Varun Agarwal’s story is the stuff heros are made of. The guy is a young achiever of his own right by starting off a series of business ventures while still a student of engineering. He co-founded a company called ‘Alma Mater’ that prints customised sweatshirts and another film production company called ‘Last Minute films’. He has also authored the bestseller ‘How I braved Anu Aunty and co-founded a million dollar company’.
Today the entrepreneur is a much sought after motivational speaker for the youth. And also a much sought after youth influencer by brands. Probably, a little too much.
Earlier this year in March, Lenovo ran a promotional digital campaign for its Flex series of touchscreen laptops. It roped in quite a few successful people to share their stories that emphasized on ‘flex’. Lenovo invited viewers to ‘Check out Varun Agarwal flex between his passion and his million dollar company’ in the ‘Varun Agarwal’s Flexperience’ video:
After nearly six months, HP launched its #BendTheRules global campaign in India, mainly a promotion for its HP Pavilion x360, which easily converts from notebook, to stand, to tent, to tablet mode. The campaign was in association with UTV Media’s Bindass channel.
While it roped in Deepika Padukone as the face of the brand, it also roped in quite a few young achievers who have chosen to ‘bend the rules’. And Varun Agarwal is the perfect fit!
Three quick questions that strike one first:
- Was HP aware that Varun’s story was also a part of the Lenovo campaign?
- Did Lenovo have a contract with Varun?
- Can we point fingers at Varun?
One guy has only one story with multiple angles to it and both videos tried to bring out the best of Varun’s success story. However, the problem isn’t with the similarity in the videos, as most pointed out.
It is more about competing brands banking on the same influencer for their storytelling campaigns. That sure sends confusing signals to the end consumer.
We talked to all parties concerned but only Varun has chosen to speak. Not even sure why this is such a big deal, he says, it was only an imitative for ‘Bindass Bend the rules’ mini-show, wherein HP was a partner. Shared below is his official response:
I have done this as an initiative of a Bindass mini-show called Bindass Bend the rules, wherein Hp was a partner. So I don’t understand why should there be any controversy wherein Bindass wants to cover my story. Also when Bindass approached me with the concept of ‘Bend The Rules’ I loved it as I had the opportunity to inspire a chunk of young people who follow mainstream media and can watch my story on television. The idea always has been to reach out to people across age groups and ensure that my story is heard for them to get a cue on where to start from where they are truly ‘bending the rules’.
I am an entrepreneur and I do not endorse HP and don’t have any exclusivity contracts with them. Even with Lenovo I did the video for just that campaign and I don’t have any written contract with them. My story continues to be mine and so are my challenges, So even going forward I would love to reach out to people through different media vehicles. I consider it as my responsibility and will always do the same.
That does answer most of our queries, save for the one where we still don’t know whether HP did its homework before selecting achievers, even if it was a partner in the Bindass TV show.
This brings us to two big issues in the industry, where both digital media and television are being tapped aggressively when it comes to reaching out to the new-age consumer.
No Written Contract with the Influencer
Lenovo did not have a signed contract with Varun, which does not make him liable to endorse only Lenovo laptops. Though Varun has clarified that he is not endorsing HP, he is a face of their ‘Bend the rules’ campaign. And that the two campaigns have been launched the same year within a gap of six months, only adds up to the confusion, and thereby, the brand communication for both brands.
No Thorough Research on Influencers
The first rule for running an influencer-led campaign after finding the ‘right fit’ for your brand is to see whether the shortlisted influencer has promoted any of your competing brands earlier. Varun says it was Bindass that approached him, but HP should have also done its homework. After all, its ‘bend the rules’ campaign had a strong digital focus too. The Bindass mini-shows were also being shared as online videos.
The issue wouldn’t have surfaced at all had the above two points been taken care of. While influencer-led campaigns add a ‘people-oriented’ touch to your brand, they are also tricky to execute . Read “The Best Influencer Marketing Campaigns of 2014″. Do share your views in the comments.