BJP, Visual Identity Change, Symbol and Opportunity Loss

Brand is intangible entity.  Intangibles are difficult to grasp mentally. Brands must be understood and fully grasped before go on to take part in consumer evaluation process.  Brands need to communicate with their target audience what they stand for. Without meaning transfer and meaning extraction it is impossible to have a relationship. Therefore brands commission their visual elements to convey their meaning or essence. And these elements include brand name, color, typeface, colors.  Take a close look at a brand around you and try to understand what that brand carries a name (e.g. Dove), colors (predominant white with blue), logo (bird), shape (box and product shape), feel (soft and creamy), smell (sensory activation).  All these elements must converge on to a single image/ association- and this is what a brand tries to establish in prospect’s mind.The Bajaj Chetak

Brand are constants (unless they are made variable) in a dynamic environment. Obvious to this reality is danger of losing fit. Consider a company like Bajaj which to Indians was nothing but a good and reliable scooter (but only scooter) but as market shifted to motorcycles the business of the company also changed. In such a situation the brand visual signature ( which carried meaning like trust worthy, reliable, two stroke engine, middle class, down to earth, value for money, Chetak, ) which was of great value for scooter buyers. But now the company targeted young urban customer who desired speed, passion, new technology, power, and modern feel.  The company reconciled this by changing its visual identity system by which it tried to retain some of the association (valuable even in motorcycle market) and added new ones ( which it did not have).  The logo evolved in to white and blue reverse hexagonal, the letters which were small changed into new bold capital typeface. The logo signed as ‘inspiring confidence’.  On the whole the new logo was centered on the concept of excitement- through technology, research and development, precision and perfection. The ‘B’ symbol become stylized with an embedded symbolism of something flying and movement.

The Bajaj’s case illustrates that identity is something internal which is expressed through visual system.  A visual identity change without preceding substantive change in values, systems and process become a hollow exercise. It is like ‘dressing up’ or an indulgence in manipulation. Recently, BJP approached the EC to change its election symbol (Lotus) to make it bolder (the argument that its present symbol looks lighter).  The deign remains same but new symbol will be printed in black and white on EVMs and publicity materials. The party sought this change because it was felt that the present form of its logo was not very visible in comparison to symbols of other parties.

The BJP could have used this as an opportunity to indicate brand rejuvenation and fundamental change in its core ideology (which is what Mr Modi is trying very hard- a shift from ‘hindutva’ to development). The rising popularity of Mr Modi with his pure economic agenda provides testimony that his idea enjoys resonance with new India. By taking the saffron out of its symbol, it could make a powerful statement about emptying the party with its previous saffron agenda. The party is in urgent need to expand its appeal in new territories, especially minority groups and pro progress youth.  

But symbols change appears a lost opportunity. People don’t vote for a party because its symbol is more visible. They vote for party and its core agenda.  Even people with marginal backgrounds are not sentimental about symbols but what a party stands for. This information age and everybody is far more aware and informed.  Mr Modi’s push to reposition the party as progressive and clean with huge push that he is making gets reversed with every news and event that links it with a religious group. The party needs to get ‘white’ inside like its symbol and write its new agenda with connects with groups that are frustrated with the current regime.


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