Brands, Patanjali, Baba Ramdev and Culture

There are several ways brands adopt to make their way to consumer’s heart or mind or both. Successful brands embody value propositions that either fill a gap or promise transformation into some higher order of existence. The gap filling brands persuade consumers by pointing at the void or uncomfortable recognized or dormant state and offer solution. The brands in such a situation use ‘informational’ route. Consider the following:
• Two toothpaste brands Paradontex and Sansodyneuse informational route. The first offers solution to gum problems and the latter promises escape from tooth sensitivity.
• Crizal lenses are promoted on the propositions of their scratch resistance, anti-glare and UV protection.
• Dulux Weathershield offers protection against elements for longer period of time because of its unique chemical formulation- high performance acrylic resin.

In above cases, the product’s attributes or benefits assume center stage. In transformational method the consumer is not approached on rational basis by offering a problem’s solution (verbal expression) rather a pull is created by a desirable psycho-social consumer state (imagery). In these kinds of promotions the center stage is assumed by consumer’s being and becoming (not in a metaphysical way except for a limited number of brands). The product related thinking is deliberately stultified. The being and becoming take psycho –(emotional) social (symbolic) axis to develop connect with consumers. Consider the following:
• Enfield pulls its target consumers on the proposition of psychosocial experience. The machine bestows power and machismo to a person who in the absence of machine’s highly masculine body and thundering sound senses a danger of identity loss, typical of living in cities. The brand gives a sense of power internally (self symbolism) and respect/command externally (social symbolism).
• Coca Cola’s ‘Happiness’ campaign seeks to appropriate a powerful emotion of joy and delight. The imagery used in its communication- people, occasion, time, sounds and expressions- all collapse into communicating a highly desirable emotional state. The brand subtly creeps into establishing its legitimacy by becoming the key ingredient to happiness (happiness is incomplete without a bottle of Coke).
• Is it psychologically possible for a new mother to have a sense of completeness without using J&J products? Imagine a J&J ad and experience how it overwhelms you with emotions of joy, happiness and affection.


Is Peepal (Ficus religiosa/ ashvattha in Sanskrit) merely a tree or a person in saffron robes with flowing beard is only a person with a different look? Their meaning s are known only to people familiar with Indian cultural. Culture encompasses knowledge, belief, customs, practices and values. It both provides worldview and point of view. Brands are resisted when they violate culture. At the same time, by invoking right cultural meanings, myths and values a brand develop huge resonance. Take for instance, a newly launched brand of platinum jewelry ‘Evara’ evokes cultural construct of ‘blessings’ which are a must in an occasion like marriage. The gender roles (myth or assumptions) are evoked by brands (Bournvita, Vim, Wheel) targeted at women as homemaker, giver, and nurturer. When brand evoke already stores beliefs, meanings, values etc, the need for rational communication is reduced. Thus an image of a tree or saint/sadhu or word can evoke myths (don’t read as lies rather taken for granted assumption or beliefs) to work for the brand in a subtle but very powerful way. The picture of a cowboy on Marlboro evoked myth of rugged individuality and made the brand one of the top sellers.
What does culture have to do with the success of Patanjali brand? Let us take the umbrella name ‘Patanjali’. Does it invoke rich meaning stored in cultural warehouse and bestows its products image/associations highly desired in its product categories? The name’s semantic construction, phonetic expression (Sanskrit) and meaning which activates many legends (including founder of yoga) renders it very close to Indian roots ( Indian system of medicine- ayurvedic). This link with ayurveda further invokes religious linkages with god Danvantari. The name in this case is not a simple word with limited denotation. Rather it is tip of an iceberg with oceanic depth. The brand name pulls out these deeper meanings to the surface and thrives on the dichotomy between nature/unnatural; religious/unreligious; Indian/foreign/ and trust/doubt.
How about presence of Baba Ramdev as brand endorser? He is a ‘baba’. A sadhu, culturally means a renunciator or above material attachments, who operates at a higher level of consciousness. Sadhus are religiously significant and are respected. The renunciation implies Babas have no personal axe to grind (not driven by ‘artha’ or money for material well being of self). The selflessness of Baba Ramdev gives the Enterprise a social philanthropic sheen. The venture escapes scrutiny and suspicion that business typically invites. Babas/sadhus invoke religious imagery as custodians of what is good in a society.

