Brand Archetype, Arvind Kejriwal and Power of Subliminal Suggestion

Last evening, Remo Fernandez said in an interview said that wants to join AAP. The reason he gave was that joining AAP is like joining a revolution.  In the similar vein one of my lady friends who happens to teach at one of the DU colleges said that she want to wear an AAP cap. By wearing AAP cap she thinks she would become a part of the change that is altering the Indian civil space in a very profound manner.

Meanings or concepts are conveyed though messages and messages are assembly of symbols. Communication is impossible without the use of codes or symbols.  Symbols generate meanings by the process of decoding.  Decoding involves extraction of meaning from a symbol. For instance when letters like s-u-n are assembled into one entity the term becomes ‘sun’ which as an established meaning- star around which earth orbits or which is at the basis of solar system.  Symbols convey meaning that two levels- denotative and connotative. Denotative meaning stands for dictionary or literal meaning and connotative meaning implies a suggestion that is implied or not explicitly suggested. Denotation is context specific or interpreted using established codes. For instance, diamond literally means a crystalline form of carbon but it connotes wealth, preciousness, status and exclusivity.

Almost all social interactions are about persuasion. Salesmen use express communication to sell insurance policies; ads use both verbal and visual symbols to persuade customers to buy and political players use speeches and banners to swing voters cast vote in their favor.  The communication environment has become overloaded. There is too much of communication to handle. Accordingly communication is countered by psychological process of filtration. A vast amount of information is screened out.  The messages that bank upon conscious processing to convey meaning are generally take a hit in this process. This is what necessitates use of subtlety in communication. 


Whatever we see evokes a meaning. For instance how a person is dressed up or how a room appears, communicates a lot. The meaning is extracted by using codes. These cues often make more sense than what is expressly communicated by words. Judgments are always made about people on the basis of how they dress up, their physique, their tone, facial expression, and how they conduct themselves.  Given the pervasiveness of crooked communication, these subtle cues become the lens through which express messages are seen and interpreted.  Symbols become part of our lives by the process of growing up in a culture and these provide means of communicating with each other.  Symbols are embedded in our subconscious, that part of mind which resides below the level of conscious or awareness.

Now consider Kejriwal, why has he appealed to collective conscious of people. He is a very ordinary human being who can be dismissed and crushed like an ordinary man-in terms of his looks, physique, wealth, pedigree, and demeanor. What connection has he managed to establish that people of Delhi voted for his party like a spell cast by Pied Piper of Hamelin. Carl Jung proposed the idea of archetypes or form of identities with defined set of meanings. The archetypes are universal and transcend language, class and culture. However these archetypes have their own unique values, intentions, behaviors. Brands are often developed anchoring their genre or essence on an archetype embedded in collective conscious.  For instance Jeep brand is built on ‘explorer’ archetype and Microsoft and IBM’s archetype is ‘ruler’, J&J’s shampoo’s genre is ‘care giver’, Harley Davidson and Apple appear close to archetype of ‘outlaw’.

 So what idea does Arvind Kejriwal represent? He is characterizes by traits such will power, courageous, unfearful, competent (may not be physically strong), expert, focused and underdog.  The identity he takes on is that of a ‘hero’ archetype, somebody who emerges out of darkness as savior, crusader, dragon slayer and warrior. Like any other culture, in India we have a lot of stories of how a hero appears on the scene to save poor people from the tyranny of somebody powerful (king, relative, money lender, ruler). Many of Amitabh Bachchan’s movies portrayed him as an underdog who emerges out of unlikeliest of places or classes to overthrow the misrule, missgovernance and tyranny of the powerful (consider the name of his movies like Coolie, Laawaris).  The brand Arvind Kejriwal makes sense to ordinary people (aam adami) through a strong sense of identification (common man turned savior).

By shunning all the visible symbols associated with the ‘tyrant ruler or powerful’ he has struck a chord with the people on the receiving side.  He has not only won but introduced a paradigmatic shift in Indian politics that an ordinary man can also be a winner in Indian political arena.  


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