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Can Brand Advertising Help Rahul Gandhi


MONOJIT LAHIRI | Issue Dated: February 23, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Brand Rahul | Rahul Gandhi | Narendra Modi | AAP | Congress | BJP | social media | Brand building |

The art & science of branding – the gurus tell us – was developed to protect products from failure.  To create and manage a distinct identity in a mass-production market where parity and me-too products blitzed the shelves & counters.  However, it went beyond physicality to represent the core values that the brand promised, so it was about capturing consumer mindscape before marketscape.  Celebrated Branding authorities Al & Laura Ries insist that “Today most products are bought not sold.”  Hence Branding pre-sells a product/service to its target audience.  Then why do good products fail?  Bad branding!  A complex case where, while raising the rewards, it heightens the risks. Today with competition booming, people don’t truly believe there’s a huge difference between brands, which means subliminal emotional ties connected to purchase intent come into play.  Also a very clear, persuasive brand promise based on past performance, present position & future road map, evoking strong passion and faith.

Branding – which is a critical part of Advertising – has, historically, had its fair share of critics and advocates.  Arnold Toynbee & John Kenneth Galbraith were at least two luminaries who had no time for it.  However, titans Winston Churchill & Franklin Roosevelt thought it cool and supported it.  India’s political community clearly seems to lean towards ol’ Winnie & Frankie and are (presently) busy seeking Gurus, experts, specialists & Brand custodians to manage both Brand building & social media for the big show ahead. The Campaign presently making huge waves and blitzing everyone’s radar is the selling of Congress [via Rahul Gandhi] with the signature slogan Har Haath Shakti, Har Haath Tarakki.  Its trigger ad Main Nahin, Hum [the first of a 5-6 ad campaign] raised a storm of protest from the BJP camp who accused them of being copy-cat, lifting the slogan from one of their earlier ads … but that’s beside the point [say onlookers] because all is fair in love & war!  The important fact to note is that around a staggering 3000 insertions of this ad – along with a mega-blitz on TV – is on the anvil.  Powered with an adspend of over Rs.350 crores and navigated by respected & hi-profile Ad Agency Dentsu Taproot, this aggressive brand-building campaign is going tongs n’ hammer in its effort to create a solid makeover & establish a people-friendly image that is issues-specific through Brand Rahul: The new, young, dynamic face of India’s oldest party!  Point is – can this grandiose, ideology-spouting, brand-building exercise help in Damage Control & Turnaround?

Before going any further, a few salient thoughts on the importance & power of image which, today, can outsmart, intimidate, even overwhelm reality.  It can make an entire section of people mesmerized on idols, re-iterating the popular truism – Perception is the new reality!  It can also, charmingly, air-brush past misdeeds and the opportunistic, hawk-eyed vision combined with deadly cynicism of these Brand builders – analysts inform us – are only matched in today’s consumerist, irreverent and self-absorbed times by the credibility accorded by the establishment of intellectuals and loyalists who, clearly & surely, are expected to know better.  It is not the sleep of reason – add the analysts – that creates these dangerous images but a sinister environment seduced by science & hi-tech – not truth or justice – which celebrates the success at any cost mantra as its war cry.

How do all these Brand building game-plans play out with the world at large? 32 year old Santosh Parekh, a Sydney-based IT executive – on a vacation to India – gets the ball rolling with a counter question:  “To your lead question here is my poser – can a paint job turn a jalopy into a Bentley??”  He disdainfully dismisses the Congress campaign as “A  load of hoooey” and invites the Congress guys to learn the art of pulling-power from Na Mo.  “Strong, focused, bold & up-front with a solid agenda to propel the nation forward, Narendra Modi epitomizes a brand that guarantees hope, confidence, determination and affirmation – without a Rs.350 crore brand building budget, okay?” Delhi-based Marketing hot-shot Lloyd Mathias comes next, with his POV. “Advertising & Brand building exercises for political heavies is always tricky business because it goes beyond the usual product attributes into personal, individual profiling territory.  This is where positioning comes in.  Who is he?  What does he stand for? How credible is his ideology in terms of past performances & achievements?  Why should we believe him?  Does he build confidence in us to perceive him as the Man of the moment? What is his USP?  Despite being honest, earnest & well-meaning, Rahul Gandhi unfortunately seems to be totally miscast in the role allotted to him. Hence, this campaign appears to be cosmetic, airing fatigued clichés that doesn’t really connect with today’s India story.”  Mathias believes that if instead the Brand-wallahs capitalized on his strengths – Youth, real & urgent desire to turn things around, publicly acknowledging the misdeeds of the past, apologizing and promising to turn a new leaf with the help of youngistan – things may have been better, but this pitch is just hollow, empty [Rajneeti Nahin, Kajneeti Naseehat Nahin, Nateeja] posturing. Political Commentator Abhinav Kothari agrees. “It looks phony!  Look at how AAP made it happen by smartly positioning themselves between the two giants, riding on the aam admi space!  See how brilliantly they worked the Social Media to connect successfully with zillions at home and abroad.  As it is, Political advertising is a tough ballgame and we haven’t yet come of age when compared to the West.  P.R. & Social Media are closer home and maybe easier to handle, because fake rhetoric & grandiose claims has no place there.”  Social Commentator Santosh Desai wraps up the debate with a telling point when he writes that Rahul Gandhi’s massively publicized recent interview [with Times Now’s Arnab Goswami] “underlined the determined effort he is making to escape the overwhelming reality of the political system of which he is a part.  He seems to want to invent a fantasy arena where the empowered young create a new democratized system.”

P-h-e-w, not too rosy a picture for Brand Rahul or the Haath honchos, right?  The last words however must go to the local wit who suggests that “All is not lost because, in a market culture which can even make Jesus a source of profit, by turning him into a Superstar … Boss, anything goes!!”


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017