The legends, stories and sacred books pass on different archetypes from one generation to the other. These live in our subconscious but are invoked by brands to make sense. Men with flowing beard and robes evoke ‘sage’ archetype that signifies expert, scholar, philosopher, teacher and teacher. Baba Ramdev’s presence and support for the brand commissions massive cultural meaning to work for the brand and that too without having to have a conscious dialogue. One of the important qualities of brand endorser is trust and on this count he is the best. Baba Ramdev route to credibility also lay in bringing yoga into mainstream. He first appeared as yoga guru who worked singularly for the cause making people healthy. It is later that the equity is transferred to Patanjali products.
Patanjali brand is a cultural phenomena and it different from the like of Dabur or Baidyanath. These brands operated in medicine domain taking position against allopathic formulations. Patanjali operates at an intersection of yoga, medicine, religion, political ideology and commence.

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Stethoscope, Life Cycle, Relevance and Totem

There is no reason why such a common, old and ubiquitous instrument like Stethoscope should become a newsmaker. It is old (invented in 1816), standardized, pervasive and familiar. There is nothing to be told about this device. It is devoid of newsworthiness. But sadly, it has found space in newspapers for the reported reasons that it is soon going to be dead rendered obsolete by new technologies. The new devices like portable ultrasound machines offer greater score better on functional performance.

Creative destruction as proposed by Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942) is central to modern capitalist economies which create new and good through ‘the perennial gale of creative destruction’.  The new and better products arrive that improve the order of the day. It is through this process of creative destruction societies become productive and richer.  There are two sides of this process. The creation benefits some people but at the same time it ruins others by dismantling the existing order.  This applies everywhere. Consider how e-rickshaw hailed as ecofriendly solution to las mile connectivity benefits some and destroys the source of livelihood of the lowest   at the bottom of pyramid.

Like stethoscope, products in all industries have to bear the brunt of creative destruction.  There are people who think products like desktops, watches, and printed books would soon become artifacts of museums like LPs, VCRs, dial phones and CDs. The concept of obsolesce sits at the heat of this creative destruction. The products like LPs and VCRs work and work fine but they are not wanted by customers for new products meet their wants better. So the question arises what makes a product or service relevant?  Why do products cease to be wanted?

A product or service is wanted for the problem it helps customer get rid of. For instance, a fairness cream like Fair & Lovely allows customers to get rid of dark complexion and LED lamps allow customers to save on electricity consumption.  Why then some products continue to attract customers in spite of their diminished or ceased utility which caused them to come into existence? This happens because of shift in what sits at their core as implied value proposition. The product that R&D creates is veryoften different from what customer actually buys.  Products are creatures of physics and inhabit in physical space but what customers buy are mental constructions of which physical angle may just be one of many dimensions. This is where brands and branding begins. Many brands succeed and thrive by an act of subversion. The implicit purpose and logic is removed and substituted by something imagined (free floating signifier).

A product or service evolves into a psycho-social entity after its launch.  It may originate in a factory as ‘manufactured’ or ‘assembled’ (assembly of parts/components/ ingredients) but after its launch it becomes a part of social system as consequently its meaning gets extended beyond intended functions.  A product or brand has the following options to create relevance:

Functional: involves being relevant due to a product’s use or function for which it is designed. All Out drives mosquitoes away and Ujala gives clothes a cleaner hue.

Psychological: brands assume significance for psychological reasons. People feel better in the company of their brands and enjoy emotionally satisfying states.  J&J transforms new mothers into ‘the best mothers’; Axe does not allow people to ‘fade away’ in significance; Kellogg’s K Special give route instant admiration.

Social: brands assume significance by aiding people into playing social roles by becoming devices of social signification. They can subtly inform who you are and how you should be treated.  Visible products like cars (Mercedes or Jaguar) bestows owners a position of power and expects to be treated with respect and honor. Brands work by creating belonging and disassociation at the same time.

