BJP and Congress: who’s got better slogan?

In an old paper, Kohli, Leuthesser and Suri (Busiess Horizon) suggest that brand identity is represented through troika of three elements: brand name, symbol and slogan. Name and slogan are verbal and symbol is visual. These take verbal and visual route to information processing. Slogans communicate brand’s ideology in verbal shorthand-its vision, promise and philosophical core. Symbols facilitate recognition slogans through recall can effectively communicate brand’s meaning and how it is different.

Brands need to communicate what they stand for and how are they different. The base to brand building is brand awareness on which brand image or knowledge is build. Most people are able to recall both BJP and Congress names and can also recognize their respective symbols. It is the slogan that assumes importance in every election. Ideally it should communicate brand’s core proposition which should resonate with inner voices of voters and establish its difference. Catchy and memorable slogans may create recall but the question arises do they do beyond? Do they get elaborated into personally relevant meaning? Consider the following slogans of BMW:

  • The ultimate driving machine
  • The joy of driving

The driving machine is about the product but the ‘joy’ is personally desirable outcome.

Now consider the slogans of two parties in 2019 elections:

  • Abki bar phir Modi sarkar (BJP)
  • Ab Hoga NYAY’ (Congress)

The first slogan is based on assumptions that people know what Modi sarkar means but does not go on to connect with voters’ craving. It hangs in air and assumes people would be able to elaborate it into its extended meaning and find something worthwhile to develop favorable disposition. The Congress’s slogan (only slogan) is better for it focuses on a timeline and the word ‘Nyay’ offers hope at the literal level (translated into justice of different kinds including social, religious and economic) and for those who are informed the word expands into Nyay scheme.

What is the better way for BJP to connect with potential voters? Make the slogan rhyme with its core agenda or achievements. Consider something like:

  • Akankwaad per atoot prahar . Abki bar phir Modi sarkar
  • Paanch saal bina kisi bhrastachar, Abki bar phir Modi sarkar

Some slogans can have promises embedded in them. Don’t you think it is better way to connect with the voters?

Millennials , Brands, Politics and What’s Your Stand?

Indian demography is tilted in favor of young.  About 65 per cent of Indian population is estimated to be below 35 years. It is a huge number for brands including in the political arena. The question is what should brands targeting this group stand for?

Today’s Mint last page reports a story about HUL’s new campaign for Surf Excel ‘Rang Laaye Sang’. The ad shows bonding between two innocent children, a boy and a girl. The message conveyed is that colors can bring people together (read reduce strife and conflict).  There is nothing wrong with the message and nobody can have problem with it.  Harmony is what we want. It is a great virtue for a society.

Theoretically can there be someone who doesn’t want harmony between people? Answer is no. The answer changes to ‘yes’ if you thrive on conflict and discord. This ad has been trolled on social media by groups urging people to boycott HUL and Surf Excel (# Boycott…).  Now the question is why? It is because the ad features a Hindu girl and Muslim boy.

Now the question is which of the stands is likely to resonate with Millennials? The new generation is not satisfied with product functionality alone. They want things to change and change for good. Their psychology is aptly captured in a tagline which Philips once used, ‘Let’s make things better’ ( read not better things). They want to change physical things themselves (look at how they come together for causes like garbage collection and resisting tree felling) and seek cultural transformation from negativism to positivism.

So what do they expect from their brands? Is it superior functionality? Answer is clear no. They want their brand to take a stand and have point of view. The brand can no longer afford to take an ambivalent position. They should demonstrate conviction and voice their opinion. But it should not be hollow campaigning. The conviction must be lived. Authenticity is the key here. It is here real differentiation could be earned.  P&G makes you revisit you notion about what it means to be ‘like a girl’ and UCB has always stood against racial discrimination.

So what is the outcome? If there are #s promoting boycotts there is also # against divisiveness (#stopdivisiveness). What is political implication of these groups raising protest against the ad? Their ideas are at friction with about 65 percent of population and they are likely to damage the political brand they are connected with.

BPJ versus Congress on Balakot Air Strikes and Cutting through Emotions with Reason

In branding we often speak of emotions as basis of marketing power. I say brands make you crazy (meaning dominance of emotions over reason) by jumping over cognition in order to bend demand curve to make it price inelastic. When somebody buys a Patek Philippe for about $102000 many may say he must be crazy or he has gone nuts. This is the idea of branding.  The brand idea makes enormous sense to its target market and reamins a puzzle for others who try to capture it by their thinking hooks.

