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.

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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.