The Importance of Being Earnest


A promise to my readers and to myself, this will be last of my posts that have a reference to AAP (Aam Aadmi Party). I shall be honest here, the poll results and AAPs performance in the Delhi Elections was certainly mind blowing.

The biggest message that I drew out of the results was “It is indeed OK to make a mistake” the Ryder being “You must have learnt from it”.

Not many of us, yours truly included forgive mistakes that easy. The school of thought being “You got your chance, you blew it too bad! Now get back at the end of the line!!” It means that chances are not supposed to come easy. Doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have the required capability or talent to do what was expected; it means you need to prove yourself again. The thought itself perhaps is something that is inherited as a legacy of growing up in an environment where the have nots far exceed the haves. While few are born into the haves, the others have to rise up through the heap of potential “havers”.

So what is it that AAP really did?

The pollsters will analyse the stats to death but here is the ABVS take. Yours truly believes what AAP really did is read the situation and understand their payoffs well. With the all-round decimation of the Congress, Delhi was slated to be a head on fight between AAP and the BJP. The background to the elections being the resounding win of the BJP in the national and state elections leading upto the Delhi elections and the AAPs poor showing in the National Elections.


Now for the strategic choices each had and a normal understanding of the payoffs assuming that both parties were pursuing self-interest (err why assume they are a bunch of politicians aren’t they?) and were aware of the choices the other was making.

BJP-AAPkaPayOffThe mathematics of Delhi’s 2013 result had almost ensured there would be a re-election. The media houses and research agencies kept their game up with the opinion polls in the run up. Most giving the BJP the edge in a tough fight.

The AAP really had the choice of being unrepentant and continuing their sting and dharna brand of politics or be apologetic about the 49 day fiasco and underline their passion for bringing a different narrative to the political context.

The BJP had the choice of being belligerent following all the electoral success under M/S Modi & Shah or to stay with the development for all plank they had chosen during the national elections. They chose the former and said “What India Wants, Delhi Wants”.

If one were to summarise the various opinion polls the payoff’s going into the Delhi elections in 2015 were as in the payoff matrix above.

To be fair to BJP, given the payoffs they went for maximum. They started off with an advantage that they hoped to maximize on. However, contrary to their expectations as the BJP upped its belligerence the tide started turning the AAP way.  While BJP estimated and assessed their own and their key opponents strength, they underestimated how weak Congress had become. Strange given their vision of an India sans Congress or as the BJP says it “Congress mukt Bharat”.

The AAP on the other hand remained true to their we got it wrong the first time around but trust us we have a plan to get it right this time pitch as they neared the election. Eventually resulting in a landslide verdict in their favour, a whopping 67 seats in a 70 seat assembly. The reward for being earnest!


Brand of Humour

Brand of Humour

There has been a lot of talk in recent times about humour and the boundaries within which it needs to operate, assuming that we accept that boundaries need to exist. Wit, mockery, satire, slapstick, light hearted, playful, banter, provocative, insulting, shocking there is a host of sub genres that can be found if you start peeling the layers.
Brands have, for as long as advertising and communication have existed, relied on humour to get their message across. Of course, with varying degree of success. We have in a previous post discussed that communication with an emotional appeal tends to fare better. Humour in that sense is a more broad based emotion than love (of any kind). Hence, has been used for a broader set of products & brands.
So is success guaranteed if the communication has humour? Does success of communication necessarily translate into sales or business success?
With all due credit to the various studies that have been carried out don’t seem to provide any conclusive evidence. Therefore, No and Can’t Say, would be the most honest responses to the questions above. How then do we assess or plan for it? In some form or the other the answer would lie on a graph with relevance and recall as the axes.
While the above would give an indication of the effectiveness the aspect that relative control may be exercised is relevance. The down side. It is subjective. The extent of humour, the subject, the delivery all are but a judgement call made by a select few that run the brand. There are several different ways in which humour can be used:

Positioning the brand as one with a light hearted view of the world. Humour and playfulness therefore becomes a key element of the brand’s personality.

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Presentation: This may be a campaign specific choice where in a brand opts for humour as a means of delivering a message. Relevance would again be something to watch out for. Some brands are able to hit the nail on the consistently, some struggle, whilst others just do not get it!

