Secularism: product, markets and market aggregation

In Indian politics Congress party constructed their political product on core ideological foundation of secularism.  Based on the evidence of success that this political product ensures, many new political ventures like RJD and SP also sought to create their own versions based on the same formula.  The 2017 elections in UP and earlier 2014 national elections exhibited waning pull of this product.  This has taken many political managers by surprise. The product decline is common in marketing and it does not surprise them.  But the shock and chagrin on top leader of grand old party shows as if they didn’t expect it. As if it theirs’s was a product with timelessness bestowed upon it by assumed captive territory along with people possessed by Gandhi name and nostalgic connection of freedom struggle.

Why has the political product defined by secularism been so compelling and for so long? Words make sense in reference to what they are not.  A word is a linguistic sign and it is interpreted by application of conventions by which a concept is evoked.  Things make sense only in relation to something else usually in the form of binary oppositions. In a way things or words make sense by implicitly referring to what they are not. For instance, there is nothing like ‘good’ without ‘bad’ and ‘fair’ without ‘dark’. All signs make sense by generation of their opposites.  Then the question arises why ‘secularism’ has been such a potent weapon in the arsenal of Congress and other new startup parties.  What did it evoke that a group of people rallied behind these parties notwithstanding their other agenda.

Let us dig into secularists’ language in the meaning space. The word secular means ‘not having any connection with religion’ or ‘not involving religion’. These words convey meaning by what they actually don’t stand for. The use of secularist narrative works by evocation of the opposite. It necessarily implies that other party is sectarian and religious which need not be or it can much more. It positions, the religiousness in pivot of other party’s narrative.  But then how does it work to make the apparatus to operate in favor?

The stress on secularism and its repeated utterances does not allow the discourse to melt in background in the psyche of a particular community. It subtly creates binaries of dominant & dominated, Hindu & Muslim, harmony & discord, big number & small number, natives & invaders, majority & minority.  It unleashes a multi-dimensional divisive force to herd members of minority community by tapping into their inherent primal fears of survival. This method perfected by Congress was used brilliantly by RJD and SP their respective geographical segments.

But things don’t stand still. The Congress end of the spectrum stuck to its tested formula but BJP evolved with arrival of Modi on the scene. He pushed the saffron discourse into background and brought all-inclusive agenda in the center. On the other hand, even the dumbest of person can’t be fooled all the time.  Modi did what is called reverse of segmentation or market aggregation positioning its political product with an appeal cutting across all selected people of all segments. By don’t letting the Congress play on the fears and building an alternative narrative, BJP made its completion irrelevant. If BJP is a growth oriented nationalistic party, it is not an opposite of secularism. The talk of secularism rings hollow because what this product is being compared with.


What lies beneath: Brand Metaphors

Aristotle is one of the earliest known researchers who used metaphor. According to him Metaphor is “the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy”.

 Human conceptual system is fundamentally metaphoric in character. There are                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           primarily two types of concepts which form the basis of human conceptual system:  Metaphorical and Non-metaphorical. Concepts which emerge from a person’s direct experience are defined in the same manner are Nonmetaphorical. Most of the concepts of humans are abstract like ideas, emotions, relationships, time, and communication. While defining these concepts, we use metaphorical language in terms of concrete and structured terms like food, objects, space and motion. The base of these concepts is physical and cultural experiences. Different metaphors are understood differently across divergent cultures (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

Each metaphor consists of two parts a target and a source. The target is called as tenor; we try to describe its meaning by the use of metaphor. The source is a vehicle, the concept that is used to predicate about the target. Example: “Tata Ace: Small is big (Chota hathi)” in this Tata Ace is tenor and Chota hathi is Vehicle.

