These leadership qualities the Bakchodians display are worth noting for aspiring CEOs and community leaders.
In his riveting TED talk, Simon Sinek notes, “Good leaders make the choices to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong- and when they make that choice, remarkable things happen. Leadership, then, is a choice. Not a position.” It’s a choice to care about your team, your community, your world.
Their brotherly spirit is why AIB has become something more than just a YouTube channel. It’s not simply a content creation company anymore. AIB is a way of life. Its a philosophy every youngster should adopt early on in his or her career. With the right ‘A: attitude’ towards failure and success, coupled with the ability to ‘I: interact’ with your listeners, and supported by a humble spirit of ‘B: Brotherhood,’ you can certainly change the entire world.
You won’t require a Harvard degree, a huge number of followers, or a well-fed bank account to make it to the trending page. All you’ll need is the courage to go against the grain and follow your heart. That’s exactly what the word ‘Bakchod’ essentially means. Someone ‘hatke.’ Someone who completely disregards rules, logic, and social norms. Who dares to go make his own path.
Apple’s advert sums it up best. Bakchods are “the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do…”
ly. Think Bakchod.