Now consider the following. This is how the Indian strike on terror camps got reported.

India bombs Jaish camp in Pakistan’s Balakot

Pakistan Army says Indian jets intruded neighbour’s airspace

How IAF confused Pakistan and destroyed JeM’s 5-star Balakot camp

Surgical strike 2.0? India bombs terror camps across …

Do these trigger emotional response? For most Indians probably yes.  It may range from mild feel good to high octane pride. These strikes assume greater significance in the background of Phulwama attack. Individuals with even a slight grain of attachment to the nation would have felt a sense of relief from the pain of the attack. Afterall attack on India is attack on its citizens.

Who should get credit for it, is an important question, especially when general elections are very close. This is a ‘silver bullet’ for BJP because it has happened under its dispensation at the Centre. Since its resonance is likley to cut across gender, geography and class it would strengthen BJP’s credentials as a nationalistic party.  Emotionally this attack has created a new sense of bonding among people to rally behind the Forces and the PM.

Now consider the following:

Congress blasts Amit Shah for saying 250 terrorists killed – India Today

Balakot air strike: Centre must give explanation when credibility questions are raised, says Digvijaya Singh

‘Were you uprooting terrorist or trees?’ Sidhu questions the purpose of Balakot strikes

What is common across these statements? First, they come from opposition party and second they are all questions. This is something like challenging emotion with a reason.  If you love someone are you really in a critical analytical mode? When you are emotionally committed to an idea or product or person you resist friction creating thoughts. We all want to enjoy in the glory and valor of our forces. The idea that they invaded and bombed is itself elating and more reported to have been killed is emotionally better (notwithstanding its correctness). Now what is the consequence of this?

Can Congress shift Indians from their emotionally charged state to cold reasoned mental state to look at the air strikes? The Congress’s attack on BJP through criticism of air strikes is unlikely to cut through the emotional firewall. If they try too hard, it would result in opposite effect of making the BJP stronger.

 

Rahul Gandhi, Mount Kailash, Brand Congress and Wisdom of Sun Tsu

Rahul Gandhi’s earlier temple run just before Gujarat election had effects. But the question was on whom and what?

RG is custodian of one of the top political brands. His actions express or subtle; small or big; direct or indirect influence on what Congress brand stands for. Core to its brand identity have been ideas of secularism and liberalism. This cocktail made enormous sense to its core constituencies of voters, mainly the Muslims and liberal Hindus. The brand resonated so much that Congress governed India, the Congress which ruled India for several decades, virtually unchallenged.

But Rahul now seem to have embarked upon a journey to transform brand Congress my his new found fancy for temples. The latest being his visit to Mount Kailash after a great temple run in Gujarat.  The question is what is his projection as ‘Hindu’, ‘Bhakt’, ‘Shiv Bhakt’, ‘Janaiu dhari’, ‘believer’, etc  is doing? In this regard the wisdom of Sun Tsu is particularly illuminating, and he writes in his Art of War:

whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of enemy will be fresh for fight; ..the second in the field has to hasten to battle, will arrive exhausted’.  

What is needed to bring about this position? To that he says:

it is more profitable to draw the enemy at a place and time of your choosing rather rush on the offensive seeking him’.

The words, ‘to draw the enemy’ and ‘of your choosing’ are critical. RG and his strategists seem to be precisely doing the opposite. They are moving him to precisely where the BJP would want him and him party to be: in temples. Temples are like BJP’s fortresses on high grounds with defenses that cannot be penetrated. What BJP’s strategists should be doing is actually done by the Congress’s Generals. They are pushing their most prized warrior in a terrain of huge strategic disadvantage.

Sun Tsu futher explains:

‘..together with compelling bait, helps to draw the enemy in a desired locality, in the latter (move), striking at this vital point will force the enemy cease offensive action and divert his men in the defensive mode’

The earlier temple run made the Congress spokesperson defend volley of scathing sharp attacks. This opened a whole lot of questions about his religion, devotion and others. Politically impact did it have on Congress’s core franchise, the Muslims and liberal Hindus? , Nothing but frustration. So if you want to buy a cola what must you buy RC Cola or some local cola brand when you can have the original and authentic Coca Cola?

In the world of business, companies know that a brand is the most precious asset in contemporary scenario. And brand must stick to its core identity. Straying away from its DNA, the brand alienates its core franchise and positions itself as fake and inauthentic.

