Creators’ and marketers’ temple run 🚩
‘Spiritual’ (read: religious) content was once a niche studiously avoided by brands and creators with clout. Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir has mainstreamed it.
Welcome to The Impression, your weekly primer on the business of media, entertainment, and content.
If someone shared this newsletter with you or if you’ve found the online version, hit the button below to subscribe now—it’s free! You can unsubscribe anytime.
Ask a brand marketer or creator how they plan their social media posts for the year, and they’ll inevitably fish out a calendar with major festivals and made-up social media ‘days’. But despite these tools and a steady stream of news, everyone in the business faces ‘lean periods’ when content is hard to come by.
So what better than getting served a brand new mega-event on a platter, charged by the irresistible combination of politics and religious fervour, and promoted heavily by the government no less? Any piece of content or marketing even tangentially related to the Ram Mandir is guaranteed to grab attention.
For Indian creators, the Ram Mandir pran pratishtha (consecration ceremony) is probably the single biggest marketing moment in recent memory. As Prime Minister Modi said in his January 22 speech, we are in a new kaal chakra or new age. Earlier, religion would be gently included in festive marketing campaigns and YouTube channels of religious leaders. Now, the assertion of Hinduism as a genre has gone mainstream. And brands and social media personalities are unambiguously wedging themselves between the history of a revered god and a controversial temple.
Hitching a Ride on the Hindu Rashtra Bandwagon
Janhvi Singh, 19, first started a YouTube channel on Indian classical dance around 2016-17, back when ‘content creator’ wasn’t much of a term in India. She shut it down a year later and let go of her YouTuber ambitions until the pandemic and lockdown confined her at home as she finished up her Class 12 studies. “My mother has started to read the Shrimad Bhagwat Gita and she influenced me,” Singh tells The Impression, adding that she considered herself to be an atheist until her mother’s influence shifted her beliefs. “It was a seamless change.”
Singh posts an Instagram Reel and YouTube Short nearly every day and a longer video up to thrice a week on various subjects related to Hindu scriptures, beliefs, and mythology. Her best-known work is an ongoing series of a shloka-by-shloka (verse) breakdown of the Bhagwat Gita. But since December, she has been planning, scripting, and shooting a series of videos on Ayodhya’s newest Ram Mandir, an eight-part series that began on January 15.
Singh is a “spiritual creator”, so she will expectedly make videos celebrating the Ram Mandir. But all sorts of brands and creators are in a mad rush to lock in on a Ram Mandir angle. Brands are rolling out Ram Mandir-special discounts, selling land and hotel rooms near the temple, even installing pathways with 5-ft high incense sticks and dressing up their staff as Ram, Sita, and Laxman.
This week, among the press releases the media received was one from wedding planning firm DreamzKrraft, which replicated the Ram Mandir at a Mumbai wedding, another from the Phoenix Marketcity mall that installed a 25-ft statue of Lord Hanuman on its property, one from dairy firm Pride of Cows, which sent ghee for the Ram Mandir consecration ceremony, and one more from pump manufacturer Kirloskar Brothers, which offered 100 water pumps to the temple. Even Zee Entertainment’s beleaguered CEO Punit Goenka invoked Lord Ram and the occasion to assuage investors angry about the company’s failed merger with Sony.
That’s not all. An army of content creators from all kinds of niches have latched on to the Ram Mandir this week. Fashion influencer Uorfi Javed, who often gets hate for her Muslim identity and revealing attire, posted a video of herself at a havan congratulating “all those celebrating”. Puneet Superstar aka Prakash Kumar, best known for his strange, absurdist videos, also uploaded a video with IndiGo Airlines staff holding placards that read ‘Jai Shri Ram’. YouTuber ‘Thara Bhai Joginder’ issued threats against fellow Muslim internet personality Munawar Faruqui while invoking ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in the captions. He urged fellow Hindus to vote against Faruqui in the reality TV show Bigg Boss 17, where he is a finalist.
Meanwhile, India’s top YouTubers, including Raj Shamani and Abhi & Niyu, released long videos explaining lessons from the Ramayana, why the Ram Mandir is needed, and how it was demolished by the Mughals in 1528. Although these creators offer their audience videos on finance, career, and general knowledge, they largely repeated Ram Mandir history as told by the Sangh Parivar. For instance, their discussions do not include the fact that the Supreme Court in its 2019 verdict (pdf) ruled there was no evidence to show a temple was ever destroyed to construct a mosque at the site, and that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 was against the law. Even YouTube channels dedicated to study material for the Indian civil service examinations ran videos repeating an uncritical version of events.
Is it even possible to talk about Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir without making it ‘political’? Janhvi Singh believes so.
“I don’t put my political views on social media easily because there is a lot of judgement,” Singh told The Impression. “I don’t bring in a political angle in my videos. It is easier to put in a historical or spiritual angle.”
