Brand Anna (1): Lessons In Branding

People perceive Anna phenomenon within limits imposed by their perceptual realm. It is natural, for perception is subjective interpretation of objective reality. As a student of marketing, for me Anna is a case in creation of a real power brand offering many branding lessons:

The brand is defined as a sign, symbol, name or a combination thereof. So by this definition ‘Anna’, the name, becomes the brand. And for many others who mistake the brand with the product, here the physicality of the person who bears the name becomes the brand. But going by the so called modern culture neither the name (compare the names suggested in books on child naming) nor the person (compare Anna with well chiseled aspirational bodies of H Roshan or Salman) would make sense to youth population. But he does. Here lies the catch. Brand name or symbol or product is nothing more than the tip of the iceberg. These are nothing but outward manifestations of the brand. These are only signifiers, not signified. Anna as a person is signifier, amenable to catching by the eyes of both his followers and the condemners. But the brand actually lies hidden which finds a deeper soul connection with people who rally behind him. Brand is the idea which is singularly ‘owned’ or ‘appropriated’ by Anna in the minds of millions who rally behind him.

A brand draws its power from a resonating and differentiating value proposition. The essence of branding is finding a compelling value proposition. Great brands draw their power by forging an inelastic connection. What has this simple man who otherwise may fail to attract attention on the street appropriated? If Anna has caught the imagination of people, which is visible wherever he goes, what is it? Anna’s brilliance lies in his ability to sense the void (latent need- freedom from corruption) and respond to that by creating a product accordingly (Lokpal). Some needs are so obvious (patent but relegated to dormancy) that they escape attention. Anna has lent voice to a murmur which political establishment knowingly ignored. He converted that into a war cry. Anna brand stands for a ‘promise’ (India liberated from corruption) which connects people.

To many it is a baffling reality to see how modern youth clad in Levis jeans, Nike shoes, Benetton shirts, Rayban shades along with less endowed counter part have been rallying behind Anna. The divisive distinctions based on gender, age, geography etc seem to have collapsed (it is a mass brand?). The brand’s extraordinary appeal cuts through the divisions to create a big homogeneous mass. Although followers look different but the unifying factor here is their psychographics and motivation (psychographic segmentation). Anna is a brand with a big following but it is highly differentiated. What is brand’s DNA? While most of the leaders in the political space are hollow brands- promises not supported by performance Anna is differentiated in terms of promise backed by a tangible product (the bill). Most of the politicians used peripheral aspects to differentiate- white dress, party affiliations, security guards, caravan of SUVs, posters- Anna has focused on the ‘core’ of the product.

Anna is a great ‘pull’ brand. Its customers/followers ‘go out of way’ or are willing to bear extreme costs (withstand rain, hunger, crowd, sweat, and lathi charge) to patronize this brand. Brand Anna is certainly a brand to envy for many politicians. This kind of brand is every marketer’s dream when customers don’t take even a second to switch. Anna has burst commoditization in political space in a big way. He is probably every politician’s dream. It is not a hidden secret that political gatherings are often paid assemblies. Brands operate in different value spaces- some value spaces are more elastic than the others. Brand Anna operates on a very high layer of value orbit with near zero elasticity. The delivery of Anna is not on the mundane level. Why do people perform service (the lower the job the higher the service) at religious places? It is because of the spiritual connect. Anna brand draws it power from a higher order connection.

Brands need communication push but branding is not about communication. Advertising’s instrumentality in brand creation can not be denied but you can’t create a brand only out of advertising. This is highly true for brand Anna. The communication is largely ‘community’ owned. It is brand followers who are so deeply influenced by the brand that they themselves have become disseminators, no expenditure involved. The social media is not controlled, it is rather user created. On the other hand traditional media coverage is of course governed by rating points but rating points are not in the control of news channels. It these were then none of brands or the programs backed by money power would fail. People are watching Anna because they want to. Our capacity to process information is limited and it is selectively spent. What it is spent on is governed by satisfaction. Watching news on Anna is a rational and conscious choice which people make. Anna survives filtration and screening out which is every marketer’s major head ache- how to make customers look at my ad?).

In a situation like this when a powerful brand emerges, how does the competitor react? The government reaction has been the opposite of what strategy would command. Would it be a good idea to start a smear campaign against New Swift because it has attracted a great response? First, it must be understood that if commitment is emotional- inelastic connection to a brand (not based on reason), it is impossible to prove your superiority (I like blue and you can’t convince me that red is better). Emotion can’t be contested with reason. People buy Rolex not for time keeping, there may be better time keeping devices available at lower price yet customers show extraordinary commitment to the brand. Second, the harsher the criticism lesser is the openness to entertain (self concept threatening stimuli activate defense mechanism). Anything contrary to the commitment is either filtered to make the original stand harder (criticism falls in the zone of contrast). All the governmental (jail, criticism on media) response therefore has made brand Anna stronger.