Stethoscope as product may lose out to its new challengers in terms of embedded functions like reading breathing sound, heart function and bowel sound but it may still continue to be relevant for psycho-social reasons. Socially it is a powerful communication device of medical profession. As long as doctors enjoy reputation of healers and life givers, stethoscope would continue to find takers for its signification role.  People continue to wear watches, especially Swiss made not for their virtue of telling better and accurate time but for their expressiveness (although mobile phones are used more for checking time).  Psychologically, stethoscope can give a sense of being in control and confident. By putting it around the neck, a doctor can forge a celestial link with heritage and spirit of medical profession.  It can potentially find role in a transformational ritual by which competent doctors are transformed into good doctors. If cultures and societies have totems why can’t stethoscope be?

Brand Positioning in Noodles Market

In a very pioneering move Nestle created instant noodles category in mid 1980s when they launched Maggi brand. Being the first mover the brand become category representative. To many people instant noodle is Maggi. It has become generic to the product category. Positioning is an important aspect of marketing strategy. Market segmentation is first step in strategy development. It is impossible for one marketing package to make sense to everybody. By dividing customer on the basis of their similarities, it becomes easier for a firm to decide where to direct its marketing efforts. This allows better allocation of finite marketing resources by maximizing efficiency and effectiveness.

Nestle also had a lot of options. The noodles market can be divided into different groups depending upon the choice of segmentation variable. For instance, there is domestic and professional segment for noodles. The market could be divided on the basis of age of consumer, r consumption quantity, geographic location and culinary treatment. Market segmentation is a matter of perception. There are people who look at the market the way everyone sees, whereas a limited few are able to uncover new customer groups who have not been uncovered by generally followed basis of segmentation. Nestle chose to target the children segment. Children frequently demand something to eat. Back then the market of snacks was not evolved. Therefore whenever mothers were pestered they were forced to provide home cooked snacks or light food like parantha, pulav, pakora, sandwich and vada

The next question was to decide upon its value proposition and positioning. How should the brand Maggi be placed in consumer’s mind? Essential to positioning was that Maggi must be perceived distinctively and of relevance to target market. Maggi was positioned as ‘fast to cook and good to eat’ 2 minutes noodles. It offered distinctive advantage to mothers in terms of ‘fast to cook’ proposition. The Maggi noodles unique formulation reduced the long grind involved in making traditional quick food. All that Maggi needed was two minutes boiling time and adding of a tasty masala called ‘taste maker’. For kids, the brand offered ‘good to eat’ proposition.

Maggi opened an entire new market for instant noodles. The next brand to arrive in the market was Top Ramen from Nissin. The challenge for the brand was how to position itself so that it could create a distinctive position. It tried to take at dig at Maggi by directly calling itself ‘ Smoodles’ or smooth noodles. It urged customers ‘Don’t be a noodle. Be a Smoodle’. The brand adopted product attribute based positioning and highlighted its smoothness.

Sensing the opportunity, HUL jumped the fray and entered the market with their Knorr brand. Knorr, originally a soups brand in HLL’s portfolio was extended to noodle category. Knorr Soupy Noodles also targeted the in home children market. It boasted of a unique product in instant category and aimed at combining the fund of noodles with the health and goodness of soups. The brand positioned itself as noodles with soup for children to satisfy the in between meals hunger pangs. The brand’s communication focuses on a situation where a child demands something to eat before dinner at about 7 o’ clock.

GSK the makers of Horlicks entered the instant noodles market with their Foodles brand. GSK continuing with health and nutrition platform created Foodles. The brand’s launch was based on research inputs that instant noodles were not considered healthy and serving them induced guilt in mothers. The key ingredient in instant noodles, maida or refined flour, was not as healthy as whole wheat. While the positions of convenience and taste were already occupied, Foodles sought to play the game on nutrition positioning. Foodles tried to break into the monopoly of Maggi with Foodles positioned as nutritious instant noodles. The company used its Horlicks brand as mother brand to support its noodles brand..

