Some initial thoughts about Vigyapanti

It’s great in theory but soon law of diminishing marginal utility will hit, so the model is not scalable

There are two kinds of content – content that people want to consume and content that people are forced to consume if they want to consume something else. Such content can come in various forms – text, photos, videos, audio or whatever. For example, this post is an example of the former kind of content – you’ll read it only if you want to. It doesn’t come bundled with other content you want to consume.

I don’t make money directly from this blog, but if I wanted to, I’d do so by inserting advertisements. For example, I might put a popup when you reached this page so that you couldn’t read this post unless you read that popup and dismissed it. The popup would then pay me everytime you read it, and you are paying me for reading this with your attention. That’s the traditional model of advertising.

The buzz in the advertising world nowadays is all about “native” advertising. In such advertising, you can’t easily distinguish between content you want to consume and content you’re getting paid (directly or indirectly) to consume. Like I might plug a product in this blog post, for example, for which I get paid.

The reason Vigyapanti, the new venture by comedy group All India Bakchod, is making waves is that it fits right in into native advertising. Their first output, shown below, has been commissioned by dating site TrulyMadly.

In an earlier era, this would have been presented slightly differently. There would have been a song or a sketch or whatever by AIB, and before you watched that, you would be forced to watch a TrulyMadly commercial for 30 seconds or so. In the process you may not have paid the commercial sufficient attention, and so whatever TrulyMadly would have paid AIB (via Youtube) might not have had its necessary impact. So that’s the good thing about native advertising, which has got everyone quite excited about this format.

The problem, in my opinion, is that it is going to be hard to scale. A friend I met yesterday talked about talent to produce such content being hard to scale. That is not at all a concern for me. My concern is that this one works currently mainly because of its novelty value. Once you have plenty of such content around, the impact without the novelty value will be questionable.

As a parallel, think of celebrity endorsements. Back when they started, a celebrity endorsing a product meant a credible message that he/she actually used it, and since people look up to celebrities, this would drive sales. Over time, however, as celebrity endorsements increased, this link got broken, even in the viewer’s minds.

Now the chief value of celebrity endorsement, in my opinion, is that it makes the commercials more watchable. No one believes that celebrities who endorse a particular product are loyal to it. For example, it is fairly common for celebrities to tweet their endorsement for a particular phone brand using a phone made by a competitor!

I think the same thing will happen to these “native comedy advertisements”. After a while, this Creep song will start being recognised as “that TrulyMadly ad” – which I’m not sure is a good thing as far as TrulyMadly is concerned. Then, when AIB do more such ads, the law of diminishing marginal utility will hit. They might control supply and strike exclusive deals, but nothing prevents competition from moving fast to make similar ads.

In conclusion, this is an innovative format, but don’t expect it to scale too much!

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