Who will get your free minute in 2017? Brands must learn how to correctly approach customers’ leisure time


At 34 minutes consumption per day, WhatsApp forwards are redefining the rules of content.

We reach for our smartphones every time we have a free minute. Or even in between conversations that we are not really tuned in to. From the time we wake up, our smartphone is an intimate companion.

Many of us are addicted to electronic stimulation, and every ping is a potential distraction. Swimming in a sea of urban WiFi, we love internet data.

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We did a dipstick survey of 170 WhatsApp groups, each comprising of about 40 members on average. The findings were interesting.

WhatsApp content occupied an average of 34 minutes of respondents’ daily time. That’s more attention than an 18-year-old would give their own mother in a day!

And what comprises WhatsApp content/forwards?

1             Jokes.

2             Topical forwards on current affairs.

3             Motivational or funny videos; these are occasionally YouTube links. (More than 50 percent of YouTube views come from mobile devices)

4             Information relevant to the group. For instance, a mothers’ group may have parenting tips.

5             Information/invitations to local exhibitions or events.

None of the above is branded content; it's just content that is considered to be of interest to that group.

Google did put out a list of what India has been interested in. We are consuming a significant number of news stories - of public downfalls, aspirational celebrity perfection and runaway successes! So, India’s top 10 Google searches of 2016 include the likes of Vijay Mallya, PV Sindhu and Donald Trump. Other key searches were on the Olympic Games and Pokemon Go.

This makes perfect sense, because while brands may want to tell and sell, the content that gets my free minute is actually content that offers a pause button or helps me take a break from the sale.

Pokemon Go is an encouraging exception; it’s branded content, with a ‘curiosity-based’ hook.

Google’s numbers and trends actually tell us a lot about the imbalances in our lives. One significant instance is how, in the last decade, men have untucked their shirts. Billionaires are often seen in jeans today. Indeed, informality has become the new sign of privilege, with uniforms restricted to blue collar workers. Powerful men have balanced the rigour and personal discipline of their work lives with their disregard for formal clothing.

And we are all in the balance game. Where we give our free minute has much to do with where we seek balance. Though we may be rushing headlong into some form of activity or the other, we’re actually all searching for the pause button.

We may be addicted to speed, but it’s slowness we really crave. Our work and habits scream ‘Now!’ — but what we really yearn for is ‘Later’.

So, what does this ‘counter-balancing’ paradigm mean for what kind of content will work in 2017? Is it possible to plan ‘content’ that has people hooked?

I asked Aishwarya Rajinikanth Dhanush about her ‘Kolaveri D days’. Many free minutes, dedicated to a languid tune, made Kolaveri D one of the biggest runaway YouTube successes of 2012. WhatsApp forwards had a huge role to play in making it so.

She candidly said, You can’t plan the real runaway successes.

Perhaps this is true. But you can certainly do these things:

1             Don’t be obsessed with having your logo at the right-hand corner of your content every time. People switch off the minute they see the brand logo; nobody wants to be sold to in their ‘pause-time’.

2             Let the viewer guess something, feel involved, participate, and feel valued. Don’t over-explain.

3             Be insightful about what people can identify with. Your audience is often very much like you.

Here’s hoping there are more ‘Pokemon Go’s’ in next year’s top search interest list.

Yes, we have not seen a most forwarded WhatsApp list of 2016. But in 2017, I see that as serious competition to search interest in generating consumer ‘influence’.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)