Analyzing brand Modi- Why BJP won!
The Indian election is a momentous event and over the last 10 years the political campaigning strategies have seen a tectonic shift. Nobody has understood and led this change better than the BJP. I believe it’s their marketing and branding strategy that has won them this election with such enormous margins. The opposition, on the other hand, has been caught sleeping and has failed to dissect the new-age way of communicating to the voter.
This is my analysis purely as a marketing expert and by no means does it reflect my allegiance for or against any party and its idealogy.
In this election of 2019, brand building took center stage and has been a result of 3 Ms apart from Modi:
We all know what the explosion of internet and smart phones has done to India in the last decade. The main way of communication has moved from traditional media to digital platforms. What this also means is that people want bite-sized news which is mobile friendly. Nobody has the time to read editorials and long articles with data, facts and figures. Nobody has the time to verify things either. So the choice of media was very critical. This is where the BJP hit bull’s eye compared to its opposition.
Who did what:
BJP– Released movies (already on Netflix), TV channels, digital shareable content with snippets of infographics, videos and interviews to take it’s message to the masses. All these were effective and easily shareable by the youth and the older lot.
Opposition– They stuck to traditional ways of releasing a 1000 page book on demonetization, or releasing press ads and having articles in magazines. All ineffective ways of reaching out in today’s day and age. Who will pay 800/- to read a book which goes over people’s heads?
Another example to make my case is that Senior Congress leader, Mr. Kamal Nath was not even on twitter till after the elections! He started his account yesterday! This just tells you about how the opposition was really not keeping pace with the times. While all BJP allies and leaders are cohesively existing on all social platforms, speaking the same language. This builds resonance!
Some might argue that BJP spent thrice the amount on media than the opposition, and therefore that is the main reason for their popularity. However, budgets can only give you the initial impetus, but it is the narrative that ensures impact and virality. Therefore, content and messaging becomes the key to get the backing and trust of people.
We are a large nation, and to get everyone to talk in unison demands a simple slogan or catch phrase that catches on. Nothing fancy, esoteric and elitist. Also, we are an emotional country. We often choose emotions over performance or virtue. An understanding of this is imperative to get a winning narrative going. You see this in brands all the time. It is not necessary that Cadbury’s has to be the best product out there to get the largest market share. If the communication works, it can do the job. Isn’t it?
Who said what:
- Used many snappy slogans that the public could understand and chant easily. “Sabka saath. Sabka vikaas”. “Beti bachao. Beti padhao”. “Main bhi Chowkidar”. The rhyme was intentional and so was the down to earth words like chowkidar. This makes it easier for our large population to carry the message forward and make it viral. BJP gave the people simple ways and tools to become part of the campaign. The inclusiveness of the ideas made it a roaring success. And made the voter feel like he was also contributing to the movement in some way.
- The narrative was very emotional and nothing to do with performance or governance. Their talking points this election were national security, end of dynastic politics and entitlement, and nationalism. Something that builds an emotional connect beyond numbers and hard facts. So what if the PM releases a movie which only boasts about his achievements? He is humble enough to call himself a chowkidar and this irony is something the public can live with. Our history has many examples of this hypocrisy in our society and all parties have taken advantage of it in the past as well. BJP has managed it better than others though. There is a reason we are INCREDIBLE INDIA!
- Importance of symbolism- this is where Mr. Modi is a master. Nobody understands the importance of optics better than him. Yesterday, before addressing the NDA, he went up to the constitution of India and bowed to it. I am certain it gave people goosebumps and reinforced a sense of confidence in Mr. Modi’s commitment and honesty. Whether that is the truth or not is besides the point. Marketing is a lot about appealing to the irrational mind. And he nails it TIME AFTER TIME! I have to give it to his team for being so meticulous about the SOP of each gathering and also for giving value to these subtle gestures which send a message and build imagery. It is the same formula brand Shahrukh follows each time he raises his arms to give his fans what they want!
- Played second fiddle in its narrative by associating all communication to Modi or BJP. This strategy rarely pays off in the long run. It automatically puts them on the back foot and gives Modi more mileage and airtime at the oppositions’ expense. This is exactly what Pepsi tried against Coca Cola and failed.
- They spoke only about numbers and questioned the integrity of the PM who is one of the most popular figures in Indian politics today (whether you like it or not) . Now, poverty and unemployment has existed in our country for decades and has been the talking points in all elections. This time the public was looking for something new. Mr. Modi gave them that with Balakot. One can question if that was the right thing to do despite army veterans voicing their concerns, but as Scott Adams says in his book Win Bigly- “Persuasion in a world where facts don’t matter”, this is the new mantra in politics. So, to target the PM ultimately backfired on the opposition. It was too big a gamble. They should have stuck to their own stand and tried to talk about who they are- just like any successful brand would do, instead of having the “crying foul” strategy.
The final factor for Modi’s success was the impeccable management of all media and messaging. The BJP marketing team planned each campaign to the T and followed through. The research done by the team was also commendable and they even customized the message and media basis the data analyzed. It was a very professional approach which paid off. They ran it like a business house, building their brand.
- All BJP spokespersons were given the press release and talking points by the team, so that everyone uses the same words across channels at the same time. The opposition on the other hand, was all over the place and each one has his or her own version on channels without signalling a cohesive message that sticks.
- All BJP campaigns had a follow through communication. If you changed your twitter handle to say “Chowkidar Vinod Rai”, you received a follow up email from the PM himself with your name on it. This mass customization of messaging was a big factor in making the public feel like they were being seen and heard by Modi himself. Even though it was a fully automated process, but it is like me writing a fan letter to Amitabh Bachchan and getting a reply with his photo and signature. It makes me love the man even more.
- Data analytics was a big part of the management of campaigns. To think on your feet and to change course basis the data garnered is an art and science. The fact that 6 months ago the BJP lost 3 state elections, but managed to get a sweeping mandate in Lok Sabha is no coincidence. The team re-grouped and analyzed the data. Congress on the other hand chose to ignore young blood for the CM candidature and went back to its old ways of governing. This was the basic difference that one could see throughout the process of this electoral contest.
There is no denying that Politics is serious business. And branding is sitting in the heart of it all. Symbolism matters and what you say is as important as how you say it. We are living in the world of fake news where ends justify means. Amidst all this, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt for marketing professionals like myself. But we all must always aim to uphold the ethics and standards in our work, our words and intentions, and yet be impactful and effective. That is the ultimate goal! No matter how tempting the alternative!