Branded content at Pocket Aces have observed a 50% year-on-year revenue growth: Vishwanath Shetty, Pocket Aces

Vishwanath Shetty, Pocket Aces

Pocket Aces is an original content creator and publisher, with huge distribution power. The company operates India’s largest socially distributed content network which includes five diverse brands: FilterCopy (short fiction), Dice Media (multi-episode web series), Gobble(Lifestyle), Jambo (young-adult animation), and Nutshell (infotainment). Pocket Aces also operates Clout- an influencer management practice, as well as Loco- India’s homegrown game streaming, and esports app.

The company’s socially distributed video network has amassed more than 13 billion video views with a current run rate of over 500 Million monthly views.

In conversation with Medianews4u, Vishwanath Shetty, Vice President – Sales & Brand Solution, Pocket Aces speaks about evolving trends in Brand Associations, aspects that have transformed content on OTT platforms and more.

What according to you are the aspects that have transformed content on OTT/ digital platforms over the years?

When Jio entered the market, India’s internet ecosystem witnessed a boom owing to affordable data plans. This allowed content creators to create more content which kept the audiences hooked on to their platforms. Trends have shown that relatable content helps grab eyeballs, and captures the viewer’s attention, which is what we leverage on in most of our content. Whether it is showcasing the daily routines of a typical family or a workplace romance, arranged marriages, or the even hardships of an MBBS student which are showcased in some of Dice Media’s shows like Please Find Attached, Firsts Season 4 and Operation MBBS respectively, relatability is key to good content.

Furthermore, we have seen that today’s audience isn’t particularly concerned about the scale of production for any show as it is the story and screenplay that grips them the most. The first season of Please Find Attached started off as an experiment with minimal budgets, but was able to garner immense adulation which prompted us to create Season 2. We have also seen this work very well in our hit instagram series Firsts season 2, which was shot and released during the peak of the lockdown, and required the actors to shoot it themselves within their homes. Yet again, a series with a not-so-high production quality, performed extremely well for us and resonated with everyone who was at home and experienced those moments.

Can you enlighten us on the size of Brand Association deals in India, What percentage do the marketers are willing to bet on vs mainstreaming advertising?

It wouldn’t be fair to zero down on a particular size when it comes to brand associations, as these are entirely dependent on the budget the brand is willing to invest into digital marketing these days. Major advertising budgets among veteran like Hindustan Unilever have traditionally been ploughed into television spends, with less than 5% being allocated to branded content. However, this is evolving and changing at a breakneck speed. New-age brands and startups like Unacademy, Sogood, Epigamia, pepperfry to name a few have realised the value of content marketing and are open to experimenting with branded content. This is a new form of advertising adopted by young and niche brands today, which is fast becoming popular, even among established brands to reach out to newer and younger audiences.

From a content creator’s perspective, Can you brief us on the evolving trends in Brand Associations?

According to recent statistics, Influencer Marketing is on track to become a $15 billion dollar industry by 2022 and it shows signs of growing further. Influencers, today have firmly established their presence in the market, and enjoy a great amount of trust among their followers, making them the ideal bridge between brands and their end users. Additionally, their authority and command over their respective sectors helps them create content that would be best enjoyed by their audiences. So much so, that within the digital marketing space, we are now seeing brands merge their social media, and content marketing strategies with influencer marketing.

Another area where we have seen a significant uptick, is in the demand for User Generated Content (UGC). Content created by the consumers themselves has become hugely popular, and we have experienced this first hand on our lifestyle platform Gobble. During the lockdown, we asked viewers to upload their favourite table top recipes tagging Gobble, which was highly appreciated and followed by existing and new users alike.

Interactive content too has evolved over the years where viewers enjoy the power to choose the storyline they want to watch. The recent success of shows like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, and You vs. Wild highlights the growing potential of this format, which will continue to evolve as technology and consumer demands evolve.

Within the gaming space, esports is fast picking up, with the last year seeing some of the biggest names in the world like Red Bull, Fnatic, NBA 2K League, and others enter into strategic partnerships with Loco that aided the growth of the sector as well as their fan base within the country. In addition to this, Loco has also associated with top brands like video game publisher Activision Blizzard to host India’s largest CODM tournament and Logitech G to host the largest PC gaming tournament with 4 titles and many other major brands to co-create gaming IPs.

How content is key for brand campaigns and marketing initiatives?

Today’s audiences have evolved and are no longer influenced by conventional advertisements. They’d rather see their favourite character or influencer endorse the same brand or product. Not only do they trust these sources more, but also tend to automatically develop an affinity towards the product, merely because of the interesting way it is presented. Content is definitely the king here, ensuring engaging and relatable stories are told, with seamless product integrations. For instance, during What The Folks 3, we captured the entire customer journey of mutual funds investments for Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI). Right from initiating the thought about investing to addressing common misconceptions, and eventually taking the plunge to reap its benefits in the long term,  WTF 3 weaved in AMFI’s messaging in each episode through realistic family conversations- between people with varying mindsets which otherwise is less entertaining. Similarly in Please Find Attached 2, brands like Close Up and So good (a plant-based beverage brand) were seamlessly integrated as a part of the protagonists’ routines, which in turn had a positive positioning on the need for these products and the impact it has on their lives. That is the kind of power, Content beholds.

How are niche brands collaborating with content creators to produce innovative content that connects them with their audiences?

Branded content works very well with new age and niche brands which are targeted towards communities. Category building and educating masses about the benefits of a particular brand is of paramount importance for content marketing as it sets the base for the association. For brand collaborations, we use techniques like ‘Meme Testing’ to help identify a targeted group and their presence on our platform. Basis the brief from the brand, we create content related to those topics in order to understand the DNA of that set of audience. Post analyzing these insights, a script is developed which is in sync with the nature of the brand as well as the community. Our shows like Home Sweet Office and Operation MBBS among others are some of the best examples where branded content has been on point. In Home Sweet Office presented by Amazon, we made the lead sister duo sellers on Amazon which fit in perfectly with the brand association. Whereas Unacademy’s brand messaging ‘Let’s Crack It’ was very well integrated in Operation MBBS where one of the protagonists was shown cracking NEET exam through the app.

How do you ensure safety of ideation / concepts of Brand association presented to the clients, as we come across so many cases of plagiarism in the recent past?

At Pocket Aces, we follow a stringent process of documentation, at every stage of the association. Furthermore, since the IPs that brands are partnering with belong to us, the chances of plagiarism are low.

Do you think brand association deals can take over the volume of traditional advertising in the future, Your take on the future of this domain.?

Traditional modes of advertising will co-exist with new age methods, since the success and ROI earned through the former are easily measurable. When it comes to content marketing or branded content, brands are not easily able to weigh the ROI it could give, which makes it risky for them. Unlike in TV which has BARC and Radio that has RAM as a measurement body, digital  medium and streaming platforms do not come under the purview of any measurement bodies, and hence have to merely rely on the number of followers a platform has. Our platform FilterCopy for example, acts as our GEC platform, with the most number of young followers, but because of its relatability, and popularity in terms of its content, we are confident that audiences from every age group would have interacted with our content at some point.

As means of understanding the impact a branded content marketing campaign has driven, we offer Brand Lift Studies (BLS) with reliable third party data providers to fuel an accurate understanding of the brand performance and measure the success of the association. These studies also help shed light on the consumer engagement, and how much they have interacted with our content. In terms of the potential of branded content, at Pocket Aces we have observed a 50% revenue growth in this space year-on-year while the industry standard is staged at 40%. Hence, we can confidently say that we see a bright future in the branded and influencer marketing space.

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