When Australia-based creator couple Archana and Sudarshan Hebbar started Hebbar’s Kitchen with a simple WordPress blog around 2015, they didn’t know they would attain celeb status in a matter of few years. Today, Hebbar’s Kitchen is a thriving food channel spread across major social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram with over 11 million followers.
Over the years, they were approached by several small brands for collaboration and endorsements but it was a deal with Veeba Food in 2017 that set the business ball rolling for them.
“We were thrilled! We always saw ads on TV but never thought that one day we would be doing something similar with brands,” says Sudarshan Hebbar, an IT professional who moonlights as the channel’s videographer.
It, however, didn’t take long for them to realise what the deals were really all about. “We realised it wasn’t something for us to be emotional about. I figured out that to showcase a 15 to 30-second video on social media channels, brands had to shell out lakhs. I understood why brands were coming to publishers (like them) and we laid down some ground rules,” he adds.
While the ground rules have made them picky, their location makes the deals tricky. “We make sure to try a brand before posting about it,” says Archana. Once they find the brand and the product satisfactory, different recipe ideas featuring the product are shared with the brand for its approval. It isn’t easy for brands to send samples to them from India, they say. But that isn’t something they’re ready to compromise on.
“At the initial stages of the deal, brands say yes to everything but at the final day of the launch, they come up with last-minute changes,” says Sudarshan. But there have been times when he has put his foot down and stuck strictly to the initial agreement.
“Dealing with brands is not easy,” he states matter-of-factly. “They have a different mindset and we have a different one. Sometimes, the mindsets don’t gel and we just have to let it go,” he adds.
Sudarshan recollects a tie-up with a vegetable sanitiser brand.. “The brand wanted the video to look like an ad, but that’s not what we do. For us, our recipes are at the heart of our videos and we plug the brand products very subtly in between,” Sudarshan says.
While the pandemic hasn’t ended yet, Hebbar’s Kitchen’s deal with the vegetable sanitiser brand sure did. “It didn’t work out at the end of the day as there were major disagreements,” says Sudarshan.
Back home, Anupriya Kapur, a Gurugram-based blogger and fitness enthusiast, echoes one of the points that Archana made. The single mom, who creates content around fitness, lifestyle and travel for her over 2 lakh followers on Instagram, says that she doesn’t endorse anything that she doesn’t use.
For instance, body shapers are something that she a fitness enthusiast doesn’t believe in. “I am a believer in activities and in movements. So, such conflicts are always there,” she says.
Kapur says that if a product is being used at her home, she is okay being the face of it. "If my son eats something or I eat something, I don't mind endorsing that. But how can I endorse something that I don’t consume,” she adds.
While friends caution her about losing out on big deals because ‘everyone does it’, she knows what she wants and what she is doing. “Somewhere, you make a choice. And, that's my parameter,” she says.
Renowned dietician Swati Bathwal doesn’t take on brand deals at all. Close to 30 brands approach her every month through Instagram, LinkedIn and email for brand endorsements but she hasn’t said yes to any of them.
“I will not endorse any product until and unless I believe in it. As long as it’s natural and coming directly from the source, I’m happy. I’d rather promote a farmer than a multinational company and make the profits go to them,” she says.
Becoming a celebrity or creating a business model wasn’t on her mind when she began her journey on social media. “I just wanted people to know about what they were eating, whether it was right and how the freshness of the food they ate impacted their health,” she says.
“Instead of endorsing a specific brand that sells, say, olive oil and which also sells two of three other kinds of oils, I would rather tell people to buy a specific kind of product. For instance, if they’re looking to buy olive oil, I’d tell them that it has to be in a dark glass bottle, should be labelled correctly and should be cold-pressed,” she further adds.
She also gets into the moral and ethical dissonance with the same brand selling two diametrically opposite products. “A company that produces edible vegetable oil or refined oil that is going to cause them (consumers) heart attacks is also going to sell them oats? What’s the point? You promote heart attack and then you say how to recover from it,” Bathwal says.
“I say ‘no’ because then I’m liable to work according to them (the brands) and I’m not sure if they are the people I want to be working for because I know what is right,” she adds.
A dietician and public health expert with over 12 years of experience, Bathwal primarily speaks from a medical standpoint. She has been accredited by a number of international associations related to nutrition and that comes with its own set of responsibilities. She says she has to make sure that the product that she is actually supporting is genuine. “If I don’t know anything about the product, how can I recommend it to anybody?” she asks.
Promoting packaged products (fruit juice in this case) is one other thing that doesn’t sit well with Bathwal. “At home, fresh juices go bad quickly. How can it be fresh on the supermarket shelf? Is that going to be healthy for somebody who consumes it? How can I promote that product?” she asks.