Association: Depending upon who the brand’s audience is, a brand may choose to associate with properties that are humour based. Again, as with any other association relevance and fit with the overall brand is important.

Given the myriad media choices available and the fact that in this day and age consumers are a part of the brand definition humour is a tight rope to walk too. Brands that choose this path have to walk to a consistent rhythm and in a social 24×7 context live upto the personality especially brands interacting on a constant basis in the sociosphere.
The good part is the sociosphere offers feedback as a brand you can gauge whether you are flat or tickling rib or stirring intellect.
While new highs are being achieved with regard to what can be said or done in the name of humour there are new lows that are being set too, Charlie Hebdo and the AIB Knockout closer home are cases in point where humour did not go down well with some. It doesn’t need to either. Needless to say any freedom needs to be exercised responsibly.

The Art of Electioneering

Art of Electioneering

“Where absolute superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skillful use of what you have.”

Karl von Clausewitz, On War 1832

As I write this post I am aware that hundreds like me are analyzing what the world’s largest democracy has witnessed and trying to put in perspective.  As the election juggernaut rolled through the country under intense media attention the various angles to the 2014 elections in India have been explored, analysed and have been discussed threadbare.

One of the things that has bubbled up to the top and been referred to often with an accusatory tone is how India’s PM designate was a well marketed product.  There is little doubt that what has just concluded is a milestone election in India’s history. One that introduced several elements into the Art of Electioneering.  For sure there will be cases made out this election that students of business, social and political science will delve into across universities. I have in a previous post talked about how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) captured the imagination of millions in Delhi. What the creators of the Modi campaign have achieved is far bigger and far reaching in its impact.

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

SunTzu, The Art of War

In hindsight what has been executed and arguably to perfection have been text book strategies.  Be it SunTzu, Porter or Aaker or Prahalad what the strategy cell of Bhartiya Janata Party has done is research, organize, propagate and execute or as I call it the ROPE trick.  For the purpose of this discussion I shall attempt a retro-fit of my observations of the campaign to popular models in marketing strategy.

Customer MotivationsAlong the lines of the adage “Customer First” we’ll take a look at how the BJP campaign tested on understand the drivers for this election and the needs of the voters i.e. Customer Motivation.

The marketing brains behind the BJP campaign ticked these boxes well and proper. They clearly identified the mood of an electorate that was young and aspirational.  From an Indian perspective, we have as marketers devoted hours cracking the code and allocated millions of rupees trying to win the youth over. The BJP campaign identified the Youth as mainstream.  As per the 2011 census 65% of India’s population is below 35 with a median age of 29 putting an eligible workforce (15-64) at a whopping 430 million, higher than the entire population of the USA!


The strategists at the BJP HQ caught on to this early in the day and having identified their target segment distilled their motivations.  So what were the motivators they identified? Speaking of the high level motivators (since each has contributing factors and dimensions), a strong yearning for growth and opportunities, a need re-assert pride, a secure environment and a decisive leadership were what were chosen as the pegs of the campaign.

The campaign planners were also smart enough to place their communication not just on traditional media but where the Youth were on the internet constantly communicating with each other using a variety of social networking tools from BBM to Instagram to Pintrest to Google Hangouts! This enabled BJP to speak to them at an individual level as well as a collective, influential mass. More importantly, this was not just at the time of the campaign.  The social leg of the BJP campaign started a couple of years ago with senior leaders writing blogs, active on twitter etc.  The buzz around BJP was atleast 3X their nearest competitor in the sociosphere the AAP.

Several articles have been and will get written regarding the extensive use of digital media by the BJP in election 2014.  The use of technological wizardry with the 3D rallies or the beat and booth level mass outreach mobile screens carrying their leaders message the campaign exploited every possible touch-point.

So was it just a media and technology blitzkrieg based on consumer (read voter) understanding or was it more?

Here’s where I would introduce another text book model to which in perspectives will answer what the BJP went about doing. This is about understanding your competition better than anyone else. The BJP used this understanding at every step of the way and in all their communication verbal, written or visual to attack them.  Again in hindsight, the way the numbers panned out they seemed to have done it well.

