2018: The Death Of The Irrelevant Armchair Critic & Rise of The Intelligent Influencer

“Oh, so you’re an influencer?” “The mandate is to get 250 influencers through our doors.” “How many followers does she have?” “Yes, he has subject knowledge, but is he relevant enough on social media?” “Oh please, he’s bought all his followers.” “And, so has she.”

This is a snippet of the many joyful sentences I’ve resisted an eye roll to during a 90 minute meeting at the DSSC HQ that could have just been a 9 minute phone call. But a fortunate (or unfortunate?) by-product of coming out of the secret proverbial closet (there there, Nani Jaan, I mean work-wise), has been closer observations of how the business brain of the Indian brand works. Most people forget how nascent our ecosystem is. For the capital’s culinary landscape, 2017 witnessed a host of new things – the birth of “instagrammable food”, celebrity chefs (to a newer level. Sanjeev Kapoor will always have my heart), social media influencers, skull-scratching business models like DSSC. And in many ways, the trump of matter over mind. Most industry titans and business heads recognise the dangerous bubble forming around the F&B industry, but struggle to manoeuvre away from it. “We can’t help it, it hurts the business in an odd way.” “I earmark a separate budget for Influencer-Meals.” “Most of them have little to no knowledge or interest in what we serve them.” “Ultimately, they only want a selfie with the chef to feign close-friendship on social media.” One restaurateur could barely contain the peals of laughter when narrating how one middle-aged gentleman threatened to write a bad review on Zomato if they didn’t “comp his meal”, since after all, he was a foodie-level-hundred reviewer on Zomato (an app, btw, I lovingly use every single day).

Did any of these “influencers” ever come back for a meal-with-bill, I ask. The quiet smile said it all.


The Rise of the Intelligent Influencer

Often called one, I secretly cringe at the word. At the shallow misrepresentation of that word. At the misunderstood power and magnitude of that word. In 2017, leading brands have pulled out huge amounts of money from traditional advertising and re-invested that into Influencer Marketing. For those squinting close (hi Pops), Influencer marketing is a strategic form of marketing where the focus is placed on influential people rather than targeting the market as a whole. This marketing-pivot helps as clever testimonial advertising that has a compelling influence over potential buyers. Call them value-added influencers or new-age celebrities, but they are your new business agents.

In the US, a tier-2 influencer’s annual earnings from Instagram ads alone, rung in around $200,000. He goes to say that there is no comparison to the moolah you make from just one Instagram shout out (post fetches more than a story) than a longer & better researched blog post. Nearly no other form of shout-out (blog, podcast, etc.) offers the same kind of effort-to-payoff ratio.

Is that the same in India? Hell, no. Because supply supersedes demand and everyone is clambering to bag that title. Hence, all it takes for a brand to buy your loyalty (get a free deliverable from you. Screw the sugarcoat, I’m a seasoned businesswoman) is a gift. Free products, free food, free tickets, free <insert what’s currently on your wishlist>. What does that cost the brand? NADA. Well, nada, in comparison to their traditional advertising spends. So, I secretly embarked on (yet another) experiment – I closely monitored 20 influencers in New Delhi. Their posting patterns, their timings, their hashtags, their public appearances, their new pals, their overnight percentage rise in followers. And boy oh boy, has this been an eye-opener. A seemingly innocent upload has many layers of strategy and grease, more than a Laacha Parantha at the newly-opened Jamun.

Image: leadagency.com.au

Do I think it’s unethical? Not one bit. Welcome to the new age Nani Jaan – the age that carved more career segments than ever before. Food Stylist, Wild-Flower Arranger, Casual Event Stylist, Formal Event Stylist, Ethical Hacker, Celebrity Server, Calligraphy Stylist, Instagram Reviewer….it’s all very exciting! Even though my unborn child will be a Historian or Astronaut, I’m wildly excited about the plethora, and more importantly, acceptance of the diverse career options he/she will have.      

