Social media stars are trumping celebrity endorsements with edgy, nuanced content
During the great digital boom of 2009, there emerged a group that challenged conventions and demanded front row seats at fashion weeks. These digitally-savvy people were the first generation of ‘fashion bloggers’. Usually armed with cameras and curiosity, they learnt to survive judgemental looks from the upper echelons of print editors who thought it was beneath them to share anything online. The irony is that the same group of editors have since joined in, to keep themselves relevant. As Miranda Priestly (of The Devil Wears Prada) famously said, “Don’t be silly darling, everybody wants to be us!”
These ‘early birds’ considered blogging as a side-hustle, a means of self-expression if you may. It was never seen as a full-time job in India; a gig that would bring in the bucks (and were they wrong!). High Heel Confidential, Wearabout, Lovestruckcow, Lesly Lobeni and Arushi Khosla were some of the forerunners who managed to scratch the surface when it came to digital fame. Having said that, they’ve all moved on to alternate professions.
Chasing the blue tick
When the term ‘bloggers’ became as redundant as the Google-owned platform (Blogspot), those who were actively using it began looking for a faster way to grow their following. So, with the launch of the now-defunct Vine and Periscope, and the ever-so-thriving Instagram, the culture morphed into a generation of ‘creators’ who were living their lives (and their mistakes) in the public eye. A term clearly made-up by corporates because to be called a ‘celebrity’, one had to be in the movies, or come into fame via notoriety and reality shows.
What next? If metrics and engagement numbers are to be believed, a mix of old (Kusha Kapila, Dolly Singh) and new (Danish Sait, Saloni Gaur) names that have emerged with juggernaut following during the pandemic are charging three times the amount for crafting nuanced branded content. Take for instance Gaur, known for her politically-charged videos, or Mallika Dua, who is doing several ads with funny themes.
Celebs vs influencers
The common thread between all digital superstars is the sense of urgency. With fashion, electronic and other brands having to cut back on traditional advertising and big-ticket events like the music festival, Sunburn, all funds are being directed to the digital world.
Social media influencers have the ability to react to trending topics in a way only they can. Their work (both branded and organic) is sharp, engaging and relevant to the Zeitgeist. With shows like Go Fun Yourself (hosted by Kapila), they are paving the way for the next generation of performers. Going forward, I see influencers turning into mini production houses that come up with longer shows like Dua’s Fake or Not for Flipkart and solo chat programmes.
The surge in demand for such personalities has jolted the industry so much that conventional celebrities are now investing to build their own digital following. Many actors have had strong social media teams for a while, but the main money runners were movies, TV shows and ads. For example, celebrities would normally create a straightforward video for an ad but the focus is now on ‘actual’ creators who develop edgy content. Diljit Dosanjh, for instance, has put out a video for his recent ad (a phone brand) and individuals like him are using this period to their advantage.
Viewers speak up
The audience is also more aware, more vocal and this is because they are seeing independent artistes taking a humane approach to issues. For journalists reporting on politics, culture and entertainment, social media has emerged as a means to not only elevate their stories, but promote themselves as a brand-at-large. Whether it’s Yashica Dutt championing Dalit rights via her social media, or Aishwarya Subramaniam (former editor, Elle) highlighting injustice at the workplace — social media as we know it is more democratic than ever. I say this because Covid has given people the time to observe everything around them and they have an opinion.
Audiences have evolved and so have social media players. Platforms like YouTube and Instagram are working towards recognising emerging stars as well as creating a safe space for talent. Initiatives like Instagram’s ‘#BornOnInsta’ (that aims to support those who started off on the site) and Facebook’s recent move to disable profiles and accounts that make ‘severe rape threats’ are a step in the right direction.
The writer is a New Delhi-based creative director.