Shinmin Bali
Apr 21, 2014

‘Brands are expected to be on social media with a purpose’

Q&A with Christian Kurz, vice president, research and insights, Viacom International

‘Brands are expected to be on social media with a purpose’
With the launch of MTV’s study ‘The Curious Minds’, Christian Kurz, VP, research and insights at Viacom International talks about the study, the similarities between Indian youth and global counterparts, a brand’s need to keep pace with the changing trends to be able to engage the audience and the importance of audience listening. Edited excerpts:
The sample size for the study in India has gone up from 5,000 to 11,000 and the number of cities has gone from 31 to 40+ since the last survey. Why was the need for such a steep increase felt? 
It is a combination of wanting to understand more deeply. One of the things to understand more deeply is that if the findings we would get outside the bigger cities would be different but we found out that it’s not which in itself indicated that particular move to 11,000. Regarding the drop in age, the international target audience for MTV is 12 to 24 years so having an age group of 13 to 25 made sense. What’s really interesting about the sample size is that this makes ‘The Curious Minds’ one of the largest research projects that Viacom18 has ever done in any single country in the world. And that in itself speaks about the relevance of our business in India. It’s a growing country and one of the reasons that we didn’t just want to get the urban population we also want a fuller taste. Also MTV has in the last several years catered to audiences that does not belong to the urban areas only. So whether it’s a Roadies or a Splitsvilla, we like to talk to people who are young, end of story. (It) Doesn’t matter where you come from.
Any specific differences between the youth of the urban and the non-urban areas?
You can see the similarities between the youth of various countries in addition to the similarities between the youth of urban and non-urban areas. We found a lot more similarities than differences in terms of their hopes and ambitions across the board. Traditions, what we saw internationally when we did the study last year across 32 countries, was one of the things that really stood out. The youth feels that ‘I believe in my national traditions’ and this trend was on an increase in every country that we looked at. But all of that was speaking to the duality that you see within millennials – rather than ‘I want to understand where I come from’ to ‘I want to really understand and ask questions, follow those traditions and then have a conversation with somebody who comes from somewhere else with different traditions and compare and see what can we learn from each other’. This also speaks about the world becoming a smaller place. Young people are exposed to a lot more things owing to technology, which makes them question things even further. You can have conversations with other people around the world but in order to have that conversation you have to know what you’re saying and this is where a lot of their curiosity comes from.    
Based on the research, how would you define the youth in India? How different are they from their global counterparts? What are the commonalities?
What we found is that this generation is not afraid to lose. For them, there is no such thing as losing because every time you fall down you learn something so it’s always an experience. You apply this logic to technology and you have all of these apps out there that are in alpha versions, not even beta versions, being created every day. This generation is simply throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. They believe that everything that doesn’t work out teaches them something.
Yes, they are experimenters but I don’t personally like the term ‘risk-takers’ because they don’t see it as a risk. For them, nothing is a failure. Everything is new learning experience. As long as they’ve done the best they can there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Personal relationships are emerging more and more. In India, family has always been more important than any other relationship. The relationship that you have is something that the millennials treasure and even though you’re always looking to meet new people. You’re not really replacing anyone. If somebody is becoming a really good friend, eventually they come in into the core group that is made up of your family and the closest of friends.  
The relationship between parents and children has evolved as well. The parents want to have a conversation. The people who are parents today have grown up in an even more conservative setup and they’re reacting to that. They are now looking at it as ‘I want my kid to like me because I want to be their friend’. Parents find that as an incentive. If you look at how purchase decisions are made, kids have such a strong influence over what the family buys because they’re young and that’s cool, and therefore, you’re listened to. Fifty years ago, parents and their children would’ve never worn the same thing today everybody wears the same thing. Certainly in US and Europe, mothers and their daughters are going to buy one piece of clothing that they will share. What we are seeing more and more is that there is no generation gap. Everybody wants to be young.
Another commonality is that rebellion is not something that is in consideration for them. Because rebellion is always about going against something. This generation has nothing to rebel against. It is all about collaboration. They don’t think they need to rebel because they have the power to change the world for the better. So that’s playing within the rules that have been set up. They’re still pushing boundaries and testing things out but within a controlled environment. The boomers were pushing boundaries, Gen X were kind of accepting of how society was but millennials don’t need to rebel because they’re happy to work within what’s there and they’re reinventing the world anyways with social media and technology.
While we may refer to them as digital natives, and yes they are digital natives, they don’t look at themselves that way and look at technology as a tool that is there in the background. You don’t notice it when it is there but you surely do notice it when it is not.
So for a brand to be able to cater to such an audience, it is not enough just to have a twitter account; you have to have something to say. Brands are expected to be on social media with a purpose.
Are brands in a position to keep pace with the youth in matters of technology?