Homegrown cigarette giant studied the instant noodles market and discovered some ways to cut into Maggi’s dominance. Its studies found chinks in Maggi’s armour. Maggi came in rectangular shape. It needed to be broken into two pieces for placing it in the pot for boiling. Pots used in kitchens always come in round shape like frying pan and cookers. This broke noodles and rendered them small in length. Second, kids often do not eat the noodles immediately. Noodles are also taken to schools in tiffin. Maggi noodles if not eaten immediately tend to turn lumpy and soggy with time. They stick together which was not really a fun to eat. Maggi’s masala contributes major share to its sale.  ITC leveraged its skills and created two tasty variants to give customers a choice.  ITC extended its Sunfeast brand into instant noodles category by launching Yippee. Yippee was positioned as noodles for the curious kids as long noodles which can be played around with while eating. The brand communication very cleverly but subtly aimed to promote its unique points of differentiation as longer non sticky tasty noodles which are ‘play’ to eat.

A market is an evolving organic system. There are many other brands which wrestled for share in the instant noodle market. One of the innovative concepts was launched by Nissin Cup Noodles. The brand point of difference was its out of home access to noodles when kids are on a picnic or an adventure trek and need an escape from the cooking process however small.The other brands which operate at small scale are Ching’s Secret, Smith & Jones and Wai Wai noodles. Future Group competes with its Tasty Treat brand which is sold in its retail chains like Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar.  These brands are pushed through the retail and compete on price positioning.

The story of noodles shows positioning is not about product because instant noodle is an instant noodle. How it is converted into a consumer relevant and competitively different concept is the question.

Kejriwal, AAP, Intellectual disconnect, Emotional commitment, Brand resonance and Cognitive dissonance

In a recent interview, Arvind Kejriwal in response to a question said; ‘people have emotional tie with us but there may be intellectual disconnect’, Times of India, Feb 18, 2014, p. 4

Is there any connection between this simplistic observation and power brands? Brands become powerful when they exert influence over their consumers. Power refers to the capacity or ability of somebody to influence the behavior of others. The competitive forces act to reduce power of the players by ensuring abundance and parity through the process of free entry and dissemination of know how. High competition makes players price takers not makers.
Marketing strategy is often directed as reversing this powerlessness by brand building. Brands seek to acquire power by building positive discrimination by forging connections with consumers based on utility and imagery. Brands gain strength by developing identities that enjoy strong resonance which translate into high price, commitment and insulation from competition. The brand resonance pyramid model depicts routes to resonance going through two paths- performance and imagery. At the bottom sits the brand salience. Salience implies whether the brand is thought about by consumers at the right place and right time. Coke would want to be remembered any time and any place when one feels thirsty. How easily a brand is evoked which is principally is governed by awareness (recall and recognition). On top of salience is identity which answers the question what are you: in terms of brand performance and imagery.
Brand performance refers to the product aspect of brand which embodies functionality. How does a brand satisfy functional/economic needs? These stem from intrinsic product properties like a car’s reliability, durability, and efficiency. The other corresponding side to performance is imagery which refers to the extrinsic/ abstract/ intangible aspect of brand. Imagery is route to social and psychological satisfaction. Imagery includes user image in demographic and psychographic terms (BMW-achiever, Marlboro- masculine, independent, Pepsi-young, rebel), use situation or occasion (Tiffany- gift) and history (Rolex/Burberry-heritage).
Further up on the third layer is referred to as brand response- how consumers judge the brand. Brands can be judged with heads or/and hearts. Brand performance is a matter of head (rational and evaluative thinking)-quality, credibility and superiority (how does Samsung Galaxy compare with Apple in terms of operating ease, battery life, ease of operation- POP and POD). Brand imagery, on the other hand evokes feelings. These comprise emotional response of consumer-feeling of joy and cheer (Coke, Pepsi), warmth, security (LIC), excitement (Nescafe- come alive with Nescafe), social approval or appreciation (Fair n Lovely, Louis Vuitton), self respect (HDFC Life) and pride (Prius).
On the peak of the pyramid sits brand resonance– what kind of relationship doe the brand creates with its consumers. Consumers may exhibit deeper sense of engagement (willingness to spend time, money and energy into brand- this was seen in AAP’s case) or at a little lesser level consumers may be emotionally attached (mothers love J&J products or Apple user love their brand). Brand resonance at the minimum level shows in repeat buying (minus attachment) by consumers who can shift to other brands easily.
What does Arvind Kejriwal’s statement hold in terms of AAP brand? Intellectual disagreement corresponds with performance dimension and emotional commitment is about the feeling aspect of brand. Consider a customer’s response to Rolex. He identifies with its prestige and achievement symbolism but does not like its high price. This is a situation when the mind is in fight with heart or left brain wages a war against right brain. Who is likely to prevail? Leon Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance. It arises when two cognitions held by a person do not fit well, that is one is in friction with other. For instance, a person may have voted for AAP (+liking) but feels against (-) Kejriwal’s dharrna or resignation. This produces tension and one looks for ways to get out this state.
But what is likely to happen when emotions clash with reason? Strong brands often take emotional route to gaining strength. They take a jump over consumer’s reason or cognition to develop emotional connections. ‘Emotions matter because if we did not have them nothing else would matter’ (Elster). Emotions are tied to values or something that matters to somebody. Strong brands manage to create inelastic demand by restricting the role of thinking mind. This is the reason why some brands manage to charge premium and their consumers go out of their way to buy them. Zajonc suggests that emotion is a separate processing system and also the primary influence in development of preference. It often precedes cognition.
Kejriwal’s statement is profound. People who feel strongly about AAP are unlikely to be affected by what happened in AAP government’s time. The heart is likely to prevail upon head. The intellectual differences would fade away but emotional connection is likely to stay.

