Corruption Yatra, Positioning, Endorsement and Brand Anna

Mr Advani expressed his desire to undertake a ‘corruption yatra’. It certainly has political overtones. But that is not the point I wish to discuss on this page. Let us look at this announcement from a purely marketing perspective.

In marketing ‘imprinting’ is a very important concept. Each brand seeks to imprint something (a proposition) in prospects’ mind which is relevant for customer and different from competition. Consider the following brands and think what immediately comes to mind:
• Dettol
• Close Up
• Orient and
• Ujala
• Johnson & Johnson
Without much stress what flows is: antiseptic, fresh breath, PSPO, liquid fabric whitener and baby care. And now consider Anna. It seems the word anti corruption is appropriated by Anna in the perceptual space of people. What happens when a new brand seeks to affiliate with a concept already occupied by a first mover? Two things happen:
First it immediately acts as a clue to mentally rehearse what has already been stored which makes the connection even stronger.
Second the late entrant is perceived to be a ‘shadow’ or ‘me too’ or ‘also ran’ or ‘copy’ of the original. It does not go down well in the cognitive system. Let us go to the above examples.
Savlon failed to appropriate what Dettol stands for, attempts by Colgate to enter into ‘freshness’ haven’t met with a great success. There is only one PSPO fan. Tens of brands were lured into liquid fabric whiteners only to be non entities. And finally Wipro’s Baby Soft brand could not give J&J an effective challenge.

The success of a concept is a big draw for others to jump in. But mentally the early mover in the perceptual space is protected by what can be called the ‘perceptual advantage stemming from imprinting’. Human mind resists forgetting or unlearning especially when new brand constantly sends the reminders by becoming similar to the original brand. Consider how the first movers react: Coke communicates that it is the ‘real thing,’ Levis is ‘the’ jeans and then there is iPhone and phones.

Let us explore how prospects receive and evaluate communication. Most of the brands seek to communicate a concept by a variety of appeals which include: slice of life communication (showing a typical user like Tide or Surf does), celebrity endorser (like Amitabh Bacchan in Navratan oil or Shah Rukh Khan in Linc pens), expert endorser who is an expert in the field (real doctor endorsing Sansodyne tooth paste), testimonial (an actual user who provides testimony to product efficacy as in the Dove ads) and spokesperson (a known person who becomes the mouthpiece or advocate for the brand like Aishwarya Rai for Longines watches). In communication two factors determine source effectiveness: source attractiveness (looks and physical attractiveness), source expertise or knowledge.

The announcement by Mr Advani to embark upon a ‘Corruption Yatra’ has to been seen from above two angles: the first mover perceptual advantage which Anna seems to have preempted. Second how well will this idea be perceived by the filter of people of endorsement?

Criticism in communication, customer response and brand Anna (10)

The essence of competition is competition. That is, action leads to reaction which in turn leads to counteraction. This game could be deeply  engrossing but mindlessly consuming. Therefore being within the ‘boundaries of reason’ is essential but a temptation to ‘breach’ it is phenomenal.
Consider when Ariel reduced its price substantially in a bid to capture market; Surf Excel did not lose any time to retaliate. When Coke became the official sponsor, Pepsi reacted by its famous ‘nothing official’ campaign. When Godrej entered the hand sanitizer market, Dettol and Lifebuoy went in to aggressive defense mode. Competition is all about territories and their protection but it is also about breaking into them.
A campaign to smear and disparage directly achieves little. ‘More’ could be ‘less’ in the absence of strategy. The way to fight is to win without assault. Observe the world of marketing and you will find that brands refrain from direct criticism. Direct mud slinging is rare. And when it happens nothing much is achieved. Recall recent Tide and Rin campaign. Often minor tactical gains are achievable but significant gains do not come by.
Competition need not always be bloody. If companies can meet their aspirations without having to cross lines,then existence is peaceful. But when one’s gain is the other’s loss, moves and counter moves define the situation. Rivalry is the name of the game when two or more firms chase the same target or aim to nibble at each other’s customer base. For instance HUL’s ‘Clear’ antidandruff shampoo would like to cut into P&G’s Head & Shoulders. Samsung’s Galaxy smart phone directly tries to woo i-phone’s customers (by calling it the ‘greatest smartphone ever’). Competition does not happen outside as we see. The real site of competition is the customer’s mind. The target of this winning or stealing is the customer. In case of the slugfest between the Government and Brand Anna, the target is the citizen of India. The indiscriminate ‘firing’ of ‘words’ is of little help. In communication often ‘more’ and ‘bitter’ is not the way.

If Pepsi wants to ‘win’ it cannot afford to blindly start attacking Coke. It must obtain finer details about the attitude and commitment of the customers. The nature of content and tone should accordingly be determined. Communication in a competitive scenario is not about what you ‘throw’ rather it is about what customers ‘pickup’. Pepsi (in our example) faces the following types of customers (similarly the Government):Committed to Pepsi; committed to rival Coke and the indifferent. Pepsi can win only when it manages to persuade the ‘indifferent’ and ‘Coke committed’ to be Pepsi drinkers.

The government’s response to Anna has been to mount an attack by identifying the ‘weaknesses’ (for instance: ‘Kejriwal receives notice from income tax department’; ‘CD involving the Bushans in conversation with certain politicians’; ‘Kejriwal collected money for NGO while in office’ or ‘investigation into Baba Ramdev’s businesses’). The critical question is how effective are these tactics in persuading the people especially who are either ‘indifferent’ or ‘committed ‘to Brand Anna?