How do you do that with a temple whose history is intertwined with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the 1992 Bombay riots, the 1993 Bombay blasts, and the role of BJP leaders in popularising the Ram Janmabhoomi movement through the 1990s?
Singh has a simple method. “I wrote the scripts of my videos carefully. I decided not to mention the names of any political party or leader from that time because it will create controversy. My main point is to give you knowledge and the history of the struggle for the mandir”. Instead, Singh focuses her videos on subjects such as the architect of the temple, the people who made the statue, and the sacrifice of the karsevaks or volunteers for the Ram Mandir who collected donations and mobilised people for the cause of building the temple, and some of whom were involved in tearing down the Babri Masjid.
Singh’s decision makes sense because brands like to steer clear of politically sensitive content and creators. “I do get brands that want to associate with my content on yoga, health, and meditation,” Singh says. “I also got a brand deal on a video talking about the new mandir being constructed in Vrindavan, which will be the tallest in the world.”
But now, brands are comfortable associating themselves with what was once a difficult piece of history, even as Hindu-Muslim violence has been reported from several parts of the country this week. The presence of a truckload of Bollywood and cricket celebrities who together endorse hundreds of mainstream brands in India will further cement this relationship. Already, national newspapers have carried full page ads for property in Ayodhya featuring Bollywood veteran Amitabh Bachchan.
And so, a somewhat controversial and niche marketing tactic is now mainstream. “When I started, I didn’t think I would get any hate,” Janhvi Singh says. “I thought, why would anyone give hate to a spiritual creator? But religion is a very sensitive subject and people have all kinds of beliefs… normal brands are a little scared to tie up with spiritual creators. But now there is some change coming.”
Last Scroll Down📲
Scan the big media headlines from the week gone by
Netflix is ready to rumble: In arguably its first big step towards a TV-like future, Netflix has signed a $5 billion, 10-year deal to livestream WWE Raw events from January next year. It also saw a jump in revenue and grew to a record 260.8 million paid subscribers, blowing past market expectations.
Things fall apart: Now that its merger with Sony is officially off, Zee is rushing to contain the fallout. First order of business: conserve cash. Zee has promised to sue while Sony is demanding $90 million in termination fees. Now, Zee has reportedly refused to honour its $1.5 billion deal with Disney for broadcasting a set of ICC cricket matches. Zee says the deal was valid only if the merger with Sony was completed. Reliance may get a last-minute discount on its Disney acquisition.
Zee’s owner Subhash Chandra wrote a letter to India’s Finance Minister, alleging the markets regulator Sebi was deliberately scuttling the merger, Mint reported. CNBC-TV18 reported that Sebi has found evidence that the Goenkas may have siphoned off ₹800-1000 crore (~$96-120 million), up from ₹200 crore (~$24 million) reported earlier.
Layoffs lumber on: The business of news is looking more precarious than ever. This week, the L.A. Times fired 115 people in a Zoom webinar. Last week, legacy magazine Sports Illustrated announced it would probably lay off everybody who works at the magazine. Bloomberg’s Matt Levine broke down the weird merger between Arena Group, publisher of the magazine, and energy drink maker Simplify Inventions LLC that led to the demise of the title altogether. Meanwhile, The New York Times pointed out that the news industry’s white-knight billionaires were also unable to make money
Awards acrimony: This year’s nominees for the Academy Awards are out; predictably, Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer are leading the list along with Poor Things. But while 2023’s blockbuster Barbie received several nominations, director Greta Gerwig and lead actress Margot Robbie weren’t picked for their respective categories. Co-star Ryan Gosling, who was nominated for best actor in a supporting role, wrote a note expressing disappointment at the snub.
Dissecting this week’s viral ‘thing’
In a week so thoroughly dominated by celebrations for the Ayodhya Ram Mandir, you can always count on Bollywood gossip for some comic relief. This video from paparazzi photographer Viral Bhayani hit over five million views on Instagram all because it features two actor couples—Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt along with Vicky Kaushal and Katrina Kaif—getting a ride together in the Ram Mandir complex on the same electric golf cart. The hook in the video is predictably childish: Kapoor and Kaif dated and lived together for years before breaking up.
Sure enough, the video was soon dissected on the subreddit BollyBlindsNGossip, arguably the nerve centre of idle celebrity chatter in India. This week, the subreddit has been flooded with posts analysing the makeup, outfits, actions, and even love lives of the biggest celebrities in attendance. Politics and religion may be mixing to shape the country’s future, but the gossip continues, unabated.
That’s all this week. If you enjoyed reading The Impression, please share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. And please write to me anytime at email@example.com with thoughts, feedback, criticism or anything you’d like to see discussed in this space. I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading, and see you again next Wednesday!