Rahul Gandhi, Branding, Confusion, Complexity and Connection with People

Brands have become relevant in modern society for a variety of reason.  Urban life is very complicated compared to rural life and life and the past was simpler than what it is now.  What does complication mean in contrast to simple? It means tangled, difficult to unravel or understand, intricate, arduous, convoluted, knotty, and abstruse. Confucius said that ‘life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated’.  Let us just focus on complication from marketing perspective.  The markets are flooded with endless product and brands. Does explosion in choices add to pleasure? Answer is that beyond a point excess of anything becomes a burden.  The product, brand, and feature explosion make choice difficult instead of simplifying it.

Can an average customer actually make a choice of a LCD or mobile phone or even toothpaste in rational manner? Probably not, brands in this context assume significance because they have become short cuts to negotiate complicated and confusing choice terrain. Brand acts like an ‘information chunk’ or ‘short cut’ or ‘short hand’ or ‘engram’ or ‘trust mark’ or ‘love mark’ or ‘signature’ which simplify choices.  Two of the important facets of a brand are visual and verbal. Brand name and visual symbols become signifiers of what a brand truly stands for. For instance ‘Apple’ word verbally and the ‘apple’ fruit visually communicate the essence of what Apple brand stands for.  In this sense every brands appropriates or assumes or envelops a meaning in its fold. A brand name in the absence of a meaning is nothing more than a hollow symbol.  It must be understood that a brand name is nothing but a signifier; it conveys what a brand stands for. It is carrier of a meaning. Meaning is far more important than the name.   

Name per se is likely to assume important when all available option are devoid of any meaningful difference. Therefore in commodities, name may alone be a differentiator and can potentially attract customers.  For instance if eggs produced in farm are similar but are given different brand names the customer are unlikely to be evenly distributed among different brands. The reason, name causes differentiation and creates liking which depends upon how a name is elaborated. For instance a name may be closer to your name or son’s name or linked with pleasurable event in your life. I remember my grandmother liking Congress just because it had a symbol of ‘cow and calf’ just because it reminded her of her own cow or lamp symbol of Jan Sang. 

Political parties in India have long relied upon peripherals to attract voters like cast, religion and other symbols (wearing a skull cap) name (Shiv Sena,  Samajvadi Party).  Peripherals assume significance when customer/voters are immature or incapable of making choices based on thinking. All these provide short cuts to voting. But as customers become mature, discerning and discriminating the peripherals are pushed to background and substance take the front seat. Names like Haldiram and  Hazoorilal may not be acceptable to many but they are good brands because name is ultimately a signifier, signified is what people want.