 Competitor Actions

The strategy cell of the BJP along with their campaign creators seemed to have blended their understanding of the voter and the ruling Congress to create the perfect potion that cast a spell over the electorate.  The silence of the Prime Minister, the reactive nature of the Congress campaign, the disconnect of their leadership all became weapons in the BJP campaign arsenal.

The respective campaign taglines represented the middle of the road, motherhood tenor of the congress versus the more exhortative call for action from the BJP. Much again has been written and talked about this having been a “Presidential style” election.  The author disagrees. Granted that this was an election of personalities like never before, but to say that this was the first is incorrect atleast as far as the past four or five elections are concerned. The BJP always has portrayed a leader whether it was the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with the slogan “Ab ki baari Atal Behari” during the 1998-99 elections or L.K. Advani with “Majboot Neta Nirnayak Sarkar”.  Even in the past whether declared or not the contenders for the top post were always clear.

Endnote: The victory of the Bhartiya Janta Party in these elections was a result of a very well thought out strategy and smartly integrated ground realities.  It was a journey that began well in time. Yes the leader himself had a role to play, but the magic was him resonating with the youth of this country. Voicing their aspirations and promising a better future. Clichéd and overused as it maybe it goes without saying that with great power comes great responsibility.  The burden of the mandate will now be on the BJP it is for them to perform to their promise. The nation hopes for deliverance.

In the Line Of Fire: Dealing with Adversity

The Line of FireThey say that adversity is the true test of character. It is a fact that everyone be it individuals, communities, countries, teams, businesses at some point or the other shall face times that are tough. We as marketers have always looked for examples in war, sports, celluloid, politics, simply put life for understanding and propounding theories with regard to brands and their behaviour.

In the tough times do emerge interesting characters who deal (or don’t deal) with adversity in their own unique way and more often than not brands that we use, buy and deal with fall into one of these.  For the purpose of this post I have chosen to label these characters and shall explain the traits of each citing examples from politics, sport, film etc. as applicable.

  • The CrusaderThe Crusaders: These are people/brands that believe and live for a larger cause and continue to do so even in the times of adversity. Regardless of the tide being in their favour or against the cause remains front and centre to everything including their response. The focus on the larger good often may even come at a high price but are well worth the sacrifice.  There are two examples that instantly strike my mind one from the world of business, the other from politics. In both these cases there was a higher price to pay and the brands/people in question did pay.

Case 1: Nokia Battery Recall

An isolated incident of a battery exploding became a PR nightmare for brand Nokia, rumour mills working overtime did not help the cause either.  The brands response however did not go through the traditional cycle (at least to the outside world) of denial, acceptance, risk assessment and corrective action.  The brand behaved in an extremely responsible manner.   The risk, probability and reasons were explained to the consumer, a robust mechanism was first put into place and the brand then recalled the batteries in question.  Not only did the brand gain consumer confidence it shot up to the #1 position in the Most Trusted Brands survey in the same year!

Case 2: AAP

The jury is still out on this one.  The Aam Aadmi Party almost swept the Delhi assembly polls nudging out a formidable Bhartiya Janata Party to form the government in Delhi.  The party under severe pressure to deliver on its tall promises in its blink and you miss stint resigned from power on their rai·son d’être; their version of the Jan Lokpal Bill.


  • The FighterThe Fighters:  The label is self-explanatory.  These are brands or individuals that bring about changes in themselves, work-out hard and train to come back better and stronger.  They are extremely competitive in their fabric and hate losing to anyone or anything.  They always believe that their best shot is the next one.  What shouldn’t be undermined here is the emotion is complemented in full measure by blood, sweat and toil.  Here are examples of 3 individuals to build my argument.

Case 1: Rocky Balboa

Yes its clichéd and has been over-used but the success of the Rocky franchise over twenty years, if nothing else has taught us one lesson;  a fall, a failure, a defeat is not the end, it is the beginning of your climb back to the top.  We love it when our heroes have their backs against the wall. We love it when they scratch for every inch and fight with every ounce of strength in their bodies.  Somewhere perhaps we all identify with failure and success has always been aspirational.  Here is a brand that ruled got written off, yet came out a winner!

