Shashank Mehta on Removing Instagram from the Whole Truth Marketing Mix

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Shashank Mehta, Founder and CEO of The Whole Truth, talks about the risks of removing Instagram from the marketing mix.

FFormer Unilever marketing director Shashank Mehta founded The Whole Truth in 2019 to provide healthier alternatives to packaged foods. Mehta has also changed the way food products are marketed and advertised. Keeping content at the heart of The Whole Truth’s marketing strategy, Mehta appears in all of the brand’s advertisements. He tells Storyboard18 that no one else can speak to his brand’s mission with more conviction than he does.

Recently, The Whole Truth tapped comedian Rohan Joshi to create a series of videos. In the “educational miniseries”, Joshi stars as “Healthy Food” and Mehta plays “The Whole Truth”, and they then have a conversation that highlights the “hidden chemicals” in packaged foods. In another episode, we see the many ways food is made irresistible in commercials. For example, the milk in the cereal bowl is actually glue, and the golden honey drizzled over pancakes in the ads and product photos is motor oil.

In a previous interview, Mehta told Storyboard18 that when he creates and also features in his brand’s content, he believes “consumers can feel the honesty.” They see through paid ads like influencers or celebrity-laden ads, which are often forced, Mehta believes.

True to the brand’s ethos of always telling the truth and nothing but the truth, Mehta took to social media this week to announce that the brand would be taking a break from Instagram.

Mehta and his team weren’t thrilled with the content they were posting. Dancing to trending music and pointing to the corners of the screen with cluttered text boxes didn’t feel right. “Everyone could feel the energy shift,” Mehta says candidly.

In a freewheeling conversation with Storyboard18, Mehta explains why her brand decided to take a break from Instagram; the risks associated with this move, lessons from Unilever; featured in own-brand ads and more.

Edited excerpts.

Q. At a time when every brand wants to be at the top of their Instagram game, The Whole Truth has decided to go offline and take a break. What led to this decision?

The purpose of our content, across all platforms, is deeply focused on educating consumers about diet and fitness. These two subjects are complex. Honestly, listicles or one-liners don’t work for a brand like ours. We bring nuance to the content we write by adding expert opinion and insights from research. We almost consider the packaging of our copies as journalistic pieces that will answer the questions that consumers are constantly looking for. This approach has worked for us and we want to continue to do so.

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Two and a half years ago, when we came to Instagram, it worked well for us. Contrary to popular belief, the lengthy captions we wrote that sometimes continued in the comments section were very successful. It reached users, they enjoyed interacting and it also helped us grow our subscriber base.

Soon, Instagram started changing its algorithm. This indicated that it was time to move on from photos and on to stories. When that was catching up, IGTV got a big push, when brands like ours were exploring, reels were going, and now it’s all about that.

Q. So what is the problem?

This led to two problems. With algorithms changing every few months, it was becoming difficult for my skinny team to do justice to the intent of our content. It took us away from why we were doing what we were doing.

Second, the age-old trends in algorithm change are for content to move from long-form to short-form; from deep to shallow; and attracting a higher attention span to a lower attention span. It’s not well suited to what we want to do. It was hard to introspect that when we were in the middle of the game.

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There was an unspoken pressure to produce a reel and release every day. We realized that if we were going to get it right, we had to take a step back, take a break and disconnect for a bit. We were beginning to understand that the medium is the main thing rather than the message. I think if we continue to create the content that we have created, we will soon find the right medium.

Q. Have you considered the risk associated with this move?

I agree there is a risk. However, when we sat down to reevaluate things for ourselves, we realized that consumers loved our explainer format content pieces. They see value in it. If we had tried to fit our content even more into shorter formats, our users would have noticed, and it would have affected our growth on Instagram. These changes are visible slowly.

I think we’ll have enough time to explore formats like blogs and newsletters, and even create a content hub on our website, where people will find us. Once you chase follower count and engagement, you can end up being a completely different brand. This pull will lead to the discovery of a brand that may not be the real you.

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Q. Now that Instagram is no longer part of your media mix, how are you redefining your marketing strategy?

We don’t have an answer to that yet. It’s an introspective journey for us right now. The one thing we’re clear on is that we’re done changing what we do to find favor with any platform. We will continue to make in-depth content and at the same time look for media that suits us well.

Q. From a product perspective, what is The Whole Truth’s focus?

Food brands have been selling half-truths for ages. We are here to change that. We plan to take one food category after another and apply three filters to it. Think of it like a Venn diagram. First, are the current incumbents selling half-truths and bad products to consumers? This is how we preselect a category. Second, can we create a product that is consistent with our brand philosophy? From getting the texture to binding to the ingredients, everything is key to suit us. Theoretically, we could create a product on paper, but in practice, it’s a whole different game. Three is taste. The moment these factors intersect, we hit launch. Honestly, every food category in the world is a playground for us. Every six to seven months, you see us come up with something new. However, R&D on these launches takes us almost a year. This is how we work on several categories. From cookies, savory dishes and protein powders to baby foods, there are many options available to us.

Q. As someone who has worked with an FMCG giant like Unilever in the past, what lessons from that experience are you using to build your brand?

Unilever is known as a factory of leadership. There are good reasons for this. Now, as an entrepreneur, I use a lot of things that I picked from there. The most important thing is that companies are first and foremost people. Everything takes care of itself if you get the right people and build the right culture. I can say with confidence that my teams don’t see this as work, they take ownership of what they do.

Q. We’ve seen you perform in brand advertising. You also played in the recent RazorpayX campaign. Ultrahuman also introduced you. What do you like the most when you are on screen? In addition, are new player offerings being developed?

(Laughs) I don’t get any offers. The RazorpayX ad looked more like a dramatic version of a testimonial. We use the product and really like it too. Ultrahuman is also a product I use, so it was easy to do a testimonial. Coming to see me in The Whole Truth commercials, to be honest, always makes me nervous, and it takes a lot of effort. I’m not a flamboyant CEO who likes to be in front of the camera.

That said, I don’t think anyone else can speak to my brand mission with more conviction than me. As the founder of the brand, if I put myself forward, it’s because I’m responsible for what I promise. No celebrity can do that for the brand. We are a well-funded startup and can easily go for a celebrity face like many others, but in my opinion, no one can do it more authentically than me.

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