Rahul is a good name. If you add ‘Gandhi’ it becomes better for it leverages equity of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv. But unlike the past when people (people who remembered INC and its role in freedom struggle) voted for the name or symbol, the new generation which constitutes a significant portion of voting population is unlikely to be impressed. For the youth of this country now the word ‘Gandhi’ is only a sir name like any other name- this does not add any equity. Rahul is a good looking relatively young person. This may ring bell with some naïve (who get moved by looks in politics too) but young generation is far more educated, discerning and discriminating. They know good looks are a qualification in media or movies not in politics (now even not so good looking actors by conventional yardstick are successful).

 In this background, what is needed is for Rahul Gandhi  is convey what he stands for besides a good looking young politician who is a Gandhi.  Political choices like any other product category are complicated because there are many political brands which make competing and often confusing claims. Gone are the days when political parties could succeed simply by miscommunication or over communication. Now people what to make informed choices. Political campaigning is not as much about image making as communicating the substance.  Thus the essential important question is what Rahul Gandhi stands for and electorates want to know that.

One of the cardinal rules of branding is that brand must stand for a concrete idea- like Moov stands for back pain relief; Pepsi stands for the young, Head and Shoulders for dandruff.  What does RG stands for? Not many of us have a clear idea. In the absence of clarity of what he stands for, it is very unfavorable situation for him as people do not buy brands which either stand for many things or do not stand for anything. Confusion is antithesis of branding, especially when people live complicated lives which leaves very little time and energy with them to resolve it.  When confused, it is much easier to move on to the next clearly defined alternative or to avoid the situation. 

Nano, Premiumization, Repositioning, and Big Cat Is Not Cat It Is Tiger, Stupid

Nano was launched with great fanfare in March 2009. But before its launch, Nano became talk of motor world in almost all corners of the world. Nano cut into news channels and newspapers for something that was considered undoable in automobiles.  Cars or four wheelers were finely segmented in to different clusters on price-performance curve.  Lower performance came at lower price; compare Maruti 800 sitting at the base and BMW or Audi at the center and high performance sports cars on the top like Ferrari or Porsche.  The important point in Nano’s case was it challenged the point at which so called car value curve originated.  Implying for a vehicle to qualify as a car it must have some minimum engine capacity and thus minimum price. This was set by then prevalent  automobile engineering, manufacturing and marketing paradigm. 

Breaking a paradigm is often called ‘out of box’ or innovative thinking. It is critical challenge for many companies to break away from their low performance levels by rule breaking. Therefore innovation is a cherished idea in corporate circles. It is something like questioning ‘why the apple must fall on earth’ again and again. An out of idea when translated into a product and process may win accolades with the technical community of researchers and engineers but fail to ring with market.  For instance a refrigerator with see through door was rejected but designers saw great utility in its ability to convey stock levels of various things without having to open the door. Sony’s Betamx and Apple’s Newton are some other examples.

In a market typically products are clustered along price-performance dimensions. And this clustering is determined both technical or engineering constraints and customer expectations.  Consider bikes or cars or tractors or computers. The engine capacity and price if plotted on a two dimension diagram would reveal distinct clustering (bikes like 100cc, 150cc, 350 cc). A product created out of altering these combinations comes with both opportunities and risks. My best way to exemplify this is to imagine a cat making company in its attempt to expand market goes on to increase its size and it keeps increasing it. What happens beyond a point (on price-performance/power axis) it ceases to be a cat and becomes tiger. And if you decrease its size, again beyond the minimum psychological limit of cat category again it ceases to be cat. Product categorization is purely is a mental scheme by which mind creates ordering and classification to make the external reality manageable.

Each of categories of a product is usually tied up some consumer motives. For instance high power bikes (like Harley, BMW, Hayabusa) tied with dominance and ‘against’ identity. A car per se is a visible or item of conspicuous consumption. It conveys who you are (identity expression, existing psycho-socal group) and it assumes instrumentality in belongingness role (desired psycho-social group). In a consumption society which works on the construction-‘ you are what you  have’ – possessions both give self and social identities. How much would be the desire in people at the bottom tier of market (non car customers) to belong to car buying category (psycho-social group in terms of power and status). They certainly would like to buy a car for its psycho- social significance. They would like to  ‘unbelong’ or ‘disassociate’ from their present group to gain assertiveness and power (in new society the old sources of identity have diminished in their role).  Now consider how Nano fits in this scheme of things.

