Citizen movement, business and democracy

Systems are designed to deliver. Business organizations are meant to ‘create customer’ by providing satisfying value. ‘Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production’ (Adam Smith). Consumer formed the centre of neo classical economics. Marshall proposed that goods that provide consumer with greatest satisfaction, pleasure or utility will be bought. But are consumers actually provided with goods which do greatest good for them or for the producers? The market mechanism eventually creates a power structure tilted in favor of the producers and consumers generally are reduced to receiving end.

Consumer movement took roots in the US in early twenties with the publication of a number of books which brought the fraudulent and unfair business practices. In response to subversion of consumer interest the fragmented atomized structure of consumer system began to organize into a cohesive countervailing force. An organized chorus was raised for the State to enact legislation designed to protect consumer interest against unscrupulous business practices. The response of business to this development was predictable. Consumer movement was perceived to be a direct threat.

Democratic system produces two classes by a process of free electoral selection. The exercise of franchise produces an asymmetric power distribution. The very idea of ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’ gets subverted when people here implies the people elected not the electorate. The organization of people either as consumers or citizens is symptomatic of malaise in the system.
Faced with disillusionment, initially it is an attempt in communication which can escalate into seizure. The business took organizing consumers with a pinch of salt, like a threat to their interest. Similar seems to be the response of people in power to recent outpouring of people on Indian streets.


There cannot be a better gift than an idea for improvement. Many companies consider consumer complaints as free feedback about what plagues the system. The complainers are often rewarded and encouraged. British Airways under stewardship of Sir Marshall systematically promoted complaining behavior in order to discover areas of improvement. Systems exist for the so called ‘subjects’. The recent public outcries about laws against sexual crimes and corruption are two important ‘ingredients or features’ that people want from ‘product’ of governance. These two presented a golden brand revitalization opportunity to politicians and political parties but they failed miserably.

Like marketers and their products must reflect the needs and wants of their consumers, the government must produce outcomes that are in sync with the sentiment of its people.


Multi-utility or sports utility vehicles: the power or powerlessenss on road?

The automobile industry has been undergoing a subtle transformation. In the June quarter of 2012 MUVs outsold sedans for the first time. Two of the recent launches by M&M and Maruti Suzuki have created excitement to a segment which always trailed behind regular sedans. M&M’s XUV 500 and Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga have received overwhelming response from the market.

Consider some statistics. XUV sold about 9000 units which is a figure higher than combined sales of brands such as Corolla Altis, Cruze, Honda Civic, Skoda Laura, VW Jetta (6500 units). Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga enjoys a waiting line and is grossing sales of about 6000 units.

Structurally a MUV or SUV is vehicle built on chassis of light truck which makes it bigger, sturdier, powerful (two and four wheel), and spacious capable of a comfortable on and off road drive. The unique blending of internal and external dimensions makes SUVs or MUVs irresistible to many. That is the reason why they are flying off the showrooms fast.

Around the world, especially in rich cities SUVs are a common sight driven by a single person. This stands quite opposite to the ‘reason’ built in the vehicle in terms of space and sturdiness. The city roads hardly provide space for ‘playing round’ and riding the beast beneath the bonnet. The physics of SUVs remain grossly underutilized. The congestion on roads adds to driving and parking discomfort. The unused space and gas consumption combine to make them environmentally unfriendly. Then how they make sense?

The connections probably go deeper. Consider the brand names that these vehicles sport:  Duster, Safari, Fortuner, Thar, Endeavor, Captiva, Pajero, Range Rover, Yeti, Land Cruiser, Outlander, X Trail, Discovery and Scorpio. These words have nothing to do with neatly laid smooth city roads. These roads rob the ‘Outlander’ or ‘Cruiser’ to be a ‘Rover’ of ‘Thar’ or ‘Safari’ to show the bite of ‘Scorpio’ or power of ‘Yeti’. Further take a close look at the frontal façade of these vehicles and keep staring at them. It may take a while to observe the ferocity of a prying big cat.

Urban cities are great levelers. These are democratized spaces where the unevenness of class, creed and status and power become invisible. Consider long queues of cars line up at a traffic signal or people crowding around a mall on a weekend. All become children of the god, made of same matter and chosen to thread on the same path. In such a situation a SUV become an instrument to reverse the identity robbing effect of urban existence. Baudrillard observed that in its concrete function the objects solve a practical problem but in its inessential aspects they solve a social or psychological conflict. The The  subliminated meaning of a SUV make is an object of male fantasy. By the very construction a SUV is a heavy projectile capable of fast movement. Travel is a necessity but speed is a thrill, excitement and enjoyment. In its structural muscled up oversize construction SUV cannot escape the phallic symbolism as a male thing. It is a play thing, a sporting device. A SUV is an easy filler of the gap left by the subjugated city life. SUV is an extension of home with all its protective walls and grills designed to protect from the aggression of the outside world.

Voter Indifference, Youth, Political Brands and Indian Democracy

The Hindustan Times Youth Survey 2012 found that 41.9% of the subjects (18-25 years) responded negatively to the question whether they voted in the last election.
At the same time the Election Commission of India ran an advertisements trying to convince this India that voting is ‘in thing’ and it is ‘happening and cool’.
In public debates and discussions, the learned and the opinionated urge that the strength of democracy is when people exercise their right to vote.

Is this attitude of indifference good or bad? The answer depends upon which class you are representing: the nation or the politicians.

The youth’s indifference to the political process and politicians cannot be summarily condemned. It is quite possible that in their scheme of things this is the best way to deal with a situation.

What would you end up with if one tries very hard to evaluate and select an egg from a basket full of identical others? Would it not be better to save this cognitive energy and time to actually select a potato from the heap where choice can actually be exerted?

The consumer psychology to be indifferent and withdrawn is completely legitimate when brands in consideration are alike (lack of perceived differentiation). Most of the political brands notwithstanding their claims tend to have high degree of commonness on issues that are important to the youth of this country (technically called decision mediators and evaluative criteria). In the perception of the Youth the most important challenges facing this country are: corruption (29.1%), global warming (19.1%), cross border terror (18.5%), population explosion (15.6%), poor education system (11.1%), and poverty (10.2%). The others include lack of infrastructure, poor health system, and lack of entrepreneurial spirit.

The major political brands inIndiacome very close to each other (commoditized) on the aspects important to the youth like corruption and bad governance. Hence there is no excitement about voting. No matter how hard one tries to be discriminating and discerning in the political process (extensive or elaborate decision process) the conclusion is likely to be ‘all are same’ (criminal background, muscle man, professional politician not statesman, hunger for power, ideological ambiguity) or that their distinction lies on an aspect irrelevant to the youth of this country.

Closeness of brands in terms of their identity and image sucks the market into commoditization spiral. This perception of similarity causes customers to be indifferent and withdrawn because it is not worth it. Rigor in evaluation and selection does not leave the customer with a better result (more satisfying outcome).

One of the best findings of this survey is that  youth  in this country are apolitical (34.1%) and secular (29.1%). That is, they are not burdened by the baggage of the past and hard dividing lines. This certainly is indicative maturity. And here lies opportunities to create meaningful political brands (brand identity changes and rejuvenation). The political brands should revisit their core (brand essence) and align and evolve to incorporate what is important to the Indian youth. Brands must resonate to create power and pull (discrimination at the point of voting machine). The youth are intelligent; it is for political brands to burst the commodity perception (POP- ‘they are just the same’) and create (POD- ‘this brand is good for us’) that is relevant and meaningful.

Why would you go out of your way to locate and buy a brand? Because it delivers   what you want better than others.