Case 2: Yuvraj Singh

It purely is a question of individual assessment, but then blogs are just that aren’t they?  Here is a guy who was perhaps at the peak of his prowess. The quintessential watch out for this guy from the start he delivered big time and was the hero of India’s 2011 ICC World Cup triumph. Then followed the fight with cancer and his amazing return to health and fitness in the span of a year.  His performance have been debated and arguably have been patchy and nowhere near his best.  As much as we love making heroes we seem to love pulling them down even more.  Yuvraj as I write this piece has his back to the ropes and carries the burden of India’s loss in the ICC World Cup T20 finals.  A 100 bucks say that the story ain’t over.

Case 3: Steve Jobs

This I use as an example from the world of business.  A man who was kicked out from the very company he founded.  Did his time and came back with a bang!  The brand Steve Jobs was as much about not giving up as it was about innovation. Whether in life dealing with his ill-health or in business the approach and resolve remained consistent.

All the of the above had perseverance and preparation in common apart from a come-back.

  • The Rabble-rouserThe Rabble-rousers:  These are the wise guys the smart Alec’s or the sly foxes of the world. Their method of dealing with trouble is to create diversions or smoke-screens.  They are also the brands/people that pick, point to and amplify flaws in their competition when themselves in trouble. Yes as much as we would like to disbelieve the Dirty Tricks Department does exist and the if I am bad he’s badder game has been played in sports, politics and business alike.  To avoid controversy I will not cite examples or names but would point out to a two political outfits in a prosperous western state of India.  They are by no means the only examples of fighting adversity with diversion.


  • The FaderThe Faders:  These are the kind that never stood up and fought.  For reasons best known to them they never responded to the situation or put up a fight. They laid down their weapons and turned their backs to the situation.

Case: Dr.  Manmohan Singh

Hailed as the father of India’s liberalization and economic surge the Prime Minister of India has been under the pump for close to two years and there seems to be no end in sight.  The media and opposition alike have accused him of everything including being weak, inactive, indecisive etc.  For a brand that he once was his “history will judge me kindly” press conference was a sad sight to watch.


  • The DeserverThe Deservers: These are the brands/people that deserved what they got. They eroded and abused one of the core components of a brand Trust. Their vehement denial of any wrongdoing and desire to retain the high pedestal dragged them into infamy, deservedly so.

Case 1: Lance Armstrong

Individuals and businesses alike would have taken inspiration from Lance Armstrong.  However, the web of deceit that he spun left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone who believed his incredible tale of will over all else!  The collateral damage was the loss of reputation for the Lance Armstrong Foundation that did genuine good work for and on behalf of cancer patients. Today it exists under the name of LiveStrong and a stigma.

Are these characters exhaustive, are there more?  The author believes that the characters though not exhaustive are definitive of what one gets to see.

To close I would like to draw attention to an article titled “The Inevitability of Fires”   by Shekhar Swamy of RK Swamy BBDO fame in the book Brands Under Fire.

In his article Swamy talks about how crises are inevitable and on the importance of TRUST and TRUST Balance, relevant excerpts as below.

It is a truism that any crisis can confront any brand or company at any time.  It’s not a question of whether any crisis will occur in a brand’s life.   It is only a question of when.

At the core of all successful brands lies that big T word-TRUST.  When that trust is violated, the reaction is one of hurt and suspicion that can easily turn to anger and rejection.

The only way to be ready for any crisis is to continuously build and hold a vast credit balance of TRUST vis-à-vis the consumer.  Indeed this is true in any relationship.  As long as there is a credit balance, one can draw on this in times of crisis.

The Crusaders and Fighters make credits on account of their actions into their TRUST Balance, the Rabble-Rouser perhaps manages to get away with neither a credit nor a debit, the Faders loose credit significantly and the Deservers are the ones who go bankrupt!

ALIENS: The Destruction of Brand Delhi (and India)

AliensThe past decade has witnessed a surge in the social networking space from a digital perspective. The by-product of this from a marketing perspective has been the renewed interest of brands in building communities. There have been brands that have been at it even before the dawn of the digital era. All of us as marketers have read and discussed about how brands stand on communities and not campaigns.

