Former Unilever marketing executive Shashank Mehta founded The Whole Truth in 2019 to offer healthier alternatives to packaged foods. Mehta has been changing the way food products are marketed and advertised too. Keeping content at the core of The Whole Truth’s marketing strategy, Mehta appears in all of the brand's commercials. He tells Storyboard18 that no one else can speak about his brand mission with more conviction than him.
Recently, The Whole Truth roped in comedian Rohan Joshi to create a series of videos. In the “educational mini-series”, Joshi plays the role of ‘Healthy Food’ and Mehta plays ‘The Whole Truth’, and they go on to have a conversation that highlights the “hidden chemicals” in packaged foods. In another episode, we see the many ways food is made to look irresistible in ads. For instance, the milk in the cereal bowl is actually glue and the golden honey drizzled on pancakes in ads and in product photos is engine oil.
In a previous interview Mehta had told Storyboard18 that when he creates and features in content for his brand, he thinks “consumers can feel the honesty.” They see through paid endorsements like influencer or celebrity-laden ads, which are often forced, Mehta believes.
Keeping with the brand's philosophy of always speaking the truth and nothing but the truth, Mehta took to social media this week to announce that the brand will be taking a break from Instagram.
Mehta and his team weren’t thrilled with the content they were putting out. Dancing to trending music and pointing to corners of the screen with cluttered text boxes didn’t seem right. “Everyone could feel the shift in the energy,” says Mehta candidly.
In a freewheeling chat with Storyboard18, Mehta opens about why his brand decided to go on an Instagram break; the risks involved in this move, lessons from Unilever; featuring in his own brand's commercials and more.
At a time when every brand wants to be on the top of their Instagram game, The Whole Truth decided to log off and take a break. What led to this decision?
The purpose of our content, across platforms, is deeply focused on educating consumers about food and fitness. Both these topics are complex. Honestly, listicles or one-liners don’t work for a brand like ours. We bring in nuances in the content we write by adding expert opinions and research-led information. We almost look at packaging our copies like journalistic pieces that will answer questions that consumers are constantly looking for. This approach worked for us and we want to continue to do so.
Two and half years ago, when we got on to Instagram it worked for us well. Contrary to popular belief the long captions we wrote that sometimes also continued into the comment section got a lot of traction. It reached users, they liked interacting, and it helped us grow our follower base too.
Soon Instagram started changing its algorithm. It indicated that it’s time to move on from photos and get on to Stories. When that was catching up IGTV was pushed heavily, when brands like ours were exploring, Reels were launched, and now it’s all about it.
So what's the issue?
This was leading to two problems. One with algorithms changing every few months, it was becoming different for my team, which is a lean one, to do justice to the purpose of our content. It was taking us away from why we do what we do.
the secular trends in the algorithm shift are that content is moving from long-form to short-form; from deep to shallow; and from attracting higher attention span to lower attention span.
This is not well suited to what we aim to do. It was difficult to introspect this when we were in the middle of the game.
There was an unsaid pressure of producing a Reel and post every day. We realised if we have to get this right we need to step back, take a break, and disconnect for a bit. We were starting to get confused that the medium is the primary thing rather than the message. I think if we continue to craft the content we have been doing, we will find the right medium for it soon.
Have you factored in the risk involved with this move?
I agree that there is a risk. However, when we sat down to reevaluate things for us, we realised consumers love our explainer format content pieces. They see value in it. If we would have tried fitting our content in shorter formats even further, our users would have noticed, and that would have affected our growth on Instagram. These changes are visible slowly.
I think we will have enough time to explore formats like blogs, newsletters and even create a content hub on our website, where people will find us. Once you chase follower count and engagement you may end up being a brand that’s completely different. That traction will lead to the discovery of a brand that may be not the real you.
Now that Instagram is out of your media mix, how are you re-defining your marketing strategy?
We don’t have an answer to this yet. It’s an introspective journey for us at the moment. The one thing we are clear about is that we are done with changing what we do to find favour with any platform. We will continue to do in-depth content pieces and alongside look for mediums that fit well for us.
From a product point of view, what’s the focus area for The Whole Truth?
Food brands have been selling half-truths for ages. We are here to change that up. We plan to take one food category after the other and apply three filters to it. Think of it like a venn diagram. One, are the current incumbents selling half-truths and bad products to the consumers? That’s how we shortlist a category. Two, can we create a product that’s in line with our brand philosophy? From getting texture, to binding to ingredients, everything is critical to get right for us. Theoretically, we could create a product on paper but practically it’s a different game altogether. Three, is the taste. The moment these factors intersect, we hit launch. Honestly, all food categories in the world are a playground for us. Every six to seven months you are seeing us come up with something new. However, the R&D on these launches take us close to a year, that’s we work on multiple categories. From cookies, savoury items, protein powders to kids’ food, there are several options in front of us.
As someone who has worked with an FMCG giant like Unilever in the past, what are the lessons from that experience you are using to build your own brand?
Unilever is known as a leadership factory. There are good reasons for that. Now, as an entrepreneur, I am putting to use many things that I picked from there. The biggest is - businesses are all about 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 look at this as a job, they take ownership of what they do.
We have seen you act in the brand’s commercial. You also acted in RazorpayX’s recent campaign. Ultrahuman also featured you. What do you enjoy the most while being on-screen? Also, are any new acting offers in the pipeline?
(Laughs) I am not getting any offers. The RazorpayX ad was more like a dramatic version of a testimonial. We have been using the product and genuinely like it too. Ultrahuman is also a product that I use, so it was easy to do a testimonial. Coming to me being a part of The Whole Truth’s commercials, to be honest, it always makes me nervous and it takes a lot of effort. I am not a flamboyant CEO who loves being on camera.
Having said that, I think one else can speak about my brand mission with more conviction than I can.
As a founder of the brand, if I am putting myself out there, it’s an indication that I am responsible for what I am promising. No celebrity can do that for the brand. We are a decently funded startup and can easily go and get a celebrity face like many others, but in my opinion, no one can do it authentically than me.