Metaphors can be verbal and non-verbal. Most of the studies of metaphor focused on the verbal component only few researchers focused on non-verbal component. Metaphors are also classified on the basis of Literal and Non-Literal or theoretical or scientific metaphor. In literal, the message is conveyed vividly and dramatically and it loses its value after sometime and become cliché e.g. “Marketing is Myopic”. The other is non-literal metaphor which encourages a researcher to explore different literature and theories of different field to form a concept or a strategy.  It stimulates creativity thus results in long lasting effect e.g. “Strategic Alliances are Marriages” (Hunt and Menon, 1995).


Metaphor is not a figure of speech, but a mode of thought. Metaphor is at the core of language and constitutes one of its most dynamic parts. Metaphors pervade our everyday life; we really ‘live by’ them (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

Metaphors are the key mechanisms for viewing consumer thoughts and feelings and for understanding behaviour. Metaphors actively create and shape thought.  Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation technique (ZMET) provides deep and useful insights about consumers and their latent and emerging needs (Zaltman and Coulter, 1995).

Marketing language is more metaphoric than social sciences. Brand is identified with three root metaphors: brand as differentiating mark, brand as person and brand as asset. The word ‘brand’ is itself a metaphor. One of the most common metaphors in the branding literature is that of ‘brand as person’ where human characteristics are ascribed to a brand. ‘Like people, brands can have emotions’ and ‘Like people, brands can have personalities’ (Davies and Chun, 2003).

Metaphors are the ‘ants of advertising’ because ‘just as the tiny insect can support many times its own weight, a single metaphor can be worth a hundred words of copy’. Marketers use metaphors in slogans (Idea: An Idea can change your life, Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM: Its Hot), names (Gillette, Garnier) and other promotional devices (Ward and Gaidis, 1990). Marketers use metaphors to achieve many objectives; i.e., to gain consumer attention, evoke imagery, provoke comparisons, suggest similarity between a product and a concept, explain a complex or technical product, or influence consumer beliefs and attitudes (Bremer and Lee, 1997).

Metaphors are on exploration since ages and the trend continues. World’s population have experienced poetry now are more likely to be exposed to creative and innovative metaphors through marketing and promotions.

Contributed by Anjuman Antil, my research scholar at FMS

Endorser Actions, Brand Value and the Ousting of Salman Khan

Every brand today wishes to forge a connection with its consumers. A strong connection leads to higher brand recall, and there is no simpler way to do this than by hiring a celebrity Brand Ambassador. Celebrities, by virtue of their public personalities, have distinct imagery and associations pre-formed in the consumer mind; and when consumers see these celebrities endorsing a certain brand, they form mental connections between the attributes of the star and the attributes of the brand. MS Dhoni for Lava mobiles, Ranveer Singh for Ciaz, Akshay Kumar for Honda, Shahrukh Khan for Jio are all examples of Brand Ambassadors.

Another good example is that of Joy, a brand of skincare products, which has recently hired the television comedian Bharti Singh as its celebrity endorser. Joy being a relatively new brand wishes to position itself along the lines of ‘beautiful by nature’, i.e. as a brand that relates to internal beauty and not the external image. The decision to hire Bharti breaks general convention in the skincare segment as she, unlike endorsers of other similar brands, is clearly overweight. But her strong and confident persona, transfers those qualities to the imagery of Joy in the consumer mind. This transfer of attributes from the celebrity to the brand is the reason why paying such high fees to these stars is justified. Any other lesser known face would not have evoked these pre-developed associations that a famous star can, and hence would be less effective.

Image result for salman khan removed from thums up endorsement

The connect that a consumer feels with a celebrity is dependent on something called the self-concept, the perception that the consumer has of himself. A consumer or a fan will identify with the celebrity when he perceives his own self – his values, attitudes, behaviour -to be similar to those of the star. Celebrities appeal to the self-actualization goals of aconsumer. Based on his self-concept, a consumer places the celebrity into either an aspirational group (he wants to be like the star) or an associative group (he believes his qualities are already similar to the star). Virat Kohli, Rafael Nadal, Ranbir Kapoor are all role models for the young men in our country. Similarly, Saina Nehwal, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt are role models for the women.

