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.  


Soft drink brands, Commonality, Personality and Archetypes

An interesting piece of writing by Gautam Talwar, chief strategy officer in The Economic Times throws how strategists use several methodologies to glean consumer insights to create brand resonance and differentiation.  Soft drinks come in different names and flavors but these essentially contain sweetened water with added fizz. This product sameness is both obvious and known. It takes not rocket science for consumers to discover that most brands of cola, lemon, and orange drink are no different from each other.  This product sameness makes marketer’s life difficult for they walk on a slippery path unsure of customer loyalty and commitment. Customers switch brands with drop of a hat.

When product element ceases to be a source of meaningful difference then branding assumes significance. When difference can’t be created by product then it brand symbolism holds some promise. With branding, marketers lower their anchors deep into consumer mind to get a hold and stability against waves of competition. Two of the bed rocks on which anchors are hooked are customer resonance and competitive differentiation.   

Different brands of cola like Pepsi, Coke and Thums Up tap into all kinds of cultural resource to create a sense of perceived inequality to kill brand indifference. These include plugging into meaning reservoirs like ambassadors, events and other forms of express communication. The brand asset valuator model is one of the diagnostic method ( of Rediffusion-Y&R)  which can be used to discover a brand’s  reality in consumers’ minds. This model tracks brands on four aspects: differentiation (brand uniqueness/ stand apart from competition), relevance (answer to personal needs/ appropriateness), esteem (living up to expectations/ perceived quality) and Knowledge (awareness and understanding of brand).

Most of brands in this category score high on knowledge and relevance factor of BAV but score low on differentiation.  This implies that different brands of cola are unable of stand apart from each other in spite of millions of rupees that are spent on building differentiation.  The attribute commonality restricts product differentiation. It is here the role of imagery or symbolism begins. Brands are given characters which often are inspired by archetypes (model of a man/ template of persona of a man). Carl Jung , Swiss psychiatrist  suggested that these archetypes come from the collective unconscious and are innate and universal.  These are mythic characters housed in collective unconscious of people: hero, creator, explorer, outlaw, jester, lover, caregiver, everyman, innocent, ruler, sage and magician.  These archetypes characterize our personality and hence become of interest to marketers. Brands are invested with human qualities or characterization to develop relationship.

Consider different brands in soft drink category, a large number of these are given an imagery involving dimension of energy and emotions.  Cola brands like Pepsi and Coke (including Fanta and Mirinda)  have been a joyous, free spirited and fun character.  Thums Up and Mountain Dew also come close to this imagery but with additional dash of Jester traits (daring, witting and resilient- live the present moment with full of enjoyment because you live only once). Given the competition it is a matter of investigation whether shifting these brands towards Warrior and Hero will help the brand further. The other drinks like 7 U p and Sprite share Jester character. Quite away from the crowing mango drinks like Maaza and Slice come close to enchantress and lover archetype. This brings traits like sensuality, glamour, and temptation to the brands.

When product element of a brand ceases to provide meaningful differentiation, marketers turn to symbolism. Human archetypes provide an important guide in shaping branding strategy to break away from cluttering effect created by proliferation.