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Netas need to take a leaf out of Nike's book


ADITI PRASAD | New Delhi, October 26, 2012 10:01
Tags : nike brand ambassador | lance armstrong | indian leaders | corruption in india | coal scam | lavasa scam |

Nike’s decision to permanently oust Lance Armstrong from its haloed list of celeb endorsers is truly a sign of the times. It is a time that truly acknowledges the power of the people and that their wrath could mean the end of the road for the brand in question. This is the first time since 1972 that the world’s foremost sports company has dropped a global brand ambassador and that too after nearly a decade of allegations, teammate testimonies and a bulky dossier confirming Armstrong as a serial drug cheat.
The news came as a shocker to me. One, because I had been a great fan of Lance Armstrong, from as far back as can remember. His poignant tale of overcoming testicular cancer and then going on to reign in the cycle racing world has given hope to millions of cancer patients around the world.

But my surprise was more because I happened to have been closely following Nike’s communication strategy and knew that the Swoosh never ditches its glorified global ambassadors! Even when Tiger Woods had lost most of his other sponsors at the peak of his sex scandal saga, the ubiquitous Nike swoosh remained steadfast on Tiger’s cap.

Albeit surprising, the decision is in tune with the growing importance of perception in building and sustaining a brand. Armstrong’s exit is a reflection of the times we live in where the slightest hint of a scandal mirrors ten times stronger on the brand in question. Nike could not afford to remain associated with a man who had once condemned performance enhancing drugs on television wearing the brand on his sleeve. Clearly, the negative media blitz was threatening to damage the global reputation of the sportswear brand.

Our netas back home however just don’t get this. Scams after scams have been exposed just over the last few months which have left dozens of ministers, leaders and office bearers tainted – cutting across party lines.

Though indicted by courts, regulatory bodies and public accountants (CAG), those accused of graft – big and small – continue to preen from their positions of power and from TV studios pontificating endlessly about how they have been wrongly judged guilty. Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid says he did not have documents ‘forged’ to illegally pocket money meant for the differently abled. Congress MP Naveen Jindal denies that his political clout helped him land more coal blocks than any other company in India. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar refutes the allegation that there were any rules violated in the controversial Lavasa project in Maharashtra. BJP National Chairman Nitin Gadkari denies any murky financial dealings by Purti Group with which he was associated and the list goes on.

From Kanimozhi to Suresh Kalmadi, from Mayawati to Lalu Prasad and from YSR Reddy to Raman Singh, politicians have a knack of turning a deaf year to criticisms and continuing their careers as ‘public servants’ whatever the odds and however big the taint.

Yes, money power, back room dealings and returning of political favors play a strong role in preserving the public life of these tainted leaders despite the muck smeared over their political careers. But the emergence of crusaders like Arvind Kejriwal, dozens of civil society activists making effective use of the RTI Act and a vocal judiciary are now ensuring that the tainted feathers of these political birds are no longer wraps.  

It is high time that Political Parties in India realize that they are above individual leaders. Any negative perception about its key lieutenants would eventually cause the party to fade away from the public’s mind at least as a viable alternative. Something similar has already happened with Lalu Prasad Yadav tainted in the fodder scam. Not only did the scam cost him his chief ministership but his political career has been on a perpetual decline ever since. The 2010 assembly elections in Bihar dealt a body blow to his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) which managed to win only 22 seats in the 243 strong House, where it once ruled the roost.

With its foremost leader out of favour, the RJD is plunged into an existential crisis today. As the number of scam tainted leaders grow and as the public increasingly vents its ire towards graft, more parties will join this league if they don’t borrow a leaf out of Nike’s books… and quickly.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017