Associated with the self-concept are the feelings of pride and shame. Pride is defined as a positive emotion that is experienced following a positive evaluation of one’s competence or effort in achieving a goal. Shame is be defined as a painful feeling of guilt, wrongness,inability or failure. These two emotions can be visualised as forming a continuum. Just as at home, when a child scores good marks, the family experiences pride and vice versa, similarly if a brand endorser that we adore does a good deed, we would experience pride.Image result for tiger woods accenture


This pride enables us to feel good about the brand as well. For instance, Akshay Kumarvoiced his ‘nation-first’ opinion against actors from Pakistan, lending nationalistic associations to the brands he endorses, notably to Honda. His opinions enhanced the consumer’s pride in use of Honda vehicles. However, the opposite is also true, and consumers may experience shame on being related to the brand ambassador.The brand manager’s task, therefore, does not just end on hiring an appropriate celebrity.

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Companies must continuously monitor the activities and statements of its endorsers to minimize incidents that cause shame. As the celebrity loses his credibility, the brand risks losing the trust that consumers place in it as well. The incredible India campaign faced this issue with Aamir Khan, Accenture with Tiger Woods, and very recently Thums up with Salman Khan. They were all promptly fired, and wisely so.

Contributed by Harleen Kaur (my doctoral student at FMS)

Goal, Objective, Purpose and Branding

Goal: something that you are trying to do or achieve (Merriam Webster); the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end/ the terminal point in a race (

Objective: something that one’s efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish (; something that you plan to do or achieve (Cambridge); A thing aimed at or sought/ not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. (Oxford).

Purpose: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists/ motive; why you do something or why something exists (Cambridge);the reason why something is done or used : the aim or intention of something (Merriam-Webster)

These tree terms are often used interchangeably in business conversations. However, appreciation of their difference is critical in branding, strategic management and advertising. And the quest to understand the same can be traced back to 1960s when DAGMAR approach was formulated by Russel Colley. It is elaborated as Defining Advertising Goals for Measured Advertising Results.

Goals:  tend to express targets to be achieved in an abstract manner. They do direct attention on what is to be accomplished but fail to provide concrete links with ways/actions to achieve the ends. For instance a company may define its goal as to achieve ‘excellent financial performance’ or ‘to achieve greater market share’.

Objectives: are derived from goals and they are concrete. They are not surrounded by haze and personal interpretation or feelings. The concreteness of objectives allows strategists to clearly connect them with means/actions required for their achievement.  The objectives are spelled like:  a company decides to earn 10% ROI or wants to expand its sales by 12.5 %.  Image result for dove real beauty

Purpose: draws attention to whys of goals and objectives. Why goals or objectives are to be accomplished fundamentally? If a business targets to achieve 10% ROI, it is important that for people to understand it’s ‘reason why’ or purpose. Similarly, if goal is to expand market share, the staff would do a better job if they are explained why it is important to do so. Purpose provides context to actions and therefore motivate and inspire people to commit themselves to performing better. It is one thing to say we aim to satisfy our customers and another to say we want to enable them to live richer lives.Image result for lifebuoy hand wash purpose

In order to get better consumer and employee commitment, marketers have realized the importance of articulating and assigning brands with meaningful purpose. Product functions and benefits are easily copied and therefore fail to extract customer commitment at a higher level. By connecting a brand with a higher order purpose consumers can be given opportunity to connect with greater cause or meaning. Purpose can strike a soul connection and become basis of relationship and bonding that transcend cost-benefit math. Consider the following:

  • It is one thing for a fairness cream to make skin complexion fair but quite another to instill confidence in people to take on the world
  • It is one thing for a soap brand to promote ‘soft and glowing skin’ and quite another to be comfortable with their real and natural looks
  • It is one thing to make a hand wash brand to make hand germs free and quite another to let kids not be down (not go to school) due to hand based infections
  • It is one thing for an oral contraceptive pill to prevent women from having unwanted pregnancies and quite another to take charge of their sexuality
  • It is one thing for a soda brand to provide consumers with tasty fizzy drink and quite another to become an agent of their happiness

Good brand not only have good products they also have purpose which allows them to play a role at higher plane. They forge connections which extend beyond product functions and penetrate deeper into consumer’s inherent desire to see meanings in things and lives. As it is said life without purpose is meaningless, a brand without purpose is just a commodity with a name.

