General Mills’ Arjoon Bose on the merits of TikTok and influencers in content marketing
Arjoon Bose, head of culture and brand experience, Europe-Australasia, General Mills and chair of The Drum Awards for Content, discusses the latest developments and trends around content marketing.
The Drum: Hi Arjoon – how have things been there?
Arjoon Bose: We’ve had extraordinary times which have called for extraordinary measures, but here at General Mills, we’ve not stood still. We’ve ensured that brand-building and bold agile marketing has been at the fore of what we’ve been doing. We’ve been up to a lot of lot of exciting, fun things here that has put brand-building at the top of the agenda, of which content has been a key pillar. So, it’s been a gruelling and a tough last few months but very stimulating and engaging at the same time.
The Drum: What would be your top tips for how content can be used by brands to stand out from the crowd?
AB: Sure. To start, we know for a fact right we’re living in a world with a very fragmented media landscape where ads are getting blocked, I read that 47% of internet users are using an ad blocker. I think it was the American Association of advertising agencies who said 93% of consumers don’t trust ads. So creating content and connecting is an everlasting challenge, right? For us marketers, there's been that shift from 360 campaigns to 365 days a year of content. What’s happened is, especially during the pandemic, it’s changed the characters in front of the screen. It all boils down to how well we understand them and what they seek. Right?
So if you think about the five characters; there’s ‘The Heart Warmer’ – they seek comedies romance and family friendly content that lifts the spirits, so for them how they consume content is a way to spend time together, and they’re more likely to play offline. Then there is ‘The Stunt Double.’ They like action, thrillers, sci fi that gets your blood pumping, something in the way they consume content through playing games that keeps them pumped – they like maximizing the gaming experience tend to be younger and male.
Then there’s what we call ‘The Curator’, the ones who seek indies and dramas and nostalgia. They're kind of into their classics – they kind of tend to play games that tap into their creativity. They see gaming as a wider avenue for self-expression
And then there's the fourth one, it’s called ‘The Set Designer’. And for them, it's about home improvement. It's about cooking and reality content that inspires their lifestyle.
And the fifth-and-final one is ‘The Fact Checker’ and these are the ones that seek news and documentaries to stay educated informed. They have their ears to the ground for information and education.
So I’m going to say that being able to stand out from the crowd is being able to properly understand your audience as best as you can, and then tailor-making your content to them.
TD: For General Mills, is there any sort of campaign or content that you’re really proud of, that you would say people should have a look at?
AB: In a very pandemic-related scenario, I’m going to say, that content series and the whole digital experience that we built with Häagen-Dazs and Secret Sofa, which is our partnership with Secret Cinema during the pandemic, which was to create an immersive experience at home with this audience. Being able to offer a virtual at-home experience watching a film, bringing a community together, connecting in such times when people were really craving connection and cheer and creating content that entertained, that inspired, that informed was one of our highlights, for sure.
TD: Do you think the pandemic has changed the relationship between brands and consumers then?
AB: For sure. I mean, one of the things we probably will say it has certainly shifted. It has shifted young people’s perspective. The pandemic and the fight for racial justice, for example, they want to see content that means something, content that reflects the world we’re in – not over the top, high budget editorial. That’s not going to cut it anymore. It’s about them wanting to see content that teaches and inspires them to learn something. We’re kind of really moving away from cat videos, and what the Kardashians and Gigi Hadid are doing. So content that has an increased focus on their health, both mentally and physically – that’s certainly something we’re seeing.
We’re seeing this whole re-establishing the importance of the audiences’ sense of community, the way they view the economic social world and the impact companies have on everyday life. People are starting to realize that we can’t continue in a world with so many inequalities and unfairness, there’s been a shift in the effort that people are putting in to make such desperately needed changes. Young consumers are demanding that brands take action and be held accountable. Being much more of an active participant in this world, because using the brand to further profit just benefits a few, but using the brand to really benefit the the planet benefits all and therefore, in terms of content, the brands need to do not say. That’s fundamental. So brands need not only to embrace change now, but to continue to evolve with the times. It means changing and making change constantly, because it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to stop. Brands need to recognize that there’s no new normal, there’s only new developments.
There are four areas where we're going to see content and enhanced focus, I think things like insourcing – understanding that consumers are going to shift to a more self-sufficient lifestyle with the demand for education and ownership that puts them in control, which really accelerates the whole DIY attitude. I think, especially for Gen Z, we’ve always known that they’re not really going to be this urban generation. They want to work and play from anywhere. So, how do we take brand actions that help that, like connected infrastructure? How do we connect them to cultural content that moves in the direction of VR commerce?
And then obviously, the erosion of work/life – the erosion of work being a key part of identity is not going to be the case anymore. I think Gen Z is going to demand better citizenship from brands, they’re going to prioritize security and stability. Brands that essentially are about good business that treat their employees as true stakeholders and being family first – that’s going to be a key piece.
There’s no hard and fast rule to creating content. It’s about how to align your brand. If you’re an explorer foodie brand, you might want to use content to lean into lifestyle. If you’re a creator – like a hotel brand – you want to use content to show visitors you’re the secret key to unlocking some local scene. If you’re a taste brand like Gregg’s, you might want to use your content to entertain your sausage-loving fans. If you’re a playful luxury brand like Gucci has become, you might want to hire a series of mime artists to help you launch a new product. So that’s where we’re seeing it go.