This post though, attempts to look at the flip side. How communities through their actions build (or in some cases destroy) brands. In a hyper-connected world every and any incident has the potential to trigger a mass reaction. Malcom Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point has given several examples of how seemingly disparate events can be cinders that light up and cause a wildfire!

Delhi, the capital city of India has been at the centre media attention for a while now. As a city and as a brand Delhi has always been a city that evokes reactions that are on the extremes. At this very moment however, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) of Delhi would perhaps be very low.

Just under 7% of the GDP of India comes from tourism. The 12th Five Year Plan (FY2012-17) puts its bets on Tourism as a sector that can deliver above the national average growth of between 10-12% whilst creating 5.5 to 6.7Mn jobs from the impetus that it can give to allied sectors. Traditionally, the so called focus on tourism has meant multi-million rupee campaigns by State Tourism departments and crass commercialization has ensued around the “destinations”.  The bare necessities such as infrastructure and hugely warranted “social conditioning” have at best been given lip-service.

Delhi has been touted as the Soul & Spirit and the Gateway to India. A city where the ancient and the modern blend seamlessly.

In the spotlight as far as this post is concerned are 3 recent incidents that I believe are pushing closer to the point of imminent disaster. These are incidents that depict how Delhi (Aam Aadmi and the Aam Aadmi Party) treats Tourists, Foreign Nationals and does not spare its own nationals from the other parts of the country! All of these certainly have had an impact on Brand Delhi and on Brand India. Let alone “Atithi Devo Bhav” we treat our guest worse than how Aliens get treated in cinema.  Ranging from ridicule to suspicion, objectification to torture.

  1. The Vigilante Incident (Read More)
  2. The Tourist (Read More)
  3. The Different Looking Guy (Read More)

If we have to serve our own interests as a community this is as good a wake-up call as any before we hit the tipping point.  The onus therefore, is on us as a community and a society to build Brand Delhi or Brand India.

Wag the Dog: When Brands Become Victims of Their Own Image

Marketers spend their working lives creating, feeding and maintaining a Brand Image.  Our products, our actions and our communication are constantly building the perception that we want our consumers and stakeholders to form.

A senior colleague of mine used to constantly say “Perception is Reality”. The perceptions we carefully cultivate and create the way the world sees us.  Sometimes though we start seeing ourselves in the same way. We allow perception to become our reality. According to Edward de Bono studies show that 90% of the error in thinking is due to error in perception.

Shall take two recent examples to make my point. One that demonstrates how difficult it is to shake away the perceptions that you build and the other an example of how it consumes reality.

Case1: Tata Nano

A car that captured the minds of millions, alas that’s all that it did. It was a car several years into the making perhaps a couple of years too many. All the while that it was in the works, the communication that was being sent out was steadily building the perception that this would be the lowest cost car. The car even before its arrival was touted as a revolution that would change the way India commutes with a potential to expand the category by 65%. In a sense it was seen as a symbol of economic socialism (if there is such a term).

The car was launched in a style reminiscent of the India of the license-permit era and was overbooked a few times over. Somewhere, the product had got so trapped in the created image of being the lowest cost production that it stopped being a car. The very reasons that can be attributed to the huge build up in expectations could be assigned to the disappointment amongst the consumers. A car in India is much more than a mode of transport. It is the flag-bearer of family status and we are not talking “badge-value” here. Here was a car that was the lowest priced all right but was not what a “car” meant in India. Things like size, ability to seat a family comfortably, boot access & space etc. all came back to haunt Nano.

Ever since Nano, has been making attempts to shake-off the baggage. From being India’s key to happiness to being Awesome they have pushed the communication in a different direction. Its recent campaign #NanoTwist that intends to tout its size as a virtue. Will they be able to move the brand perception from “Low Cost” to “Stylish” Will the change revive the brand? We’ll find out as this fiscal ends.



Case2: AAP

I am writing this as a rejoinder to my first post AAP ka Brand: Tips for Sweeping Popularity. This one is more topical and perhaps a view brewing in many social circles. The political build-up in the national capital again begs to ask the question whether the recently successful political party has been able to transition from being an activist to an administrator. From being a poster boy the Delhi CM has become the trending joke on social media all within a span of 3 weeks.