Tactical solution, Strategic problem, Theory of reasoned action and Pollution in Delhi

Consider some of the headlines:

The pollution level in Delhi has risen to level that in a way robs citizens of their right to safe and healthy living. If terror and incursions across the line of control put life of Indian citizens at risk, the pollution within our cities is no different. Both lead to same outcomes. Both are enemies, except that domestic enemy invites divergent opinions and milder response. Lack of consensus is one big reason why things don’t get implemented. But consensus based decisions are not always timely and correct. Difficult situations require tough and decisive actions. If there is identifiable enemy outside, equally offensive foe thrives within.

First of all there is no dearth of opinions on what causes pollution in Delhi and how much. The list includes causes like vehicular emission, construction activity, coal and wood burning, poor quality of fuel, city waste burning, industrial emissions and dust on streets due to open surfaces. The cause that dominated news now includes stubble burning in neighboring states.

What is of concern in this air pollution? It includes gases and substances that pollution is made up of.  These includes lead, particulate matter, and gases likeNitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO). Sulfur dioxide (SO2). Pollution is bad because of its consequences. It is a health hazard and is related to respiratory problems, lung damage, asthma and cancer. The elderly, children and ill are particularly vulnerable.

Broadly two the contributing factors can be classified into two categories: the micro or the ones within in individual’s control and macro which related to governmental interventions. The macro contributors like emissions from power plants, diesel policy, politician-contractor nexus (footpath tiles changes), enforcement pollution policy on industrial units and road encroachments.Image result for pollution index delhi

From marketing perspective, the government can launch systematic campaign based on insights to discourage (de-market) pollution causing behaviors. It is not the same thing as haphazard ad campaigns usually run by governmental agencies (like the one which is currently going which urges people to teach needy children in the neighborhood).

One of the approaches that can suggest route to curb pollution is theory of reasoned action. This theory proposes that Intention (intention to control pollution) is necessary for Behavior (actual pollution controlling actions) to occur and both are likely be related. The intention to indulge in a behavior is caused by Attitude to that behavior (liking or disliking towards polluting behavior) and Subjective norm (how people important to one view when one indulges in pollution control activities).

So it is necessary for government to cultivate Intention before people actually adopt pollution reducing behaviors. What are the strategies?

  •  Create strong negative evaluation/attitude towards polluting behavior. Now the issue is do people know about polluting behaviors and its effects. The answer is probably yes. But they don’t strongly feel negative about polluting behaviors. So what is required it to link these behaviors with something important in their lives so that their attitude shifts from indifference to strongly negative (consider: is smoking bad? Answer is yes and I don’t care. But now if you show that smoking is going to hurt your most loved one-lovely daughter, the attitude is likely to shift to negative toward smoking).
  •  Often people don’t care about certain behaviors (like littering on streets) because it is acceptable/it is a norm/nobody disapproves. We often seen illegitimate as legitimate because ‘everybody does it’/ ‘it’s normal’. So this norm has to be changed. The important people around can exert pressure. This power needs to be leveraged. Although difficult, yet norms can be subtly changed. If people around us start to dislike, abhor and show displeasure at our polluting behaviors, it is likely subtly pressure us into not to violate this ‘social norm’.  Many of us who visit abroad very quickly learn what public behaviors are socially disapproved and fall in line.
  •  Finally, often people with right intentions do not behave in accordance to their intentions (e.g. I intend not to litter yet I do). Here comes the role of enablement by the government. The desirable behaviors would get actualized only when they are accompanied by enabling conditions (the campaign to stay indoors is a hollow waste of money- if people don’t have alternative they  would move outdoors/ the odd-even is bound to make people defy their intention in the absence of alternatives).

