Political market, Strategies, NaMo Challenger and the Congress Defender

The Indian political scene, seen through the marketing lens, is interesting to watch these days. A number of things seem to be happening in the political arena that is similar to what happens in a competitive industry. The duel between NaMo and the Congress is closer to a situation when David attacks Goliath or a market leader is challenged by an aggressor. In marketing this kind of duel was played out when Priya Gold attacked Britannia, Ujala attacked Robin, Pepsi attacked Coke, Nirma and Ghari attacked Surf.  It is an interesting case to study how NaMo crossed over the state political arena and his party boundary to become a dominant national player and contender for the ultimate political position in his party and government.


Market membership: NaMo’s initial strategy has been about crossing over from the state boundary. His strategy of relating to and directly attacking (fierce) top functionaries like the Congress president and PM were aimed to establish POP or points of parity with the market that he wanted to take part in. That is, to position himself as a player in the national politics. Unless his name is taken in the same breath as other national leaders, he would not be the ‘competitive set’ in that market, only comparable fight. In marketing this was cleverly done by Avis rent a car against Hertz (hugely ahead of Avis) when they promoted: ‘we are no 2 but we try harder’. The idea was to become ‘comparable’ with top players.


Differentiation (POD): It is here that out of box thinking is important. Launching a direct attack on rival’s strength does not help for it represents an already appropriated asset in prospects’ minds. Close up is etched as a ‘freshness toothpaste’ so there is no point in becoming another freshness toothpaste; Colgate tried but did not make sense. Strategy is to be ‘different’ in order to attract consumers that are unhappy with the leader. Secularism and inclusion are core to Congress therefore they are difficult to crack. Attacking these would strengthen the rival brand instead of weakening it. No Dettol can be more ‘dettolish’ than Dettol or no Band Aid can be more ‘band aidish’ than J&J’s Band Aid. So the discourse on development and governance is a good idea.   


Disruption: Leader brand (Congress) benefits if inertia is maintained. In the current state of politics, voters have pulled out of the game for they believe ‘vote does not yield any difference’ (all are same- ‘a toothpaste is a toothpaste’). For dominant player this behavior is good. Therefore the challenge for the attacker is to disrupt people’s behavior by increasing their level of involvement in the phenomena in question- election. This is done by connecting the low involvement issue (voting) with a high involvement concern (jobs, security, law and order). Maruti faced this kind of situation when it discovered that people don’t pay attention to service and spare parts. It launched a campaign to raise level of involvement: “Maruti Genuine Parts lagaoge to pappu nahi kahelaoge” (If you use Maruti Genuine Parts, then you won’t be termed as Pappu).


Reposition: it must be borne in mind that leader draws its strength from its position- its perception. It is quite tempting to assault its strengths for the belief that it is achievable if ‘more’ resources are used to back it. But in a battle of perceptions it usually fails. Therefore it is good idea if its strength is converted into weakness (don’t mistake attacking weakness). Coke’s strength is that it is first cola, has a set formula and has history. The same thing can be seen as ‘old and unchanging’. Pepsi, by calling out itself as ‘choice of new generation’ repositioned Coke as ‘choice of old generation’. ThumsUp once ran a campaign with Salman Khan: ‘bade ho ja bacche’ (‘grow up kid’) and repositioned Pepsi as drink of children. NAMo’s challenge here is to have the people on the fringe (uncommitted voters) look at Congress with an altered lens.


The US lost in Vietnam War not because it lacked fire power or resources. It lost because Vietnamese changed the battlefield and pulled into a space where the enemy’s strengths were turned into weaknesses. 


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