Salman Muqtadir introduced his clothing brand GetGoosebumps (an urban street-style fashion enterprise) on social media in October 2018. At the time, he had approximately 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and a few million followers on Facebook and Instagram.
The YouTube star-turned-actor was known to his audience for many things, but being shy or hesitant was not one of them. Yet Salman – who would show his newer talent in 'Obhodro Prem' music video three months later (which consequently created an uproar within a group of his fan base for being 'indecent') – looked a little hesitant if not shy, as he introduced his clothing brand wearing a T-shirt with 'Dhet Kisu Bhallage Nah' written on it.
This was roughly two years before the current YouTube king Jimmy Donaldson launched MrBeast Burger (virtual restaurant) in 2020, which would see a meteoric rise, making more than $100 million in revenues in less than a year. At the time of the launch, Donaldson had approximately 50 million subscribers (116 million subscribers at present).
Back when Salman launched GetGoosebumps, it was the reign of PewDiePie who launched the unisex clothing and homeware brand, Tsuki Market, with his wife Marzia, in 2018.
In the introduction video, Salman had to clarify that he means business. Because, unlike PewDiePie, he had an audience that wasn't quite aware that it was normal for the 'ínfluencers' or stars they follow to sell them products and make money. Salman needed to normalise it.
Salman launched the brand in association with two friends who pushed and encouraged him. But he had little to no idea how to do business. Soon his interest became saturated and later completely dried up, and the business crumbled.
What followed was depression, which got the better of him for over a year. He stayed away from all sorts of work for a long time.
So in 2020, at the onset of the pandemic when he decided to relaunch his business, he thoroughly studied its pros and cons, and the overall market.
"I could sell merchandising products as long as I am popular. But when I become irrelevant, it will have no value. So I had to start my brand. And I separated GetGoosebumps and Salman Muqtadir," he told The Business Standard.
"Most people are selling products. But we only sell the demands and trends [sell products that are in high demand and trending] that haven't arrived in this market yet," Salman said.
"I think mine is the largest production line among the content creators in Bangladesh. I projected that I will have the capability of selling Tk60 lakh [worth of products] a month when GetGoosbumps becomes a full-fledged business," he said, adding, "As I said I have little business knowledge. I don't know much about product material sourcing, importing, LC etc. It took some time to learn this. When I have gained [solid] business knowledge, I will proceed as a full-fledged businessman with Goosebumps."
Salman said that GetGoosebumps netted around Tk13 lakh in revenues last winter, and "monthly sales are pretty good [given the fact] we don't boost our page, because we want to depend on organic sales for now."
Bangladesh, in recent years, has seen an increasing number of social media influencers or content creators in different categories.
According to HypeScout, a leading influencer marketing platform based in Dhaka, more than half a million Bangladeshis have over 10,000 followers on social media who have the potential to become influencers from which they can grow their business and diversify their income sources through brand endorsements or by participating in brand campaigns.
There is no exact estimation, but market insiders told The Business Standard that the current influencer market size in Bangladesh is thought to be approximately $140 million.
"International influencers market size is around $16 billion at present. It is projected to cross $140 billion in 2030, according to Statista," said Faym Bappi, founder and CEO of HypeScout.
"A recent report published in the Daily Star showed the current digital marketing size is about Tk2,000 crores. In our estimation, approximately 8% of big companies have an influencer promotion budget. That leaves the influencers market, in our estimation, at least $140 million," he added.
The dark horse of the advertising market
Faym said that HypeScout has around 27,000 influencers on-boarded and registered at present. They have already worked with more than 12,000 influencers.
The way it works is companies connect with and hire HypeScout to run ad campaigns, which in turn, hires influencers to be a part of the said campaigns.
On average per month, HypeScout runs 100+ campaigns on their website. And, on average, each campaign involves around four influencers, meaning the influencer marketing platform engages with around 400 influencers a month.
Comedian Rakin Absar is one of the top content creators and social media influencers who has mastered weaving in brand endorsement within the content he creates. It is done so well that the ad becomes an intricate part of his skit.
He started creating content in 2011. But after several pauses, he finally returned as Mr Absar in 2020.
"I think I have worked with more than 50 brands ever since," Absar told The Business Standard, adding, "The brands used to ask for a script at the beginning. But I don't like scripts. In the scripted sketches [skits], there's a hassle in placing the brand in the story. If I don't script it, the brands become part of the story.
