Eventually brands will pay a high premium for credible content: Vikram Chandra

One of the key issues today both in India and the global arena is the steady erosion of people’s trust in governments, businesses, NGO’s, media – institutions by in large. This has become far more evident during the pandemic era and now as we tussle to step out of the pandemic. The 21st Annual Edelman trust barometer declares information Bankruptcy at the core. We see a trend towards higher mistrust towards all information sources be it traditional media, social media, search engines, owned media. The spokesperson is under scrutiny. The report also brings to fore the personal and persistent fears of people in the world and in India.

In this episode of Mrigashira, we try to explore if as a nation are we facing information Bankruptcy leading to trust deficit? Charu Raizada was in conversation with veteran journalist, anchor and now Founder of Editorji Technologies, Vikram Chandra.

Listen to the podcast here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2v5GZWXFTIu5LLA5XB55Bv?si=2fac591ae0fe45c7

Are we somewhere experiencing a trust deficit? Has the gap widened? Or has it returned to the pre-COVID-19 levels?

I think we have been facing a mounting trust deficit for a very long period of time. I am happy to talk about it in the industry that I once used to represent, which is television news. One of the reasons I quit was because I felt that the business model was leading the industry to directions, which would only widen the trust deficit. And increasingly, you have opinions and, in some cases, biases masquerading for what are facts and what is information. There used to be a time when facts were facts and news was news and there was a lot of value to it.

Does the role of media in today’s times become even more important? Can the media become an enabler to bridge the information gap?

Can it? Yes, it can. Will it? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen. If you look at what’s happening in India, the entire business model of television news has gone really down the drain, it’s been happening for a while, and the reason is TV news. You don’t get money from subscriptions, you get money from TRPs as advertising is coming from TRPs. TRPs are coming from 40,000 boxes in a country of 1.3 billion people. The net result is that what gets you TRPs is yelling and screaming and shouting and being opinionated and not necessarily worry too much about trust issues. You are saying this is what I need to get TRPs and that’s the inexorable boulder strapped to you know, chained to the feet of television news, which is sort of dragging it down. And I don’t see an easy way for that to be reversed.

One of the key things which the trust barometer points out is that more than 80% of employees and consumers feel that they have the power to force corporations to change, and actually they just do not have any faith in any of the institutions. Would you agree/ disagree?

Unfortunately, I would tend to agree because look, who are the people you will necessarily trust? You would trust the government, you trust politicians, you trust the judiciary, the public servants, bureaucrats, the police, you trust the media, right, then you trust your teachers, you trust your parents and you trust your friends. Now, if we look at it in each one of those cases, problems are starting to arise. I have spoken about the media. I have spoken about the fact that increasingly around the world people don’t have that much faith in politicians or bureaucrats, even in the judiciary in the manner that they want. And then when it comes to trust in your social circles, the information that is circulating is not necessarily accurate. So, then what do you do?

So, what can one do to bring in a change? Does the role of a CEO, especially in a business environment, become even more critical?

Of course, it does. But the problem is that there is a price that they pay. Where hope comes is that at some point, advertisers and brands will say we do not want to advertise. And we don’t want to connect our brands purely on the basis of numbers. This thing was viewed by 10,000 people or a million people, great, but I don’t want to be associated with this content. On the other hand, this is good quality content, and maybe many people didn’t see but this is credible, this is high trust information and I am willing to back it because in my view, one view is worth 10 times the view of some random stuff that is out there. Let’s say you are wanting to do whatever it is in the health and wellness space. Let’s say you have 20 people who will watch a good quality video about why a particular type of diet is good for you. Are those 20 video views worth more to you, than 5,000 people watching a cat or a dog video? Arguably, yes. At some point, brands will recognise that and will pay a really high premium for high trust and good quality and credible content. And that’s what I think all of us have to hope for.

Do you think that it is important to have subscription led media?

I am not 100% sure that subscription led models are going to necessarily work right now, just because there’s so much free content out there. But if you look at what Editorji is making, our entire USP is weighed in 150 Premium short stories every single day. And all of that is factual, high trust information. We don’t need any rumours; we don’t need any speculation. We are not putting out random people’s opinions. We’re doing what is high trust credible content. Now, our bet is, we still believe that yes, eventually brands and advertisers will recognise that, and I think slowly and steadily it will happen.

Do you think CEOs can actually bring about a change?

I do think it is the responsibility of CEOs and people with an advertising budget, to say, this is where I would like my brand to be. You don’t have to put your money in social media saying I am going to back controversial subjects. You can take a call saying that if I’m advertising on news, should I take high credibility, good quality, high trust content, as opposed to a tabloid? Or they are just saying, here is the equivalent of a TikTok video that got 10 million video views, I want to put our money on that. That is a decision they should take and in my view, it is in their own interest eventually, to go for the high trust.

According to you, what are the key steps required from the government and businesses to bring in the confidence multiplier effect?

From the government’s point of view, I think they need to assess the way data is analysed and measured. I have never been a great advocate or a fan of the government intervening in everything. When it comes to advertisers and CEOs and companies? Yes, I believe that they need to really think about where their brand is going. And if it is going in low trust, should they search for new ways of doing things? There are a lot of people trying different things. And I think it is incumbent upon companies to say we are going to encourage this. And the big companies with big advertising dollars to invest, if they start putting even 10% or 15% of their budgets behind new ways of doing things that will eventually make a change. That is something I think they owe it to themselves, to their shareholders, to society. Eventually, it will be in their own self-interest because people will start associating with them and their brands.

*Edited for length and clarity

(Mirgashira is a podcast for Indian PR and Communication professionals anchored by Radha Radhakrishnan and Charu Raizada. To listen to all episodes visit https://www.digitales.co.in/industry-insights/mrigashira-podcast/)


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