Whether Anna is subverting democracy or democracy is systemically already subverted is a matter of perception. People in power see Anna as a threat. It is true that Toyota Etios and Liva are a threat to Maruti Dzire and Swift. But a brand can not be dismissed in discussion and meaningless retaliation. Brands do become obsolete. May be governance in its present form has lost its relevance. Change is not a threat, it is an opportunity. Only time would tell who would ‘read’ it correctly and seize it. The idea is knocking on the doors of political class. It is perfect opportunity for political brands to get rejuvenated. 

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21 thoughts on “Brand Anna (1): Lessons In Branding

  1. Awesome read Sir. I may not completely agree with Anna and his way protest. But I switch on a news channel every couple of hours to see what he’s doing now? How is his health? I think this very behavior is a reflection of Brand “Anna”.

  2. Sir,

    It is a wonderful post on how Brand Anna has been created. Just a few nagging thoughts.

    I feel Brand Anna is an exercise in great PR.

    Pick someone who goes against the grain of “convention”-a rustic old man in an age of Next Gen Netas, promise something heavenly yet vague- an infuriatingly simple and draconian Jan Lok Pal that will somehow (maybe through voodoo) “free” India from corruption, and mix it with Machiavellian media manipulation and there you have it! A halo marketers and politicians would kill for!

    But how can we create a person-in living flesh and blood- and expect him to eternally retain the sort of brand loyalty that inanimate objects have.

    Case in point- none other than Brand Barack. A great story that ran against convention-a black “statesman” in a field dominated by WASP “politicians”, a great promise – “Change” and perhaps the greatest media team ever assembled. Well, it did get him to the White House. But has he been able to retain that momentum? Far from it. Despite several important legislative achievements, he scores low on satisfaction levels. That’s because he promised the moon and didn’t deliver it! Barack H. Obama will eventually become a victim of the unrealistic promises that Brand Barack promised.

    And unlike inanimate objects, there is nothing that can be done about it because people unlike products can’t be retooled. Most political careers end in disappointments unless they are cut short by the vicissitudes of fate. That’s the reason why Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, or Abraham Lincoln retain their brand value.

    What I feel this incident tells us is that more than ever before human beings are susceptible to mass-media manipulation so long as a veneer of “egalitarianism and iconoclasm” is created around any brand. All that is required in our excessively connected age is to create a few BUMPER-STICKER facts and bombard all media channels with the same message and you have a fantastic brand. It would do even better, if special care is taken to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator.

    • Sir, I appreciate your views and the fact that you took out time to read and respond to my blog. Plurality of thought is essential for progress of thought it self. Breaking the inertia and status- quo itself is prevention of rot. If words define the time Anna has brought a very important word in the center of focus. Power of words can not be undermined. Anna is not a solution he is a catalyst.

      • Sir,
        I am your student and I find it mighty embarrassing and wholly inappropriate that your refer to me as “Sir”.
        Regards

  3. Awesome Read Sir. I may not completely agree with Anna’s way of protest. But I switch on a news channel every couple of hours just to check what he is doing? how is his health? I think this behavior is a effect of brand “Anna” and the connect that he has created with the “Aam Aadmi”

  4. Brand Anna is no doubt ruling the masses and as you rightly mentioned ,the credit goes to the product lokpal bill . This revolution will bring positive change in governance . The manifestation of Anna movement into brand is class apar. Wonderful blog reflecting the truth of today.

  5. Going below “The Tip of the Iceberg”.
    From Crow’s viewpoint, the article is one of the best interpretations of a Power Brand in the process of evolving, from Eagle’s point of view it is a highly ‘myopic’ marketer’s view missing the socio-historical perspective that help create an Anna phenomenon still unfolding in collective consciousness (aka Emile Durkheim 1858-1917). In parts, many statements are brilliant but it misses the gestalt and, more importantly, the zeitgeist—the spirit of times.
    What does “Anna” stand for? You do not have to ask people like Ram Gopal Verma to know whether anybody cares about Kisan Baburao Hazare. Many people did care about him as an important Gandhian social activist involved with environmental conservation movement leading to his Padma Bhushan even before many of his current supporters were born. His evolution as Anti-corruption movement leader is not with any modicum of disconnect with his past (unlike Baba Ramdev’s elevation from a Yogic Exercise Teacher to….) and that gives legitimacy to his mission (the author would have possibly used the word ‘credibility’ of ‘value proposition’). This is pretty obvious, what is not apparent are many unconscious connections with the name and the physicality of the person behind the phenomenon. Whether “Anna” connotes “Elder Brother”, or “Different”, or even “Rebellion” (Anna DMK as opposed to DMK) the fact remains that this “common man” (ala R.K.Laxman) at least unconsciously reminds other common men such as Shastri or even Gandhi. If Munnabhai Dutt (a TADA criminal!) could create record interest in Gandhi in recent times, then anna’s fight against rupaiah can certainly do so. That is the spirit of the times after WikiLeaks, Radia Tapes and all other games of Con Wealth! If not Anna, the angry nation would discover somebody who translates their angst and anguish into action.

