People perceive Anna phenomenon within limits imposed by their perceptual realm. It is natural, for perception is subjective interpretation of objective reality. As a student of marketing, for me Anna is a case in creation of a real power brand offering many branding lessons:
The brand is defined as a sign, symbol, name or a combination thereof. So by this definition ‘Anna’, the name, becomes the brand. And for many others who mistake the brand with the product, here the physicality of the person who bears the name becomes the brand. But going by the so called modern culture neither the name (compare the names suggested in books on child naming) nor the person (compare Anna with well chiseled aspirational bodies of H Roshan or Salman) would make sense to youth population. But he does. Here lies the catch. Brand name or symbol or product is nothing more than the tip of the iceberg. These are nothing but outward manifestations of the brand. These are only signifiers, not signified. Anna as a person is signifier, amenable to catching by the eyes of both his followers and the condemners. But the brand actually lies hidden which finds a deeper soul connection with people who rally behind him. Brand is the idea which is singularly ‘owned’ or ‘appropriated’ by Anna in the minds of millions who rally behind him.
A brand draws its power from a resonating and differentiating value proposition. The essence of branding is finding a compelling value proposition. Great brands draw their power by forging an inelastic connection. What has this simple man who otherwise may fail to attract attention on the street appropriated? If Anna has caught the imagination of people, which is visible wherever he goes, what is it? Anna’s brilliance lies in his ability to sense the void (latent need- freedom from corruption) and respond to that by creating a product accordingly (Lokpal). Some needs are so obvious (patent but relegated to dormancy) that they escape attention. Anna has lent voice to a murmur which political establishment knowingly ignored. He converted that into a war cry. Anna brand stands for a ‘promise’ (India liberated from corruption) which connects people.
To many it is a baffling reality to see how modern youth clad in Levis jeans, Nike shoes, Benetton shirts, Rayban shades along with less endowed counter part have been rallying behind Anna. The divisive distinctions based on gender, age, geography etc seem to have collapsed (it is a mass brand?). The brand’s extraordinary appeal cuts through the divisions to create a big homogeneous mass. Although followers look different but the unifying factor here is their psychographics and motivation (psychographic segmentation). Anna is a brand with a big following but it is highly differentiated. What is brand’s DNA? While most of the leaders in the political space are hollow brands- promises not supported by performance Anna is differentiated in terms of promise backed by a tangible product (the bill). Most of the politicians used peripheral aspects to differentiate- white dress, party affiliations, security guards, caravan of SUVs, posters- Anna has focused on the ‘core’ of the product.
Anna is a great ‘pull’ brand. Its customers/followers ‘go out of way’ or are willing to bear extreme costs (withstand rain, hunger, crowd, sweat, and lathi charge) to patronize this brand. Brand Anna is certainly a brand to envy for many politicians. This kind of brand is every marketer’s dream when customers don’t take even a second to switch. Anna has burst commoditization in political space in a big way. He is probably every politician’s dream. It is not a hidden secret that political gatherings are often paid assemblies. Brands operate in different value spaces- some value spaces are more elastic than the others. Brand Anna operates on a very high layer of value orbit with near zero elasticity. The delivery of Anna is not on the mundane level. Why do people perform service (the lower the job the higher the service) at religious places? It is because of the spiritual connect. Anna brand draws it power from a higher order connection.
Brands need communication push but branding is not about communication. Advertising’s instrumentality in brand creation can not be denied but you can’t create a brand only out of advertising. This is highly true for brand Anna. The communication is largely ‘community’ owned. It is brand followers who are so deeply influenced by the brand that they themselves have become disseminators, no expenditure involved. The social media is not controlled, it is rather user created. On the other hand traditional media coverage is of course governed by rating points but rating points are not in the control of news channels. It these were then none of brands or the programs backed by money power would fail. People are watching Anna because they want to. Our capacity to process information is limited and it is selectively spent. What it is spent on is governed by satisfaction. Watching news on Anna is a rational and conscious choice which people make. Anna survives filtration and screening out which is every marketer’s major head ache- how to make customers look at my ad?).
In a situation like this when a powerful brand emerges, how does the competitor react? The government reaction has been the opposite of what strategy would command. Would it be a good idea to start a smear campaign against New Swift because it has attracted a great response? First, it must be understood that if commitment is emotional- inelastic connection to a brand (not based on reason), it is impossible to prove your superiority (I like blue and you can’t convince me that red is better). Emotion can’t be contested with reason. People buy Rolex not for time keeping, there may be better time keeping devices available at lower price yet customers show extraordinary commitment to the brand. Second, the harsher the criticism lesser is the openness to entertain (self concept threatening stimuli activate defense mechanism). Anything contrary to the commitment is either filtered to make the original stand harder (criticism falls in the zone of contrast). All the governmental (jail, criticism on media) response therefore has made brand Anna stronger.
Whether Anna is subverting democracy or democracy is systemically already subverted is a matter of perception. People in power see Anna as a threat. It is true that Toyota Etios and Liva are a threat to Maruti Dzire and Swift. But a brand can not be dismissed in discussion and meaningless retaliation. Brands do become obsolete. May be governance in its present form has lost its relevance. Change is not a threat, it is an opportunity. Only time would tell who would ‘read’ it correctly and seize it. The idea is knocking on the doors of political class. It is perfect opportunity for political brands to get rejuvenated.