I think they need to work harder than they are. Viacom18 and MTV does a good job at bringing in younger people by engaging them. Brands are working towards it. Brands need to be real, authentic and not talk down to the audience but rather engage them in a conversation.
How does a brand feel when somebody is dissatisfied with the services offered and they voice their opinion on a platform as public as Facebook or Twitter?
Eventually, it’ll keep brands honest. But the only way to avoid negative reviews is to have happy customers. A lot of the times when you send out a complaint on social media, a message comes back saying ‘kindly contact us via a DM or e-email’, which is fine. But the brand needs to go back and address the complaint post which they need to come back to the mainstream and say if the issue was resolved or it wasn’t. Just taking a conversation somewhere else doesn’t change anything and most importantly if you ask for a conversation to be moved to a private space, you actually have to fix it. Because if you’ve made that effort and you still don’t fix it, it’s just going to get worse. This is where brands need to keep an ear to the ground.  
Specific to ‘connected’ millennials, are there trends in India that are mirroring markets where digital and social took off earlier?
The direction of travel is the same. The countries started at different points in time but they’re all going in the same direction. Somebody once said that a teen in Shanghai has things more in common with a teen in New York. You could take that to talk about India but what we now found that that’s becoming less and less true. Which platforms you use to express yourself varies but what you’re using those platforms for stays the same. In the countries that have lagged coming on board the digital and social media ecosystem, are now leapfrogging. The pace is compensating for the delay.
How much of the research findings find their way back into programming on group channels targeting youth? Are there examples you could cite?
I don’t think there has ever been a program that’s been created just because the research says something, but overall all of our findings influence it. That fact that we will no longer have the vote-out system in Roadies is absolutely influenced with what we found in the study. Similarly on the international level, if our research hadn’t found that the world is moving in particular direction, we wouldn’t have created shows like Catfish or we wouldn’t have made Jersey Shore and have it adapted to various other countries. Attributing a percentage to how much influence the findings have on our programming would be difficult but overall I don’t think that there’s any program we make that isn’t somehow influenced by what we find in our studies.
There are reports on youth dropping out of some social networks, in markets where digital evolved faster. What is your take on this?
Taking Facebook for example, it is still developing and coming into new markets. What we’re seeing in the very developed markets like the US or the UK is that particularly young people don’t really find Facebook cool anymore. They still use it but they don’t check it every five minutes. Twitter lets you hide in plain sight and there is always the thing about your parents adding you on Facebook, which is part of the reason why young people are moving away from it. Twitter gives you the freedom of anonymity and having as many accounts as you want whereas Facebook officially allows you to have only one account. Facebook has value as a communication tool and it’s not going to go away but people have started using their Facebook login details to enter other site, which is interesting to note. So people aren’t necessarily dropping off but rather using it less and finding newer platforms to be on. This speaks to the inherent brand truths as well, that this generation has grown up with so much innovation they’re expecting things to change now. That is why brands need to keep reinventing themselves.
For MTV, it means that we have to be with the people, we’re never going to be a step ahead of them. One of the ways we’re trying to keep pace is, in UK we used Snapchat for marketing purposes. We used Snapchat to reveal a new cast member for the Geordie Shore (UK adaptation of Jersey Shore, reality show from the US). Brands have to figure out how exactly they will be using the platforms because there is no point in sending the same messages across all platforms. You have to be able to tailor according to the channel that you wish to use. 
Is youth the first segment to move from television to other screens for content consumption? How does a broadcaster deal with this, especially in markets where the revenue model is primarily reliant on TV?
We think of ourselves as a content company. Whichever channel the content goes out through, it doesn’t really matter to us as long as it’s good content. Good content will always find an audience. What is important is tailoring that content slightly to the channel being used. Consuming content on a mobile phone would be different than doing the same on TV. What this has driven media companies to do is that it has forced them to develop more content. It’s a much competitive environment.
TV is going to keep the number one position for a long time because it is a primary broadcast medium. Everything else is an add-on to it. These days episodes are available on sites online but that just adds to what TV already provides.
Is today’s youth in India a spectator or a participant? What does it mean for marketers looking to target this age group?
They’re certainly participators. Brands always try to identify the opinion makers in a group but it has gotten a little difficult to find them now because it is no longer a personality endorsing your product but it is about finding who really has an impact. Every young person today thinks that they’re an expert on something. They’re all trying to find their niche. So as a brand, we need to scope out people who are experts in what we sell and reach out to them and if done right the message will spread. As an example, when we were bringing back the show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles we reached out to fans of the older version of the show before we reached out to anybody else. As a fan, this interaction between a fan and the brand is valued a lot.  
Audience listening is what brands need to smarten up on because when we research, we’re used to going out and asking people questions. But now, we need to also see what they’re telling us without us asking them and what it means. Social media is a very important but you’re going to get the really good things or the really bad things as the satisfied customer won’t always interact with you because they’re satisfied already and we can’t afford to forget that middle group of customers.  
Campaign India