Tuesday, May 21, 2013



To those familiar with the craft of managing successful brands it came as perhaps a surprise that Anna Hazare found no place in India Today’s 2013 compilation of the most powerful people in India, even though the social activist had topped the list for 2012. A careful analysis would throw up many factors that could be responsible for this. In the first place, those who promoted the brand (media, corporates, et al) and crafted a halo around him had their own agenda which did not match the philosophy of brand Anna.

Incidentally, before brand Anna was catapulted into the national market he had very limited regional aspirations confined to the constituency of Maharashtra. Yet, suddenly he was elevated as a pan-India brand with mass appeal. While his commitment to the cause cannot be doubted, one needs to admit that he exhibited individual situational appeal. The brand could gain mindspace of the target audience, even if for a while, because the need gap did exist; the moment was opportune, providing an apt backdrop to the launch of the brand. The need – sounding a bugle against corruption and steering a movement against it – was manifested in national frustration, particularly among the middle class, the most eager consumer. In its desperation to pin responsibilities on to someone for his globally induced economic miseries aam aadmi was willing to trust the unbelievable promise from the brand Anna: A Jan Lokpal will make all the corruption go away (as if by a magic wand), and this would mean an end to his miseries.

The Anna campaign was never a long term movement; it was perhaps not meant to be. Those who fanned the fire included media personalities on one hand whose limited agenda was to get a TRP booster shot for their channels and the corporate bigwigs providing advertising support on the other – not withstanding the fact that many of them were themselves embroiled in various issues, or was it precisely because of this reason – who too wanted a limited jugalbandi. So it was not very long before some of those who had responded to brand Anna’s call shifted away. The Hazare sales pitch was predicated on the target audience’s weakness for seeking magic potions for a terminal disease, something that had proved to be the undoing of even a wise man like Steve Jobs.

To be sure the energy and frustration that sustained brand Anna and all that was linked with him has not disappeared, but the sober thinking of the high involvement purchase kind has returned; the customer is no more an impulsive buyer and wants more mettle behind the strategy that promoted brand Anna.

In the beginning, brand Anna worked because it was perceived to be a solution based offering. Indeed, building brands and communicating with the public at large needs this singular trait most of all. He was and is still very largely seen as a simple, honest, old, frail man who owns nothing and has only asked for public support. He was fire, light, hope. Most importantly he was “me”. He inspired the target audience.

Moreover, the brand focussed on a single issue – corruption. If a brand hypes ten good things about itself, the target buyer remembers none. But if it talks about only one thing that satisfies people’s need, it is etched in buyer’s memory. Of course, this was also ensured, at least partly due to influence on public emotions and mass hysteria, through media support. In the first half of August 2011, the Jan Lokpal Bill hogged 77% coverage on the top 10 TV news shows. In the beginning, