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.


Sleepy Needs, Unsought goods and ‘Wish I had it’

On Sunday February 17, 2013 the first page of Sunday Times was a shocker. The front page of the newspaper contained the following headlines:

  • ‘Short circuits spark 75% city fires’
  • ‘Farmer loses Rs 15L in fire’
  • ‘Woman dies in LPG blast’
  • ‘Family loss both children in blaze’
  • ‘Car catches fire in Lucknow’
  • ‘Fire erupts on 3rd floor of Indiranagar school’
  • ‘TV sparks blaze in Andheri tower’

 The entire page was flooded with news related to fire and devastation it causes. The reporting could shock anybody out his or her slumber. And in the middle of the page, a message in red ink sounded a warning: YOU MAY BE LUCKY …But ARE YOU SAFE? Disturbing visuals like a distressed women crying, fire billowing out of a building and fire fighters dousing the fire aggravated discomfort by stirring anguish and pain over loss of human lives and property.

The newspaper ‘disturbed’ readers literally. It ‘interfered with normal arrangement’ (absence of agitation, trouble, balance, poise, equilibrium) of the way people look at fire and fire fighting equipments. The message aimed to throwing people out of their mental balance (cognitions in harmony). It disturbed the belief that we are ‘safe’. Safety is taken for granted. It created a friction in cognition & feeling. It compelled people to pay attention to the fact as to how safe they are? It questioned: is it their luck which has saved them from the fury of fire so far or they are actually safe?

This was an advertisement in the garb of actual news which used ‘shock and awe’ strategy to capture attention and sought to engage prospects into an issue which is taken for granted (low involvement). A balanced state or lack of friction makes the system closed and withdrawn (out of buying space). Throwing a potential customer out of his poise is essential to pushing him or her into decision frame or solution seeking behavior. The upsetting of mind created by the first page was followed by a big advertisement of a new product named ‘Fireguard’, a new fire extinguisher (by Eureka Forbes) with the headline: ‘It takes one call to get it. Or a life time to regret it.’ The ad signed off with a statement ‘Get it. Or regret it’.

Fire extinguisher is a low priority product because it is not perceived to be significant. This is due to the fact that people do not entertain an uncomfortable idea of fire to them to their property and take their safety for granted. Its ownership is not important psychologically or socially (higher order needs) and hence are not desired. However they assume importance when exceptions happen. When it rains we look for umbrella, when electricity goes off we look for candles/torch, when our car breaks down we wish we had bought breakdown service and when burglary happens we repent on not having taken an insurance policy. These are cases of sleepy needs and hence products that satisfy them are sought after.

Marketing is difficult to a sleepy consumer. Unlike an active customer (who is in a state of automatic arousal) a sleepy consumer is a withdrawn and closed system. People tend to be open and look out for anything that is of interest to them like interest in diamonds or sports or electronics. Marketing is easy in these situations. So what do you do to get a consumer who is in sleepy state with respect to a product that you intend to market?

Technically the Fireguard launch ad aims to shift people from their sleepy state to lively/ alert state. The message alerts its prospects by linking the product to an issue of importance (high involvement issue- devastating fire). This it raises the level of significance or importance that a customer attaches to a phenomenon. This shift is first essential step in starting an engagement with target customer. The brand is likely to succeed if brand manages to achieve importance transference. For instance Rexona deodorant once ran a campaign which showed how body odor could lead to socially embarrassing situation (rejection). Here the brand used social rejections (important issue) to gain importance in consumer’s life.

Brands win when they become important to their target consumers. But this is difficult for brands in those categories to which consumers are sleepy.

Kushwaha, Brand BJP and Consumer Behaviour (Voter Response)

In a bid to boost poll prospects, the BJP lapped up and inducted tainted minister Babu Singh Kushwaha. The party seems very eager to establish itself as a dominant force in the state. And to the political strategists , Kushwaha, in their calculation, appears a short cut to build franchise in a certain section of society. Kushwaha is alleged to be involved in multi crore National Rural Health Mission in UP.

Later dissent emerged within the party on this decision which forced the party president to put his induction on hold till the charges are proven to the contrary. How does a decision like this go down with the party loyalists and the uncommitted, especially the youth who seem to be united against corruption, especially considering the fact that this is the group that is going to play an important role in the polity of this country.

The Congress, on the other hand, launched an offensive against the BJP without losing any time. Congress general secretary and prime campaigner, Rahul Gandhi was quick to claim that his party had shut the door on Kushwaha as his party does not welcome any person with doubtful credentials. Congress is not a refuge for tainted politicians, their influence notwithstanding.

The effect of this decision can be analyzed by using balance theory employed by marketers and advertisers in campaign planning. Consider the effect of this decision on BJP loyalists and the uncommitted:

The loyalists or some fence sitters have a positive attitude to the party/ brand (+ attitude to the object). Some of the people in this group, especially in the younger age bracket are likely to have negative attitude or sentiment towards corruption (- attitude to corruption) and Mr Kushwaha is alleged to be involved in a multi-crore scam. His induction (+ connection between the party/ brand and the endorser) in the party has an effect of pairing of a negative and a positive sign (- and + attitude) in the mind which is an inconsistent or tension state. Psychologically it is an uncomfortable state. In a situation like this it is natural for a person to look for ways to wriggle out of tension/ friction and regain cognitive balance.

Tiger Woods has been a remarkable player and achiever and hence people held positive attitude to him (+ sentiment connection). The consulting firm Accenture, for a long period used him as the endorser for the brand ( + connection shown in brand communication) such that people develop a positive attitude towards the brand. Accenture was quick to drop Tiger Woods from its campaign once the news about his controversial relationships broke out. It was prompted by the assumption that these revelations would create a negative attitude towards the endorser Woods. And his endorsement is likely to damage the brand by creating an imbalance state (+ attitude towards Accenture but – attitude towards Tiger Woods after the sex scandal).

In cases like these, it is natural for people to restore psychological balance. People can achieve reconciliation in a number of ways:

  • The negative attitude to corruption/ Kushwaha remains but attitude to the brand/ party is changed to negative (-,-)
  • The negative attitude to corruption/ Kushwaha is changed to positive and current positive to party remains constant (+,+)
  • And the third option is when the party changes it stand of inducting Kushwaha (from earlier + (association/ induction) to – (dissociate with Kushwaha). This would result in a state of balance (attitude to party +, attitude to Kushwaha – and party’s connection with Kushwaha – resulting in +)

The recent decision of the BJP to suspend his induction probably will go down well with people who seek a clean, corruption free governance/ political brand.

How about you? Does this decision make you psychologically comfortable?