I think consumers are craving interesting things – that is the biggest thing to say. And so what is your brand’s point of view on the world? How you can enrich your consumers’ universe with content?
TD: How would you advise a brand on what to focus on?
AB: It’s a tough one because every culture isn’t right for every brand. The biggest thing to say is no platform or no idea is bigger than the brand itself. It’s the same answer – you stand out by being yourself. If I think about it, if you as a guardian of a brand, feel like you’ve seen or heard it before, chances are your consumers probably have. Brands that really stand out are the ones that are going to be satisfying people’s wants and desires. If you’re authentic, you’re not someone who’s jumped on the bandwagon. You’re not creating isolated viral content. You’re not jumping on a shiny new app without a clear strategy. It all goes back to being yourself as a brand. And standing out doesn’t mean shouting for attention.
TD: What about when it comes to the use of influencers - what would be your advice for those working in that space?
AB: Collaborate, don't dictate. I’m a big believer in letting influencers be their best creative directors and really leaning into their aesthetic. Every time we’ve done that, we’ve seen very good results because they understand their audience. As with all things influencer, taking a multiplatform approach and taking a real clear tiered strategy, knowing which tier works best for what for your brand, is probably the right way to go. There are obviously a lot of love lately for nano-influencers, and some brands have managed to activate that at scale. But again, that’s not really for everyone. That release certainly allows you to democratize influence. But again, if you’re a luxury brand, that may or may not be the right choice for you. It’s also down to what you stand for as a brand authentically.
TD: Are there any specific platforms that you think work very well when it comes to content marketing?
AB: It’s exciting to see what's happening on TikTok. They've added 12 million unique visitors. Even Snapchat’s growing over this point in time and I read somewhere there’s been a 500% increase in views on YouTube. Instagram views and likes are up – engagement is at an all-time high. Other new platforms that we’re seeing that are interesting; Twitch is certainly an interesting place. I think eSports is a rising star for consumers, we’re seeing a lot of love in the industry for brands getting into eSports, and open world games like Animal Crossing. There’s new content factories that are emerging, collaboration houses where influencers are living together, creating content full time… essentially everyone can be a creator right now so there’s a real boom in low-fi content creation. It’s an exciting time. In short, no doubt about it.
Across all of this, eventually the way to succeed is to focus your attention on people and not technology. You will remember Kylie Jenner, right? She could wipe out a platform in one tweet. Snapchat lost billions when Kylie Jenner tweeted against them. Or, consider Trump versus Tiktok. It’s happening.
And voice activated content – I think that’s kind of been a bit of an underrated one, lately. Brands need to be a little bit more adventurous in terms of taking voice to the next level and consider audible voice – you’ve seen some interesting forays in this direction, but how can audio design become the next must-have capability for agencies? I’m excited to see the developments on this front and hopefully be part of it myself.
TD: How would you improve brand experience and how it audiences can engage with it?
AB: Almost the sum total of everything is that consumers are searching for brands to have a point of view on the world. That’s on the brands. I think the experiences for the audience, we talk a lot about ’phyigital’; which is physical meeting digital online and offline. A good example of that happening was Secret Sofa where you have the movie experience on your sofa but you’re also able to have ice cream delivered to you via Amazon Prime. Being able to bring it whole circle is probably what's going to ensure brand experiences is at a high. It’s walking the talk – we’re living in such a no bullshit generation. It’s a challenge on us as an industry and on brands to create cultural content that is not advertising, that’s pulling people to the brand instead of pushing content that’s really interrupting people.
TD: Are there any trends and spaces you’re also spotting?
AB: The platforms that we’ve seen, essentially, we’re going to see these becoming important, interesting platforms for the moment. The ones we have going right now, which are on a boom, I expect them to continue. I’m intrigued by Instagram Reels which is off to a good start. It’s exciting to see some terrific content happening in the world of TikTok and one that really, I have to say that there were two that I was genuinely very inspired by. One was when you saw the Uffizi Gallery really modernize and be really disruptive in the way they were using TikTok to do a bit of a Banksy on renaissance art. And then I think the way we're seeing UGC (user generated content) becoming a part of TikTok. So, I think there was, I forget the name of the artist, but she partnered with, with Beats. It was a three part series within which she had three different Beats, different headphones of different colors. But it was all led by UGC and you decided how the music video would shape up and how you could be a part of it. The more participatory these platforms become, the more we’re going to be able to make these platforms have a real role for brands.
One of our big focuses is what we call is ‘remarkable, modern, magical marketing’. And when we talk about ‘modern’, it's really about leaning into the modern technologies and you know, modernizing the way we're creating content, delivering content, delivering participation. So that is very much an internal mantra for us.
TD: As chair of The Drum Awards for Content this year what are you excited to see from the entries this year?
The two things that really strike out to me is when brands are able to be bold, and brave, I think so I’m certainly going to be looking for bold and brave brand building that’s happening through the lens of content.
And I’m looking at how the four C’s work in harmony with each other, which is; how does content work with context? How does it work with culture and how does it work with creativity? So, how content interacts with those four C’s, for me, is where the most compelling stories and the most compelling results can come from.
Entries are still being accepted for The Drum Awards for Content with extensions now available.