Australian cricketer, South African actorand Japanese pop idol group Chu-Z have seen theiravatars climb the popularity charts after Indianising content during the.
Some, like Warner, have even snagged brand endorsement deals from PepsiCo on the basis of this newfound popularity.
Foreign celebs and content creators are using Indian song-and-dance-routines in their TikTok posts and, by making videos inspired by TikTok’s trending themes in India, some have even experienced a two-fold growth in followers over the last couple of months.
According to influencer marketing experts, this is a recent phenomenon.
With the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic curbing business opportunities, creators are viewing this as a strategy to build or grow theirin India.
In the first week of June, PepsiCo India roped in batsman Warner as one of its faces for Salaam/Namaste, its social media campaign to spread the message of “contactless greetings”.
“Over the last few months, we noticed that his videos received an average of 1 million views. We felt he was a seamless fit to take our message to people both in India and beyond,” a PepsiCo India spokesperson said in an email.
India is the biggest international market for the Chinese short-video-sharing platform. Social media management firm Hootsuite estimates India’s monthly active TikTok users at over 120 million, which is four times that of the United States.
One can argue that celebs like Warner don’t need to be famous. “But they have to stay relevant during this period so as not to lose out on their future commercial value,” says Gautam Madhavan, founder of influencer marketing platform Mad Influence.
Almost half the videos on Warner’s TikTok account – started in April – are Indianised.
His India-related content gets approximately thrice as many likes and views as his regular posts that have popular American tracks. A feature on Bytedance’s flagship app called ‘Original Sound’ makes it mandatory for TikTokers to have an accompanying soundtrack for all their videos.
In the last two months, the left-handed batsman has danced to old and new Bollywood chartbusters, latest Telugu hits like Butta Bomma, and even classic bhangra beats. Most of his videos also feature his wife and two daughters, which broadens his appeal to a larger audience than just cricket fans.
Before the lockdown, Warner’s daily schedule involved workouts, training and travel. “Lockdown gave him the time to engage with his family and involve them in a fun exercise of making TikTok videos,” adds Madhavan.
In March, three 20-something artistes — Moe, Mayu, and Kaede — from a Japanese pop idol group, Chu-Z (short for Chaos Underground Zealot), discovered Indian dancing.
They chanced upon a video of ‘Gola Gola’ – from the Telugu movie ‘Ashok’ – on YouTube.
Fascinated by the moves, they started posting Indian dance videos on their TikTok account Asianz Dancers, picking songs across Hindi, Telugu, Punjabi, Bhojpuri and Haryanvi.
But that wasn’t the only motivation for the idols.
“We heard that TikTok is growing at a fast rate in India and that people love to dance there. We thought Indian music would fit well with our dance videos,” they say in an email interaction with ET. The group members prefer not to be quoted individually.
They admit that understanding various Indian languages to be able to choreograph steps is tough. “But currently, our TikTok account followers’ growth is coming very rapidly from India so we can’t complain,” say the idols.
Their Indian content gets twice as many likes and views as their other dance videos.
Since the last couple of weeks, they’ve even started using Hindi hashtags (in the Devanagari script) for their TikTok video captions.
“Someday, we would like to perform in India, collaborating with Indian artistes,” they say.
The desire for international exposure is one of the biggest factors driving this trend.
Two months ago, Jean Myburgh, a 20-year-old actor from Pretoria, started an ongoing series titled “Indian TikTok’s be like” on his TikTok channel.
It presents his light-hearted take on some of Indian TikTok’s most popular tropes.
His purpose is to get noticed by the Indian TikTok community.
“A hit TikTok video in South Africa would not explode as much as it would in India,” he says.
Why not create videos on Chinese TikTok trends then, since China has over 500 million monthly active users, almost four times that of India? “Because India is more supportive of people who have the talent and are doing something with it,” he says.
Myburgh’s follower count has doubled to 123,000 and the number of likes has tripled to 3 million since he started the series, he says.
Every day, he gets hundreds of comments on these posts. He gets praise, he gets criticism, too. Some users think he’s trying to make fun of Indian TikTokers. “But that’s not my intention at all. I want to be loved by this nation,” he says.
Foreign content creators trying to appeal to Indian users also goes against the post-colonial narrative that propagated that Indians aped the western culture and always looked for validation from their neighbours to the west.
Now, an American TikToker is turning the tables around.
Under the moniker of Desi Cowboy, he posts videos with his rendition of several popular Hindi and Punjabi songs and movie dialogues. The creator did not respond to our multiple queries sent via Instagram messenger.
In just over a month of starting his TikTok account, he has managed to gain 1.2 million likes and 71,000 followers on the app. Most users commend his efforts in the comments section.
A recurring comment on most of these TikTokers’ India content is that “global TikTokers can’t do without TikTok India”.
While it may not be entirely true for the US that has a well-entrenched TikTok culture, “creators living in countries with a relatively smaller population, like Japan and South Africa, are doing a smart thing by Indianising their content,” says Madhavan of Mad Influence. “They know that India is one of the biggest markets for their career.”
However, the app has been facing a fair amount of backlash in India of late.
First, there was the criticism against its misogynistic content that led to a sudden drop in its Android ratings. By the time it recovered from that episode, the conversation of banning against all things Chinese picked up steam online.
It doesn’t deter the likes of Myburgh though. “I don’t think it’ll reach a point where it becomes a problem,” he says. All these creators continue to post Indian content on TikTok regularly.
Just a couple of days ago, Warner uploaded a video of him dancing to Akshay Kumar’s popular track ‘Bala’ along with his two daughters dressed in Indian attire.
‘The backlash is mainly from people who are against TikTok. Government of India has joined TikTok and that clearly shows there’s no restriction on the platform front,’ says an influencer marketing expert who wishes to remain anonymous.
MyGov India — a verified account on the app that claims to be the ‘citizen engagement platform of Government of India” — has 951,000 followers and close to 7 million likes.
Further, a recent Sensor Tower report notes that TikTok was the world’s most download
ed non-game app for May 2020, with more than 111.9 million installs.
India contributed to most of these installs at 20% as against America’s 9.3%, says the app analytics firm in its blogpost from 2nd June.
For Myburgh, this is promising news. He hopes it will help him get closer to his ultimate goal: “To trend on Indian TikTok one day.”
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The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the life and lifestyles of people across the globe.
In this new reality, communication technology offers solutions to overcome some of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic. With social distancing and working from home becoming the new reality, tech trends will have to update. Parag Naik, Co-Founder & CEO, Saankhya Labs tells us what trends in tech we can expect in a post-Covid world.