Cyrus Oshidar is the man behind some of the most influential campaigns in India. He spent his childhood in London but his fascination always lied in India, the country he later came back to and found his true calling in. He can easily be credited for steering MTV into the mainstream in Indian youth culture. Although he later moved to other advertising gigs and launched his very own Bawa Broadcasting, but his thirst for something more substantial lead him to content marketing and there, he found 101India - Storytellers Of A New Generation, an online portal for relevant and inspiring content focused mainly on the youth of the country.
We were lucky enough to catch Cyrus in his busy schedule to talk about 101India and its significance in the digital platform today and extract a few words of wisdom and inspiration from the guru himself. Here’s what we learned…
101India was started with the aim of creating a different genre of content for the Indian audience because there is so much more to this country than it is given credit for.
He says, “There are different kinds of crazy people doing different kinds of crazy things.” Most of their stories are left unspoken because of the lack of space offered on television and therefore find better coverage on the online platform.
His choice of media being video is rather unconventional given that most online content creators are broke and therefore unable to afford the production costs; but the ball is in his court because unlike indie artists, he has been behind the silver screen and knows his way around video as a medium. This may probably give 101 the creative edge the audiences wouldn’t expect from online content.
His first task, he reveals to us, is to build 101 as a brand and make it iconic. He wishes for people to remember it, share it and talk about the stories that are on the platform. Even though most of these stories are not purely for entertainment purposes, he hopes that somewhere along the way, the stories on 101 would cause a change in the thought process of the youth and allow them to explore aspects of life that are not usually talked about enough.
The website not only focuses on stories of the youth but also plays a big role in digging out stories from rural regions, from the streets and the slums, from the LGBTQ community and from everyone who doesn’t get the kind of representation that they deserve in mainstream media. In his opinion, it is only by awareness that a change can be brought about.
When we prodded him on his shift from advertising and broadcasting to content marketing, he was quick to mention their technical approach to the industry. 101India’s revenue model is based on providing creative content solutions to their clients by either getting clients to sponsor the content itself or giving the company an advertising space.
Usually, it is the latter that clients prefer because content marketing itself is a very fresh concept in the Indian context and may seem like a risk to most – but this does not stop them from looking into the future of content marketing.
Simply said, his take on content marketing and creation itself in India is that it is being done wrong. People aren’t able to experiment enough because,
Clients are not ready to sponsor non-entertainment content and even the ones that do, want their brand in the middle of it – which kills its purpose.
So how does he convince them? “We try once, we try twice after that we just give up and say ‘okay, maybe the gene pool will improve in the next generation.'”
So what motivates someone to continue creating content? It can’t possibly just be about profits because breaking even in a business like this in a very specific market is harder than it seems – it’s more about the stories.
Cyrus admits that he prefers the content part of his job to the advertising bit of it. “India is a fascinating country,” he says, “and although we are going through some ‘shit times’ at the moment, there are lots of stories and interesting, crazy, fascinating things happening.
Finding these stories and finding people to go tell them is motivating; being responsible for it is motivating.
Motivating as it is, to manage a field such as the one he has chosen – content marketing is no easy task – needs a skill set that only very few possess. Does he think education has had a role in that, and his career in the branding industry? Cyrus reassured us, “Whatever we ended up going to college for doesn’t make much of a difference. We just need to have an aim and find a way to succeed it.”
Education teaches you to think; the rest is up to you, you can learn anything as long as you use your mind.
The inspiration behind 101India happens to be the concept itself which allows him to perpetuate his inspiration. He finds the spirit of the youth and the digital medium’s versatility inspiring mainly because it is the two put together that will help connect the Indian population, that has become too comfortable living in tiny bubbles, with itself.
Today, it has become quite a trend to leave the country and settle abroad. So why did he choose to come back even though he had every opportunity to stay in London. He says, “I came back to make a difference and it is easier to do that in India especially through media. I found England to be a cold, lonely, push-button society, I just really heated the weather.” He found India to be much warmer and more embracing though he believes the same can’t be said any longer. “Home was richer, deeper and eventful,” he shares. According to him, it’s so “un-boring” that even walking down the street is an experience with so many constant changes in environment.
So what helps one come up with ideas and develop them in such an overwhelming environment like India’s? Cyrus paused for a few seconds and went on to say, “You have to like the world you live in, you have to have an inquisitive mind and you have to be able to combine things.” With a culture like India’s, the possibilities are endless because of the vast spectrum of art forms.
For example, Cyrus and team have worked on featuring a myriad of things that seem poles apart like: the blend of sufi-ethnic rock and hip-hop in the story ‘Like A Sufi‘; the #HipHopHomeland tag which explores desi rappers; the country home to ‘fire pan‘; a bunch of interesting travelers sharing their unique experiences; weird conspiracy theories and even more obscure watering holes — all under one international code but presented beautifully on one platform.
So what happens when you actually create content? How do you stop it from getting lost in the crowd and ensure that your content makes the impact that you think it should?
Well, according to Cyrus:
Content is like anything else, some of it lives on, some of it doesn’t; some of it is event based; some things you can come back to, like an old movie; some stories are eternal. So you have to see what is relevant to your audience and what interests them.
He thinks that sometimes, you may think something doesn’t interest them but it interests you and so you “go ahead and do it anyway because you fucking should.”
Ultimately, it’s all about figuring out your audience. He says, “It’s the platform you’re on. Different parts of social media itself offer a different audience.” Variations always exist in media and identifying these variations and delivering relevant content to the audience of each is vital.
“Facebook is more diverse and all about the masses, Instagram is all about short term bursts of attention, an easy portal for advertising.” He says, “YouTube is all about entertainment and Snapchat caters to… teenage girls?” Either way, he thinks it is important for one to find a unique space and pick up on what keeps people coming back but at the same time making sure that it doesn’t go too far out leaving it unexplored.
Because at the end of the day, content today is just a commodity and could mean a billion things from memes to music and only a few people who can either put it together or curate it well can pick up while it gets even harder for someone who creates the content itself to pick up an audience. He says,
But if you add newness to what you do, present it in an interesting way, that will always make a difference.
He was also very straight forward about the Indian market and how it is important to know early on if things are taking the right direction or not because wasted time is, well, wasted. The market is very cluttered at the moment and, in his opinion, it can only get more cluttered because social media has made it possible for literally anyone to broadcast anything.
He’s forthcoming in saying that success is not a measure of talent in India. “Popstars and Bollywood actors are shit actors, but they are nonetheless stars. And with the understanding of the youth, it is safe to say that the youth likes horrible television shows and horrible people who are on these shows, which is all tragic, but they do.” And in all honesty, shifting this focus is quite a challenge because clients like being comfortable and India is still driven by television whether we like it or not.
He thinks that the challenge content marketers face today is,
Finding people, the good people, the right people, people who understand and who want to do the same kind of content.
Clients enjoy investing in the mainstream channels because it is safe. But is it really rewarding is the real question he asks. Though he does think digital media is catching up and that a few years is all it will take for the content market in India to flourish and create a surge of investors ready to fuel the fire of some original indie content creators.
As we bid farewell, we asked him about his plans for the future and he was happy to open up about the fact that they will be more material – though some of it may be branded from now on – because we do live in a place where concepts like 101 are still quite new. “The content itself will not shift too much from the serious stuff,” he shares, “because that is what I truly enjoy.”
If you’re the kind of person who believes that ideas worth sharing should be shared or if you’re looking for a new muse or incentive to go out there and try something new, or even if you’re just a person who’s looking for something intriguing to swallow at your lunch break, head over to 101India and find the next big thing.