Gujarat Election, RG’s Hinduism, Laws of Positioning and Warfare

Kotler in ‘Ten deadly marketing sins’ gave Ten Commandments in which one went as: ‘the company knows its major competitors and their strengths and weaknesses’

And, Al Ries wrote in ‘Positioning’ that sometimes ‘you can’t get there from here’.  There are ways to compete against the leader but it can’t be done ‘head on’. ‘Fire with fire’ is a cliché’ and ‘can do’ spirit may be suicidal.

What is BJP’s core strength or impregnable fortress? Even a stupid would tell you it is Hinduism and Hindu Identity. And the party suffered a series of defeats until Modi put it on backburner rather topped it up with inclusion and development. The last national election went in BJP’s favor primarily because it could sense developmental aspirations of people in young demographic group. Further Modi added masculinity which resonated with people who were witness to Singh’s lack of leadership and assertion (monitor less class).

On Nov 30th TOI reported that ‘Rahul visited over 20 temples during his Guj visits’. What does this mean literally and figuratively? In warfare terms his visits amounts to trying to penetrate a heavily armed fortress with a plain pistol. Mandir and related identity groups are BJP’s core strongholds. These like mountains from where BJP looks down at enemy enjoying hugely advantageous position.  When threatened it is likely to retaliate with all its might and force.  Look what has happened.

The nature of discourse and narrative has subtly shifted away from perceptually weak spots of BJP (GST and demonetization) to:  RG’s identity as Hindu or a Catholic, his temple visit score, how he was brought up, why Congress did not react when SG was called a Christian by a foreign journalist and why he has not visited temples earlier. He has opened up entire Pandora Box against himself. All the BJP guns are now trained at RG and his Hinduism. He has obviously dwarfed himself by ranging a head- on attack or waking up a strong rival in a sleepy territory. Copying somebody’s proposition is easy but the best. It is like being fake and un-original.

All mavoeuvers in a battle have to be thoroughly thought out and driven by objectives.  Now the question arises which territory is RG trying to capture? Who is the target audience:  Muslim, Hindu hardliner or Hindu moderate or weaker sections.  And consider the impact of his moves on his core constituency: moderate Hindu, Muslims and weaker sections. A drift towards Hindu identity of Congress is likely to be seen by Muslims and Congress’s saffronisation and would have psychological effect. And moderate Hindu is likely to be unappreciative of Congress for abandoning its core secular identity. The weaker sections who suffered for generations on account of Bhramanism are equally going to be disenchanted with RG.

Tactically, it is in the interest of BJP to not let the public discourse on RG’s visits to die until elections are held. It would reap two advantages: first BJP can maintain its attack on weakest spot of Congress and secondly under the noise and cacophony of his visits it can shift people’s attention away from position of its perceived weakness.

How is excited about his temple visits? Congress’s spokes person.

They say how do fight fire with fire or water. Water…stupid.

Allen Solly, Sony Bravia, ABVP, Brand Proposition, and Millennial Generation

What do the following mean?

# FLEXIBLE

‘Respect every colour’

Denotatively the word ‘flexible ‘means ‘capable of bending easily without breaking’. In order to interpret the second statement (‘respect every colour’) let’s explore meaning of its components on  the dimension know as syntagmatic axis. These are three words chained together to form the sentence.  Their dictionary meanings are as follows:

  • Respect- cherish, admiration, deference, honor, value and revere
  • Every- all individuals, each and every
  • Colour- hue, shade, tint, tone and tinge

Now if I ask you to tell me their meaning.  In all probability the answer would be there is nothing to give, it is very obvious.  The flexibility is a characteristic of a material. And the second statement gives a call to treat all shades of paints or colours as equal.  These are headlines of two brands, Allen Solly and Bravia (Sony).  Let us delve into their meanings at deeper level.

Image result for allen solly flexible ad

In case of Allen Solley, the brand apparently seeks to lure customers by the promise of ‘flexibility’ that stems from the use of materials which enhance wear comfort.  The built in flexibility of a chino would allow its wearer to perform different jobs with ease.  It is an important benefit.

But does it give sustainable differentiation? The fabrics and stitching can easily be copied.  Then how does the brand connect with its young millennial consumers? In order to be valuable, brands must make sense beyond surface attributes and forge connections at deeper level. One such method is to add value by relating the brand with consumer values.  Values are  life guiding beliefs that define a person in terms of what he or she stands for.

So what does ‘flexibility’ means from a person’s perspective? It denotes a particular kind of personality as someone who is not rigid, unyielding and adamant. Flexibility can also mean accommodating attitude and not having a worldview that hardliners have.  Flexibility in this sense conveys a lot about the millennial mindset who show tolerance to dissent and are open to rational persuasion. They are flexible and do not side with extreme binaries. They are pragmatic in their approach to things in life. This meaning operates at second level of signification.

