Brand Modi: a political marketing revolution

BY BHAUTIK SHETH| IN Media Practice | 20/05/2014
The 2014 election campaign would go down in history as the first one where digital crowdsourcing played a key role in shaping speeches.
BHAUTIK SHETH spells out how Narendra Modi was marketed. PIX: A chai pe charcha session

When exactly did Narendra Modi win the General Election of 2014? No, the answer is not May 16. Actually he won when he became the chief minister of Gujarat consecutively for the third time in 2012. The platform was all set for his Prime Minister candidature which he smartly encashed in last few months with objectively defined marketing strategies.

During the Assembly election in Gujarat, he came out with his own brand which was not easy for any politician to digest. In fact, it was never thought by any mediapersons, journalists, or intellectuals that even a politician can become a brand! By the time these people could understand what exactly Narendra Modi was up to, he emerged as a brand: the brand ambassador of industrial growth in Gujarat. He created ‘development’ as a brand.

The Opposition was still trying to cage him under the 2002 riots but he was silently making his own moves. Nobody was actually aware of how fast he was capturing the eyeballs of the media, favoured or un-favoured. The marketing gurus always say that publicity always finds space in the mindset of the people irrespective of its positivity or negativity. While electronic media was playing a dual role in developing both types of publicity for him, social media was high on creating his positive publicity. Modi’s own interest in social media made him popular among users of various social networking sites which again was out-of-the-box thinking compared to other mediocre politicians of this country.

Modi was always fascinated with the ideas generated by the youth of this country. Let’s go back. When he gave his first lecture at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) last year, he was very clear in his speech about the ideas he carries in his mind for the youth and how the youth can be used in a productive manner. He enunciated the need of Suraaj after Swaraaj. His speech dwelled extensively on good governance and the Gujarat Model as he sought to expand on how youth power should be harnessed to develop India. It was easy for students to connect with the lecture of Modi and from that moment, a buzz started for his vision of better India. Irrespective of his age, the youth was highly impressed with his vision.

One should always remember that now even schools are teaching some of the basic management fundamentals in higher secondary education. It became easy for the college students to understand what he intended to say and what he was aiming at.

The electronic media has always acted like a chameleon for Modi. He was the only (and still is) politician they could ever use to raise their TRPs until Arvind Kejriwal, for some time, came into the picture. Modi addressed the India Today Conclave 2013 on March 16 in Delhi. From the automated toll booth at the Maharashtra border to the various decentralised initiatives on water and waste management, Narendra Modi’s India Today Conclave speech of 2013 stands out as the first and comprehensive enunciation of what the famed Gujarat Model is really about.

Even the media knew only Modi could be sold successfully on their news channels and the demand of advertisers was increasing to cover him the most on news channels, positively or negatively.

Prior to that, all of a sudden a Google+ Hangout was hosted in August 2012 by actor Ajay Devgn (great surprise!). This hangout was hardly popular amongst the Indians but it was not the same with the NRIs. Modi’s target market this time was NRIs living specifically in the USA and Great Britain. Most of the NRIs connected with him through Google + Hangout and it was a huge success. Till that time, no other party had thought to connect with the NRIs. Later, the Network18 Think India Forum speech delivered by Modi on the April 8, 2013 dwelled at length on his favourite topic ‘Minimum Government Maximum Governance’. Modi once again showed his love for social media at the launch of Gujarat edition of Business Line newspaper. He dwelled on the power of social media and technology in free expression of opinion as he criticised the UPA Government for attempting to restrain social media freedom.

The 2014 election campaign would go down in history as the first one where digital crowdsourcing played a key role in shaping speeches. Narendra Modi took the pioneering step of using Facebook to crowd source ideas for his speech at Pune’s Fergusson College soon after being declared the BJP’s Campaign Committee Chairman for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. That was something unique. How many companies are doing this before the launch of their product or even before developing a new product under their brand?

Basically, Indian brands are lagging behind their global counterparts in engaging with consumers against criteria such as functional and social identity, emotive and symbolic perceptions, among others (Source: TNS Global). Also, brands in India are not consistent with their communication. But Modi scored full marks over this point.

A team of professional experts who worked for his brand building during this election ran a 360 degree, full-fledged campaign that included mass media such as print, television, radio and outdoor, new media such as online and social media, and events and on-ground activities, traditionally categorised as below-the-line (BTL). These included rallies and other appearances, consumer touch points at tea stalls, toys and masks of Narendra Modi, and much else.

Ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar! What a powerful impact it developed in the mindset of even 2-year-old kids (ask my son)! The idea behind the campaign of this tagline was given by Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, at Ogilvy and Mather. Newspapers in cities, radio in small villages, social media among the youth, television among families – everything was objectively planned to promote this campaign.

The timing of the advertising Ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar campaign on TV was very crucial. They advertised immensely during the T20 World cup on TV. The animated advertisements with an element of humor were a huge success for the party. The tag line became so popular later and various creative contents started floating on WhatsApp and Facebook. That was something which was out of the mind for any other party. The creative mindset of India used this tag line at its best!

Perhaps, Modi used the social media more than any MNC has ever used to promote their product in India. He used the micro-blogging site Twitter the most where more than 4 million users follow him. India has 13.31 million active users on Twitter who are above 15 years and access Twitter via PCs and laptops (Source: IMRB International). Apart from that, the vehicles equipped with the required stuff, including his pre-recorded video messages were sent into remote villages to scale up the campaign footprint. Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi was well accompanied with his pre-recorded video messages in villages.

And what about Chai pe charcha? People congregated at tea stalls where they could see or talk to Modi over a webcast and sip tea from paper cups with his picture on them. It created a great amount of curiosity in illiterate or less literate people. They were happy watching Modi talk about development and growth of the country. There were people who were more interested in sipping free tea. But who cares? That was the general idea basically! It also grabbed the eyeballs of the by passers who returned to their home after working for long hours in office. Those people found some time to park their vehicles aside and took a look at the screen with cup of tea in the hand. What an idea! Grab the people who did not even think to be exposed to some marketing activity by a political party while driving back home!

According to me, the most fascinating and technologically very innovative idea was the use of 3D hologram images throughout the nation. During the assembly election in Gujarat, Modi used it before but technically it failed at so many places. The party learnt from those faults and made sure this time around everything went smoothly. Modi was present at more than 100-150 places at the same time addressing lakhs of people.

We also need to understand how smartly Team BJP used the time slots of electronic media. Compared to 2009 general election or 2012 Gujarat assembly election, the BJP spent less amount of money in print media. Although they did not miss a chance to advertise in whichever city/area Modi carried out his rally or at whatever place and time his 3D hologram image was projected. While every other leader of the opposition party was giving an interview on any news channel, Modi delayed his first appearance on news channel to increase the curiosity of the viewers. He gave his first interview on news channel India TV on the show “Aap ki Adalat”. Very smartly used by Rajat Sharma-led India TV, they telecast the same interview numerous times.

Whenever there was any polling in any part of the country, India TV telecast this interview. On the day where there was polling in parts of country including Mumbai, Modi filed his nomination form from Varanasi with an unusual road show! It grabbed the attention of the media and the whole day it captured the TV screens. It was a very clever decision to select ANI for interview of Modi. ANI supplies all kind of news to every news channels so his interview on ANI could be widely distributed. I don’t remember when any other political leader gave his TV interview to ANI. At least, not during this election.

Back to the youth, I must say Narendra Modi understands them very well about what attracts the youth the most and which agenda becomes a hot chat topic. He also used his dress sense to turn out very smartly during this election. And it worked! His dressing style, Modi kurta, color combinations became a topic of discussion among college going students. His style statement for this election ended with symbolic logo of Lotus on his kurta which paradoxically became very popular among all the BJP party workers and other leaders. Later, Congress leaders started to wear the Hand logo on their kurtas. And what about the day of polling in Vadodra? Smart enough to understand the loopholes of the Election Commission, Modi showed the Lotus symbol in his hand and clicked a selfie that went viral on the internet. He invited people to post the photo of their inked finger to his website which was used to create Modi Mosaic. Thousands of voters sent their pictures for that Modi Mosaic.

When any company creates strategies for marketing of their product, they also scrutinise the strategy of their competitors. Here I have to say that the marketing strategy adapted by the Indian National Congress party was not at all up to the mark.

They were the ruling party for 10 years. The most common mistake they did in their marketing strategy was to ignore the facts and figures of their success in the last 10 years. May be they did not have much to highlight about the success of their party but they could have found something to say! While the BJP’s campaign was decisive and to the point, the Congress campaign, with the tagline Har haath shakti, har haath tarakki, failed to impress. The Congress was also missing on social media. Their TV commercials were not at all eye catching.

Finally, it is important to note that in 2019 general election, the entire current campaign of the BJP will work as a big recall factor for voters.

Bhautik Sheth is on the management  faculty of  an  institute in Surat. He is passionate about marketing. He is a management and IT graduate by qualification and loves online marketing. 

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