Sheriff’s social judgment theory serves as a good guide in this context. The effect of persuasive communication (here, in this case anti Anna campaign) in terms of creating attitude change (of people given to Brand Anna or indifferent) would depend upon which zone it falls in. There are primarily three zones: latitude of acceptance, latitude of rejection and latitude of non-commitment. The ego involvement (how important is the issue ?) plays an important role defining these zones. The effectiveness of persuasive attempts by the government would depend upon where their arguments are falling.
Considering the response that Brand Anna received (exhibits high ego involvement with the issue of corruption or anchor point or the point of reference or initial attitude) people are likely to have larger latitude of rejection. A persuasive attempt or message discrepant to the original position (like Kejriwal collected money or his NGO  has tax liability) by the government will fall in the zone of rejection (contrasted with the initial position of reference/ message directed is very different from point of reference- commitment to brand Anna) and hence is likely to be rejected by the people who are committed to Brand Anna. However  reality would be exactly opposite for the people who are pro-government (assimilation effect).
Given the overwhelming response Anna received, it shows a very high level of involvement with Brand Anna (as anticorruption crusader) people are likely to have a narrow zone of acceptance (larger zone of rejection) for any discrepant information. The present strategy of persuasion adopted by the people in power is unlikely to result into desirable effect. ‘More’ the attempts and ‘higher ‘ the severity of criticism- less is the effect.

Anna Brand: The Ocean In The Drop (7)

‘I left the ocean, alone’

Said a drop

‘But you are me’

Said the ocean

‘Today you leave But tomorrow you will raise a storm’

He murmured in silence

‘But I am too small’

Whispered the drop

‘No, you are me’

Consoled the Ocean

It left…in a doubt So did others.

On the way Sun came across

‘You will rob me of what I am’

Reacted the drop in fear

‘No, I will make you ocean’

Consoled the Sun

‘But you will burn.’

‘I will burn…for my ocean’

It did

So did others

Then rose a storm

Only to rise as tide Upon the call of a tiny drop .



“Our top rival is planning to launch a product which would obliterate us from the market. It is a serious issue. How should we react?” said a junior executive.

 “Don’t worry. You don’t have to. We know how their Board operates. It is a highly intellectual group. We will use ‘intellectual paralysis strategy’, just leak the news and they would get diverted away even from their areas of strengths,” observed, the grand master.

 The company:

Board room discussion and voices of competent intellectuals-

“People are dying because of malaria and dengue. They need a cure. It is a golden business opportunity.”

“How can you have cure of malaria and dengue it is everywhere?”

‘Yes you are right but let me tell you it is not only everywhere but it is there from time immemorial”

“We already have a mosquito repellent product, so why a new one?”

“You are short sighted to focus on only one thing; people also suffer from typhoid, sun stroke, infant mortality, poor quality of water”

“How can a remedy be developed for malaria and dengue, we can’t control rain, water accumulation and bushes?”

“Let us make the existing product better?”

“Why don’t you call people from water harvesting, horticulture, aquaculture, marine biologists and entomologists?”

“Why don’t we try an ‘all in one product’ cure of everything?”

“We don’t have money, where will the finance come from?”

“Where are the suppliers, our current suppliers cannot supply required parts and components?”

“To be honest, how will we distribute the product?”

“Our engineers cannot design this product- let us outsource designing from the US”

“Why the US, your advice is politically motivated?”

“Why don’t we do a formal extensive research on what do people actually want, do they really want cure to mosquito menace. We need conclusive proof?”

“There are different types of malaria which one are you talking about?”

“We are a commercial enterprise we don’t want to get into welfare or betterment business”

 And the arguments go on and on…..

 Brand Anna stands for one well defined thing/meaning. There are two sides to this equation: the Brand and the Competition (or rival force). The forces internal to the Brand itself are degenerative. So called people who ‘in principle’ agree themselves seem to work counter to the brand driven by their own ‘territorialism’ and ‘tunnel vision’. This myopic territorialism first aims to create a ‘cocktail’ (a kind of ‘be all brand’) which appeals to none because everyone is ‘somebody’ but not a lousy mix of ‘everybody’. The global mission stands to get compromised by these doses of ‘territories’. Rather the territories should be viewed from the ‘brand’s lens’. Local territories in their bids to prevail, compromise the ‘collective’.

 The supremacy of the mission must prevail upon those who agree in principle. Refinements can be made later. First allow the brand to take off. Let the baby be born. Most of the brands start their journey as ‘imperfections’. Imperfection is real and perfection is surreal. Take Tata ‘Indica’ which was not best engineered car to begin with and see how P&G refined ‘Whisper’ overtime. The ambition to create the best solution sometimes leads to no solution.

 In the present situation the competition does not require a strategy to ‘fight’ if the tendency to ‘over analyze’ is fostered. The idea would crumble under the burden of its own arguments and counter arguments from within. Homogenization and convergence ‘within’ is the key to get the brand off ground. The real threats to brand building first originate from within.  There lies a beautiful opportunity for the competition.

 Isn’t it true for Brand Anna? It is weakened by forces within. It is falling victim to ‘analysis paralysis? The competition just has to buy time. Pick a newspaper and ‘dissent within’ in class which ‘in principle’ agrees emerges as a ‘the’ threat to the Brand.  The woods are being missed for the trees. Everybody seems to be springing up with a sapling.