 

A car which is publicized for being the cheapest car is likely to a contender for accolades in academia and technical circles. This publicity simultaneously invests meaning in the car which renders is irrelevant for the target customers. The vehicle becomes an open display of one’s non-car buyer status. It marginalizes and pushed the owner the car to the bottom of the road power politics. Nano may be an excellent solution to driving in city conditions, but the publicity and hype that made it hog limelight extraordinaire became its own cross.

So what is the solution? Nano needs to break complete away from its price centric perception. Give potential buyers a reason to buy the cheapest car wrapped up in a motive other than price. It can become for instance, choice of smart pro planet people or ‘I am me’ group who buy cheapest car not for price’s sake but for ‘that’s how they are’.  Nano’s new campaign aimed to reposition it, ‘you re awesome’ trivializes the brand. A car is serious product category and people seek seriousness first before emotions of fun. Now BMW is pure joy and thrill to ride but much before this position it established itself as the ‘ultimate driving machine’. 

AAP, Symbols, Subconscious Meaning and Somatic Markers

What best explains overwhelming response to AAP. How people respond is caused by many factors. Although providing the explanation to one’s behavior is generally the job of the conscious and the reason but it is not all. A lot of thing remain outside the realm of reason but have influence behavior profoundly. Long back Descartes made a proclamation, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Science for long pursued the path of reason to explain behaviors by concentrating on cognitive side brain and ignoring the emotions.

But neurologist Atonio Damasio challenged the old ideas about the connection between reason and emotion. He claimed that emotions are integral to rational thinking and normal to social behavior. They are the source of a person’s true being. The dichotomization between body and mind, and reason and emotion proposed by Descartes was an error. Emotions and body guide the human rationality and thinking. In many cases our reactions are almost automatic- these can be called gut level reactions. These gut level reactions are called ‘somatic markers’ by Damasio and these cause us to behave almost automatically in an instant. So quite contrary to our notion that thinking drives our preference, it is emotions and feelings that assume the charge. The somatic markers add bias and fasten our decision making in complex situations.

Cognitive/ rational/ economic school proposes that humans make decisions rationally uninfluenced by emotions by performing cost/benefit analysis. This model assumes that a person is capable in terms of time, knowledge, mathematics to arrive at optimal decision. But his is hardly possible. It is here, emotions assume driver’s role and help us in negotiating complex and uncertain situation. Imagine making choices between parties/candidates in political arena-these are complex and conflicting choices.    It may not be possible to make decisions based on only reason or cognition. It is here somatic markers come to our rescue and help in decision making.  The somatic markers are associations between reinforcing stimuli that induce an affective/emotional state and cause bias.

In response to a stimuli the body/ physiological (muscle tone, heart rate, facial expression, endocrine release) changes are conveyed to brain where they are converted into emotions. For instance, sight of a lion would create pounding of heart and that would create feeling of fear. With time, the emotions and corresponding bodily changes become linked with particular situation. Thus when a person is thrown into a situation of decision making in future, these connections between physiological signals or somatic markers and corresponding emotions gets activated which causes people to approach or avoid certain behaviors. So when in a certain situation somatic markers are associated with positive emotions, a positive bias is added. Consider what somatic markers are associated with when one happens to see a politician (prototypical politician is dressed in white kurta-payjama, surrounded by musclemen either hired or in khaki, car with red beacon, arrogant demeanor, rings on the fingers etc)- given the track record of political class in India the physiological response and corresponding emotions are anger, frustration, dislike and hate.

Now consider how the members of AAP by dissociating with the politician by profession (not statesmen) have managed to avoid negative emotions. The people from AAP are very ordinary, minus all the symbols that the political class in India has come to be associated with.   The outcome of this is that they activate emotions that subconsciously trigger people to approach not avoid AAP and its leaders.