In case of Bravia, the headline- ‘Respect every colour’ makes sense only when it is seen through larger socio-cultural space. The meaning is hidden in the world ‘colour’  The word colour in an indirect sense may signify race, religion, caste or other social categories and hidden power asymmetry. The most obvious categories that come to mind are white and black people.  The usage of the word ‘colour’ in a television’s context is very obvious. It conveys that the television does not discriminate between colours and produces high quality images on screen.  But this is not the actual message. The brand seeks to forge a meaningful relationship at the psychological level.

The brand stands for the ideals of equality and non-discrimination.  It conveys its position against prejudices and biases plague society.  The millennial mind set is not committed to binaries that have been perpetuated by orthodoxy that find expressions   gender roles, religious and social practices.

The newspapers on this Sunday carried the ads of Allen Solley and Bravia but what made me ponder over was another news item  (HT Sept 4, 2017) which went like: ‘ABVP routed in student body polls: chips down for RSS backed student body as they perform poorly in Hyderabad, Guwahati and Punjab universities’.

The writing is on the wall. The narrative of BJP and ABVP is not resonating with the youth. It is time to revisit the values that it wants to stand for before it is too late.

Rahul Gandhi, Congress, Marketing Myopia and Politics of Spokespersons

The April 1960 issue of Harvard Business Review carried probably the most influential article in the area of marketing titled ‘Marketing Myopia’ by Ted Levitt. Its first sentence went as:

‘Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline…’. It goes on to say that ‘the failure is at the top’

Now what’s marketing myopia got to do with RG, Congress and spokespersons? In TV debates it’s quite surprising to see how Congress spokespersons refuse to either  listen or show openness to ‘introspect’ or attribute the party’s decline to top leadership. On the contrary they blame it on opposition or competitors and also find faults with voters for not being able to see sinister design of their main rival, BJP.  Upon being quizzed about developments in Bihar and switching over of Nitish to BJP, they try to find faults him.

Levitt says, ‘The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew’.Image result for congress

 

Has the need for democratically elected government declined? Do people not look at government for governance and progress?   In fact the need grew with the arrival of new informed youth at the political landscape.  Why did Congress which once stood as the only party in India with footprints everywhere come under shadow of decline? It assumed invisibility of its product and believed there can never be a substitute product to replace it. Levitt explains why the once booming dry cleaning industry was stifled. It did not go in trouble because of better way of cleaning (direct linear competition) but because of unexpected source of synthetic fibers and chemical additives (unexpected indirect competition) that reduced the need for dry-cleaning. Congress could never fathom that competition could arrive from unexpected quarters in the form of Mulayam, Banerjee, Lalu and others. For it believed in superiority of its product.Image result for congress spokesperson

 

Companies get caught in self deceiving cycle which is caused by assumptions that there are no substitutes, faith in mass production and preoccupation with product. There is no guarantee against product getting obsolete. If you don’t make it obsolete by your own effort the others definitely will. Congress’s faith in its formula was so strong that it failed to see the movement in market and emergence of new alternatives.

The cracks in the voter base of Congress were signals of latent misfit between voter expectation and what it promised. Yet it believed in the power of selling. Selling focuses on the needs of the seller whereas marketing focuses on needs of buyer. Its strategy has been persuasive which sought a change on the voters’ end instead of changing its own political product (old narrative). It attempted to fit a square peg in a round hole. The key is what a company offers  is not determined by its managers but rather by the takers. Congress has been so obsessive about its narrative, its win-ability that its perception couldn’t go beyond it. The emerging voters are not extensions of people who were enamored with the role Congress and its leaders played in freedom struggle.  The new generation is rational, clinical in approach, seeks gratification, wants good life and wants it immediately and they are believers of achievement not inheritance.

Congress must note that any industry including politics is a customer satisfying process and not merely  a  goods producing one. Therefore, political agenda begins with voter expectations not with what you have. This is the starting point and process should be worked out backwards. So don’t push RG and the old narrative. Shrinking voter base and loss of states is testimony to that.

Image result for marketing myopia theodore levitt

Spokes persons of Congress please don’t look into mirror to create your appearance. It’s better to look out of window and find out what others want you to look like. In defending current leadership and agenda you damage your party more than strengthen it. The writing on the wall is clear: voters don’t want Congress in its current form so get to drawing board and do some visioning sessions.