It is part of our DNA not adopt a visionary approach to solving problems. The tactical maneuvers to strategic problems do not help. It’s time that we seized up the situation and took a long term stand on the issue of pollution.

Signs, meanings, marketing communication, ‘Closeup’ and ‘close up’

It is obvious that marketers speak with their consumers.  They inform them and build awareness about what they offer.  They also shape their liking (getting them to regard their offering in a positive way or develop some kind of affection or agreeableness) and preference (greater liking over competitive offerings). It is presumed that preference is essential for the development of an intense urge or desire or want for something. The desire or craving is that moves consumers to stores.

Marketers in other words deploys all its apparatus to cultivate desire or craving for their brands.  This play of desires shifts the locus of marketing from physical existence into the realm of imagination. Consumers are conditioned to live in surreal world of their fantasy. The production capacities in most of the industries far exceed what can be absorbed by markets. It is pretty challenging for marketers to keep their cash registers ringing. But consumers simply do not need so much as industries are designed to produce.

Needs are connected to survival. Their satisfaction is essential for us to defend our existence. A want is rooted in a need but its fulfillment is not essential for survival. For instance, food is needed for survival but people want Maggi or KFC.  Wants operate at a level higher than mere survival. Their satisfaction makes existence better. Imagine how marketers make consumers want a Parker pen or Nike sports shoe. This breaking away from mere existence to ‘betterment’ bestows marketers with price control.  Desires are purely imaginary and provide marketers with handle to shift consumers from real world to fiction or illusion. The brands are transformed into materials that consumers use for constructing their make believe world. Desires are affect- laden and germane to psychological fulfillment.

At the heart of a play between the consumer needs, wants and desires on the one hand the products on the other lies the battle for meaning destruction and creation. A glass of water if it continues to stand for what it actually is (H2O) is likely to operate as thirst quencher and essentially satisfy defensive function. Its inherent meaning needs to be subverted or emptied and should be filled with something more wanted and desired. Most marketing communication is given to meaning destruction, modification, and creation. Brands in many cases therefore signify what they are essentially not but become in human imagination. The inherent connection between the signifier (brand) and signified (product) is made arbitrary by which marketers gain control in market for meanings.  Consider some examples: Is Close Up toothpaste or fantasy of a close-up with an opposite sex?  Is Levis is a pair of rugged denim trousers or casual American outlook? Is Benetton all about colorful clothes or a unifying ideology?

In meaning construction and communication, three types of signs are used: indexical, iconic and symbolic. The indexical signs directly connected to the signified (the smoke connects to fire, tiger footprints connect to its presence nearby and smell is indexical of presence of flowers; the release of pheromone in the air by an insect is indexical sign of sexual activation).  The connection here is either physical or causal. An ad of Land Rover showed a vehicle’s body spattered with mud and dirk allover. This signaled that his vehicle has been driven off road. A uniquely wrapped box signifies as if it is a gift.

Icons are another set of signs. In this mode the meaning is perceived through resemblance.  The comic series of India Today TV uses cartoons of different politicians, these are icons. A portrait or picture is an icon. The captured images in an ad are collection icons. The pictures of printer or speaker on computer screen are icons. Typically in ads pictures, caricatures and drawings are employed iconic mode to connect signifier with signified.  The last of all signs are symbols. Symbols are found in mathematics. These neither work through resemblance as in case of icons or direct causal or physical connection as in case of indexical signs. The relationship between the signifier and signified is fundamentally arbitrary. It is rather learned.  For instance, the Mercedes signifies status and Marlboro stands for rugged independence. These relationships are learned. Here the signifiers are not constrained by the signified. It is free and independent is choosing it’s signified.