  6. Wonderfully written Sir. I also feel that a major pull for his campaign has been the realization that a 74-year old man has taken a stand against the govt’s pontificatory school of thought. His age, intentionally or unintentionally has worked in his favour which has further led to the instigation of youth.

  7. Sir, it’s ultimately the socio-cultural symbols at play here which are ultimately leading to the creation of myth. Anna has simply harnessed that myth (as defined by Barthes), which Indians identify strongly (and maybe hypocritically as well) with – Gandhian principle of asceticism and integrity. Though it’s largely an urban middle-class phenomenon, it is really wonderful to see the brand Anna stir such emotions with what is actually a myth in true sense. It is in fact a very powerful brand as it transcends the realm of material and addresses the basic instincts.

  8. Let me first congratulate on a very well written post with a depth in analysis. My thoughts too resonate with your findings about ‘Brand Anna’. It is every marketer’s dream to generate customer evangelists who take pains in spreading a positive message about the brand(word of mouth as we popularly know it).
    People like to tell themselves a story and it is the marketers job to sell the brands which depicts the picture of the stories that people tell. In this case, the story that people are dreaming about is”To live in a country free from corruption”. As you rightly mentioned in your blog, it was a latent demand and Anna was the first to reach people with a product—“Lokpal” which tells people that , one day they will live their dream.
    The important point here is that perception is more important than the product deliverables itself in this stage. If at all, the bill is passed, we will have people with repurchase intention(to support Brand Anna in his future aspirations).
    There is so much to learn from this experience which is an apt simulation of various successful marketing campaigns.

    Regards,
    Abishek
    SIBM-Marketing(2011-13)

  9. Sir,
    Indeed a great piece. I must appreciate a lot of deliberation that must have preceded the post. It clearly establishes Anna as a brand.

    While I don’t doubt the fact that Anna is indeed a brand, I have my reservations around the STRENGTH of this brand. When I tried to think of a similar brand, only one person crossed my mind – Mahatma Gandhi. And then I tried to draw parallels between the brands (not the individuals).
    – Brand Gandhiji stood for freedom struggle : The brand Anna stands for anti-corruption.
    – Brand Gandhiji’s agenda was ousting britishers and gaining freedom : Brand Anna’s agenda is getting Jan Lokpal bill passed.
    – Whereas Brand Gandhiji was able to achieve wat it set out to, Brand Anna’s motives are yet to be achieved.
    So, imagining a situation that Lokpal bill isn’t passed and there are no tangible or meaningful results for JanLokpal bill, do we still think that brand anna would remain as strong as it seems today, considering the fickle minded nature and short memory span of Indian population ?

    I doubt that.

  10. i would like to say that this branding exercise was a great strategy. this can be seen from the fact that baba ramdev ffailed on purpose as the enemies of this movement attacked him, this opened up their position to be neutralised. after their neutralisation process only, did brand anna show his brilliance. STRATEGY PAR EXCELLONCE. GREAT BLOG & VIEWS. MEHUL

  11. The other day while watching movie “Gandhi” I couldn’t help drawing parallel in the rise of Gandhiji and marketing concepts you brought out during Anna’s movement. I was able to figure out why Gandhiji rose to prominence and accepted across different sections of society. Different movements started by Gandhiji focused on the welfare of the rural and downtrodden, the real target segment that formed the majority population of India. Activities like burning foreign garments brought back demand for Indian homespun cloth which brought jobs to India thus winning him the much needed belief from Indian masses.

    India as shown in the movie has a number of leaders of national stature but they were famous only in big cities. They were however unable to galvanize the masses across Indian geographies and could not create a challenge for British Govt. Gandhiji on the other hand went through India and made sure he established a connect with villagers. Ruling Govt had no option but to bend in front of his mass support.

    Gandhiji created a brand for himself that stood for non-violence and non-cooperation. It made it easier for people to understand his approach. Britishers also knew that there was not going to be any violence and so they avoided stringent actions. Some activities taken up by Gandhiji like Salt movement struck a chord with Indian masses. Britishers who laughed it off unable to understand reasoning behind it, were caught off-guard. This shows how does understanding your target segment helps in reaping great results.

    Once acquainted with the knowledge on marketing, it becomes easier to join the dots. Igniting a National movement was no easy task and definitely it leaves something to learn. Your writings through blogs helped in realizing how marketing concepts transcend commercial boundaries and are visible in common phenomenons involving public behavior. These concepts seem to be always in use by leaders worldwide and the marketing sure helps in comprehending their actions.

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