What I do strongly believe in, is smarter usage and positioning of Influencers in India. Know your worth, know your value, know what you bring to your table, know your statistics, know your industry, know your benchmarks, know your competitors, know your sh!t basically. And feel free to charge, in accordance, for it. There are few professional influencers (ha, my dictionary is so wonderfully urbane) in our city, who execute brand requirements with depth, personality, and toe-tingling levels of research. Do brands pay them? YES. Do the same brands/agencies go back to them time after time? YES.

The kayoooot-influencers that work in an ad-hoc manner will continue to exist and thrive. Will they make a sustainable career out of it, I have my doubts. Mark my words, 2018 will be the year of the rise of the Intelligent Influencer.


The Death of the Irrelevant & rather Irate Critic/Bully

I was recently invited for an event. An intimate event that had many peers and colleagues – some great, some not-so-great. The greats indulged in leg pulling, crackling chemistry, intelligent banter, and a whole lotta drinking. The not-so-greats decided to be bullies. Quiet bullies, who love a mathematical game of petty politics and chinese whispers. The rather naive and annoyingly-emotional me felt this horrid sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. You know, the very same kind that makes you loud-sigh, neck-scratch, finger-fidget, and make you text your mummy for advice? And so I did. Mummy Soni gave the most annoying advice – “Chin up, shoulders back, and smile that big gummy smile of yours.” She also asked me about my bowel movements, because apparently EVERYTHING is connected to how clean your gut is.

All my schools (Gitanjali School in Hyderabad, Mother’s International School and Sri Venkateswara College in New Delhi, and Warwick Business School in England) taught me to develop a kinder approach towards people from different walks and outlooks to life. Thereby, I have zero tolerance to bullying. I am the rare oddball who never got bullied in school or college. And even if I was, the apology was quick and the subsequent friendship was quicker. Hence, as a virgin recipient to bullying, I truly struggle on how to cope with it.

So I asked a restaurateur pal on how he deals with it. Because, he gets bullied in various forms. On Facebook (“the fork was at an incorrect angle, HORRIBLE SERVICE!”), on Instagram (“Such blah looking food, HORRIBLE FOOD!”), on other reviewing platforms (“They still add a service charge, HORRIBLE CHEATS!”), in person (“You couldn’t manage to get us a table, HORRIBLE ATTITUDE!”). And he summarised his advice in two simple words – Let go. Whilst my Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri Wise Buddy has skin thicker than an elephant’s side tummy, I still struggle. So I came up with my own coping mechanism, with abundant help from Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fu*k (thanks Anki, great read). We all have limited effs to give, given we are impermanent. Hence, choose wisely about what things, incidents, and people you’d like to reserve those valuable effs for. People who matter. Instances that warrant that stress. Even if it stings and hurts at that point in time, I am slowly learning how to take a step away from the situation at hand and letting go. If it rumbles my tummy 12 hours later, I address it. If not, I let go.

Which is what I’d advise everyone reading this. The irate bully of 2017 will have no place in our community in the new year. Ignore them and focus on your craft, your dialogue, your next set of ideas. Instead of indulging or getting sucked into that “kachra-behaviour”, use that very time to do a thousand skips on the jump rope, volunteer at Friendicoes, travel, write, eat, meet an old pal, hug your mummy, come hang out at the DSSC HQ. The online & offline bully will pipe down soon, because nothing gets their goat more than seeing you smile that big gummy smile.

The gent (same one from para one here) decided to jolt me outta my office chair and dive deep into a recently-refurbished PVR recliner to watch Wonder. This heartwarming story, so beautifully directed by Stephen Chbosky, reminded me of three things –

  1. You and your family are and always will be your cheerleaders. Ignore the bullies.
  2. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Look around you, look past the Oslo-filtered Instagram stories and you’ll see struggle, unpaid bills, and lonely emotional breakdowns.
  3. Everyone is always trying to fit in. Hence, stop. Be you, because everyone else is taken.

Auggie Pullman’s photo (Jacob Tremblay, take a bow) now rests on my bedside table to remind me to be more kind and brave in 2018. Because, as his rather charming teacher taught us all – when given a choice between right and being kind, choose kind.


Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.


Featured Image Courtesy: knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu