Tarang Singhal, Narendra Modi, Congress and Patel


Wish you and your family a happy and prosperous Diwali and Dhanteras
i have been following your blog ever since you began posting and havent missed a single post. the idea of conflating the concept of brand with real world constructs which are more visible is something you do effortlessly. Since you have written about Narendra Modi already, i wanted to point my take on the idea of Vallabhai Patel and modi from a branding point of view. Below is my opinion on the same. 
Narendra Modi in national politics is an outsider, consider the polls for PM in the last 8 years. NM began featuring only in the last three, the TOMA for him was really not there. The NAMO brand had to mean more. So here comes the first story ” Gujarat being the crown jewel in an otherwise ailing country”. The brand creates its first meaning in the mindspace. The story resonates, the dissemination on social media ensures that a restless young generation eager for sweeping changes laps it up and , there he takes a first mover advantage. 
What does the Congress do ( from a pure strategic point of view) ? It is well known that people are more likely to be swayed by body language and appearences rather than content. ( reference: Kennedy Vs Nixon TV Debates). So while both brandish the Nehry style jackets and are eager to burnish their “sons of the soil” tags. In the mind space the idea of what Rahul Gandhi stands for as a leader versus what narendra modi stands for is really the question. So here comes congress calling him a regional leader. A rhetoric that questions his ability. My hypothesis is that by using Sardar Vallabh bhai patel’s legacy Narendra Modi is trying to create the second anchor ( phyically as well as mentally). The Nehru Gandhi narrative has ensured that there are only certain “tall leaders”. Leaders with immpeccable credentials, sacrosanct ( something akin to founding fathers of US). Leaders such as Ambedkar ( used briliiantly by mayawati for another “market” segment) or Rajendra Prasad, Madan Mohan Malviya ,C. Rajagopalachari have lost their appeal. Yet there is something relevant about Patel. Like Apple which used the idea of think different to pitch for people who defied conventions. Patel and the way his legacy has emerged in these years has ensured that he be labelled the unsung hero. It is this audience he wishes to capture by aligning with Patel ( forgotten by Congress, adopted by Modi) a narrative that in my opinion will only strengthen his appeal and also delay the fatigue that his bilitzkrieg may create in the mind of the audience.

Ethics, Business and Justice

Like life, business also involves dilemmas and conflicts. The line dividing between good and bad and right and wrong often becomes hazy.  Consider the following:

  • An advertisement showed a biker jumping the traffic signal and being chased by the policeman for the violation only to find that biker was in rush to help a patient.
  • Many glossy advertisements of investment products over emphasize benefits but rush through ‘conditions apply’ so fast that nothing can be made of them.
  • Many pharmaceutical firms conduct human trials of their drugs on people in poor countries.
  • Doctors in hospitals recommend patients to undergo unneeded tests in the name of diagnosis.
  • During the time of scarcity businessmen hoard and fleece customer by overcharging.
  • Gurus and ‘Babas’ exploit the vulnerable and naïve people by recommending magic remedies.
  • Many countries dump their products in order to save livelihood of its citizens but jeopardizing the welfare of the other.

Business happens at the point of intersection when two or more people meet. This simple exchange needs governance mechanism.  In the absence of such a mechanism the fairness of the distributive outcome cannot be achieved.  Fairness in the distribution of outcomes is essential to justice. Ambiguity is a fertile ground for debates.  Establishing the rightness of an action demands justification and it is here various approaches of justice came to play a role. Harvard professor Sandel identified three approaches: welfare, freedom and virtue.

The utilitarian school aims to maximize welfare and seeks greatest happiness for the greatest number.  The costs and benefits of an action become the guiding principle of morality.  The correctness or right of an action is a matter of calculation. So a drug trial on a small number is right if a large number of people could be saved.  

The idea of freedom is linked to justice in libertarian conception. The focus here is on individual rights such a freedom of speech or religious faith. However the others rights to do the same should be respective.  Business in this conception should be left free and liberated from any regulations.  Milton Friedman considers many of the sate activities to be illegitimate infringements on freedom.  There is nothing wrong if a ‘baba’ or guru doles out magic remedies.

The third set of theories view justice linked up with virtue and the good life. Justice is about cultivation of virtue and common good. Justice should promote virtue.  Immanuel Kant proposes that a deed be done because it is the right thing to do irrespective of its consequences. So if an advertiser does not mislead because people will discover misrepresentation, he has done the right thing for wrong reason. This lacks moral worth. Moral worth of an action consists in intention not consequence.  

The rightness of a thing is often subjectively perceived. And this individualized perception can lead to unfair decisions. The ‘way things are done’ may have strong historical justification but may be on weak footing on morality front.  Therefore it is essential that top management creates a culture where that rightness of business decisions is not solely governed by the considerations of top line and bottom line. Utility is not a correct perspective to judge moral worth of things.

Sachin, Politics, Cricket and Brand Prototypicality

Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha has caused almost everyone from indifferent to intensely involved reacting to this development. And unlike many other nominations to the Upper House which go unnoticed, Sachin has become topic of discussions this time not for some cricketing record but for his new role in the world of politics.

Leaving aside the ‘indifferent’, people with opinion take two opposing positions. One group has welcomed this development and they find nothing wrong with their star playing his new innings at the political stadium. On the other hand, the other group does not find it comforting to see their legend donning a new role in political theatre.

How can this phenomenon be seen from a marketing angle? This seems to be a case of brand extension but with one difference, here the extension decision is not taken by the firm that owns the brand but by an external agency. For instance the decision as to what product categories (spaces or markets or categories), Pepsi brand should get into is a decision choice of PepsiCo not anybody else.  Brands are extended to harness their full potential and make them bigger. This often involves taking them into spaces (categories).  The Dettol brand ventured out of its antiseptic category to toilet soap and hand wash category to become a mega brand. But does it mean that a brand can travel into ‘any’ category in its journey to become a mega brand. Here lies a catch. It may be very difficult to think of Colgate on a category other than toothpaste. This concept is called brand prototypicality. It is how closely a brand is linked to its category. Prototypical brands get intrinsically anchored to their category so much that their alternate conceptualizations become difficult.

Some questions become important in this context. Is Sachin a prototypical cricket (concrete attribute) brand? Is he more about achievement and excellence (abstract attribute)? What is the commitment and liking level of his followers and fan? What associations are linked with the world of cricket and the world of politics in peoples’ minds? Are competencies needed to excel in these two fields same or different?

The opinions are highly divided on this issue. Some people have called this as ‘dirtiest play’ and some think he is used ‘to divert attention from the problems’. Many are concerned that ‘he does not suffer the same fate as another legend’.  One of the voices is said that ‘The kind of person Sachin is we never expected him to take up politics’. Then there are people who have welcomed this development. Many of the former cricket players have expressed their shock and echoed concerns have to how an apolitical person like Sachin plays political game.

These reactions are very similar to how consumers react to a brand extension. Consider Ponds marketing toothpaste or white beauty cream. One simple exercise can reveal why people have reacted to the way they did:

  1. List the words associated with politics and politicians.
  2. List the words that are associated with Sachin Tendulkar.
  3. Now mix these two sets of associations and create a new list.

Now check the third list whether the words/ associations in this list create a harmonious mix (do not militate against each other) or have high degree of harmony.

An inconsistent mix would signal that two concepts, Sachin and politics do not  make a nice cocktail.