Marketers often attempt to break away from icon and index mode in order to transform his or her brand to assume a meaning which is not a derivative of its product. The people smoke a Marlboro or drive a Harley or own a Patek Phillipe because of an arresting desire that these brand have developed.  A product’s appeal cannot be stretched beyond a limit. The pressures to transcend appeal beyond the attribute and benefit paradigm draw marketers to develop symbolic brands. The symbolic brands are like words in a language which are carry meanings which are interpreted by an active participation of interpreter.

It is behind the superficial appearance of physicality of brands the real meanings are transacted in marketplace.  Brands talk to consumers and consumers talk to others and self through brands.

Burhan Wani, Protests, Brand Identification and Battle of Ideas

Some of the headlines in the news media reported the situation of Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani as the following:

  • ‘Kashmir on edge as Wani buried’ (The Hindustan times)
  • ‘Kashmir on boil after face of new militancy, Burhan Wani, is shot dead’ (The Indian Express)
  • ‘15 Dead, 200 injured In Clashes After Terrorist Burhan Wani’s Killing In Kashmir’ (NDTV)
  • ‘Kashmir tense after Hizbul leader Burhan Wani’s killing, Amarnath yatra suspended’ (The Times of India)
  • ‘12 dead, scores injured as Kashmir boils over killing of militant Burhan’ (Deccan Chronical)

This piece I write purely from the marketing and branding perspective without any intention to glorify terrorism or judge military action.

The reported outcry over the killing of Burhan Wani purely from branding angle shows that he was outward concrete manifestation of an idea brand which was very strong brand within his constituency or target market.  The must have enjoyed phenomenal resonance and relationship.  His elimination has sparked off unrest and violent protests in Kashmir. These protests imply some of kind of breach or violation within his constituency.  In the literature on branding one example that comes very close to this is that of withdrawal of Coke in mid eighties. This action of the Company was met with violent protests and outburst of public anger.

Most of us easily relate with brand of goods (Lux or Luxor) or service (Visa or City). But then there are brands which operate as idea or ideological level. For instance, PM Modi became the face of an idea brand at the core of which sat the proposition of ‘development’ extended with strands like ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ and ‘subka saath sab ka vikas’.  Donald Trump is contesting his election of the idea of ‘Make America great again’. The human existence is not merely about physical survival. It extends beyond the realm of physics into imagination. Often the quest for meaning is much stronger and powerful than the quest for things.  Donald Trump’s campaign lowers an idea deep into multilayered consciousness of Americans to activate desire for a mythical greatness. After all we all are creatures of body and mind.

We have all been through the childhood stage and cried over a lost toy.  It is the nature of post loss reaction which shows nature of bond or connection.  It is violation of this bond that evokes reaction.  When a loss can be perfectly matched with a new replacement, the outcry is lesser. However when a loss does not have perfect replacement it is likely to create violent protest. The physical objects have perfect replacements but when something physical is extends into becoming an idea, the replacement is harder to find. A doll can be replaced because they are mass produced but if a child has made emotional investment in a doll, it becomes unique.  Now it extends to become a friend, companion, mother, teacher or sibling.

Brands often forge links connections become attractive by the process of identification.  The consumer identifies or links with what the brand stands for and willingly creates a relationship.  It is the sense of oneness or unity with the brand idea which plays out in this regard.  So Burhan Wani may have enjoyed liking based on his appearance. But it is superficial basis of connection. At the heart of the protests lay the deeper connection with the idea that he symbolized.  Like physical products can be eliminated but idea can sustain longer. Like Lifebuoy or Lux’s products keep evolving but the resonating idea remained constant. Similarly new physical symbols would keep emerging in Kashmir’s context if the idea continues to find resonance with its people.  In the battle of ideas, it is only the ideas that can win. Its time that a double tiered strategy is adopted.