One of the key pillars of the AAP the brand was activism. The protests and confrontations with authorities are the foundations of the success of AAP. Though AAP is the party at the helm of affairs in the state of Delhi, the activism and protests continue. Somewhere the theory seems to be what has worked in favour of the party thus shall continue to yield benefits.

How accurate or flawed the theory is shall be reflected by Aam Aadmi Party’s ability to stay in office for the allotted term and later during this year their performance in the General Elections.

For the moment though, it seems to be a case of the tail wagging the dog.

AAP ka Brand: Tips for Sweeping Popularity

As I write this first post I am aware that reams of newsprint and hours of footage have already been dedicated to the meteoric rise of the Aam Aadmi Party. With all due respect to  the haloed first mover advantage, I shall regarImagedless, endeavour to present a marketers take on how the story has unfolded.

So without much ado here are some tips (no postulation here,just pulling a bookmark out of some dusty marketing books)  for gaining sweeping popularity from a brand perspective.

Like Vidya Balan in The Dirty Picture said “Filmein sirf teen cheezon ki wajah se chalti hain. Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment” and just like countless marketers before me have said, successful brands are built on insights. Big deal!         
Yes! It is a big deal! Rare are the examples in Indian political history wherein we have had political brands being built and launched. Hitherto, political brands (parties and personalities alike) have been a resultant of situations not necessarily designed or controlled in any measure. Brands by chance.

AAP is a brand that has been carefully built. Brand AAP has effectively utilised all available platforms media or otherwise. The new age Congress and the BJP are no less savvy with PR doctors at disposal round the clock to feed the hungry new electorate. Why then did they fail to capture the imagination of people? The difference was Insight.    

“People believe that they have the power, albeit dormant, within themselves to change the course of history”. From Gandhi to Mandela, successful movements have tapped into and worked with this insight.         

OK! but what is to say that it was a careful construction unlike others? A quick point on that before we move on.    This marketer is of the view that the ways and methods that AAP deployed on the ground (read activation plan) run true with and indicate the insight
being put to work. Starting with the largely volunteer based cadre, to the need based cadre expansion during the 2 days leading upto the elections.         

The continuous conversations with the middle class was again a clever tactic; while their opponents kept discounting it as a middle heavy strategy it proved to be one of the reasons for their electoral success.         

“The Great Indian Middle Class” much abused in many a marketing presentations as the drivers of the consumption economy, fit perfectly into the AAP scheme of things.
Here’s where the insight resonated best. With the understanding, access, proximity and numbers to spread the message up and down the social ladder they became the prime movers. The middle class were the perfect influencers. They spread the word amongst the peer-group through endless conversations in their social gatherings and the  armchair critics suddenly turned into evangelists.  The lower income group who through ages of degradation in electoral politics were always lured, were suddenly having a conversation with their “sahab” and “memsaabs” on mehangai and were seeing a glimmer of hope and a feeling somewhere that they too had a say. The big-wigs ofcourse were getting guilt tripped since “Who has the time to vote?” and “Nothings going to change..” were not cool anymore.

Moral of the story stay true to the core, there’s nothing better than bulls-eye. So much for the Core TG, Consumption TG, Business TG theorists.

There are 2 characteristics that the best Generals in history have displayed.         
1) They invariably have a clear vision of what success will look like and have  articulated it and         
2) Regardless of the situation, they always project success to be within reach and a matter of when and not if.    

Belief and success are companions. AAP throughout its campaign painted success as imminent. The others did so to, but did not bring the same strength of conviction. Some faltered in word, others in deed. What AAP did better was describe success better? True their manifesto was as populist in its construct, the benefit however that AAP portrayed for all to see was a virtuous one; the passing of the much debated and controversial Lokpal bill in a public session of the assembly. A benefit that re-emphasized the insight “I can make a change”.     

Regardless of what transpires politically, brand AAP has had a good launch and should they continue building on their insights about the “Aam Aadmi”,they will move the brand into the much desired “loyalty” space with the common man saying Amen!