I often make fun of the brands and the brands too make fun of me. I make videos based on a concept and improvise on camera to make them funny. The brands gradually understood my style."
Absar used to charge a handsome amount for brand affiliation back in the day. But this time, when he resumed creating content, at full throttle, he decided to take the road less travelled. He chose not to use his established reputation to charge fees, instead, he would charge fees as a 'newcomer' influencer would, to build his brand up from scratch.
"This time I asked only Tk10,000 for my first gig. My asking rate was so low that the brand manager increased it to Tk15,000 on his own," Absar chuckled, adding, "But now I have a team and a studio, I have to pay them. So with my growth, my remuneration will also increase, right?"
The rise of Absar since the Covid period happened hand in hand with the rise of the influencer market in Bangladesh, which aligns with HypeScout founder Faym's comment.
"We started our business in 2020. And then in 2021-22, we have witnessed over 30% growth," he said.
"And why wouldn't a brand choose the influencer market? If you would like to make the content yourself, suppose you want to launch a campaign with 50 influencers, you would have to hire 50 influencers and then [comes] the camera and other costs. Whereas, here you are getting the ready[made] content for the same expense, besides, they are promoting it for you," he added.
We reached out to Ikram Mayeen, Managing Director of ForethoughtPR on how he sees this shift in advertising leaning towards the influencers, and if it could hurt the traditional media like television or newspapers.
"There is a shift but unfortunately we don't have industry data. But it is not a major shift as of yet. With time it may become pronounced if social influencers' content is rich and innovative," he said.
Ikram Mayeen said that influencers' share in the advertising sector is not yet at the stage of hurting television or newspaper revenues.
"Traditional media is here to stay but just like any other industry they need to adapt to change and bring about new technologies and present themselves differently in terms of content and presentation," he added.
The nascent brand builders
Zain Ahmed is the founder of DEFCLO, a platform that assists influencers and designers to create their brands in three ways: a 50-50 partnership with the brand owners, providing services for a certain fee, or in the format of an e-commerce platform marketing the products.
In partnership with several influencers including Bushra Siddique, Ridy Sheikh and Sunehra Tasnim, DEFCLO helped set up fresh brands such as Bsidd Loves, Gemini, Ehra etc owned by these influencers.
Zain also launched his platform in 2020.
"The [influencer] market was already there, but the realisation started from 2020," Zain told The Business Standard. "The content they make to engage the audience is a huge skill. As they are working with so many clothing brands in the country, they are always promoting other people's businesses. So I thought it was high time we worked with some influencers and helped them start their clothing brands."
"It is not extremely difficult [for regular brands] to get 1,000 followers on Facebook. But an influencer can get that [number of followers for his/her brands] in one day. As a brand, it can take you a week or month," Zain said.
"However, it doesn't make them successful automatically. You can create a brand, but it doesn't guarantee this will really be successful," he added.
Popularity does not always translate to money
A market insider, requesting anonymity, said that the advantage of instant followers that the influencer brand owners acquire also has its limitations.
"The influencers' brands, after the initial hype, slow down a bit. Whereas, a regular business, after a slow start, picks up eventually. At a point, both [business and influencer] align at a similar stage," he said.
With a huge follower base from the start, influencers have an advantage at reaping benefits for a business. But to reap, one has to put in the hard work.
"Perhaps they [influencers] all had an unbelievable start. But it is all about putting in the work later. Some lacked that. It is about sticking to it. They need to keep innovating, understanding the market and keep working on the content. Some don't understand or continue [their efforts]. You have to understand business," he added.
Salman Muqtadir, on the other hand, sees a lack of desperation for knowledge among contemporary social media influencers.
"The good part of [influencer market] is that many young people are becoming responsible and independent by freelancing. But the bad part that I noticed is the identity crisis. Whenever they are earning something they feel that they have grown into something. Once you think you are already someone, you don't have the [push to] thrive to grow bigger," he said.
"They don't invest the money anywhere. In my case, I work less, but I earn five to six times more than others. How? Suppose I earn Tk2 lakh a month, I invest the entire money in my business. So the money returns with some profits," Salman said, adding "We are earning money, but we don't know how to make [more] money with money. Why? Because we don't have that desperation for gathering knowledge."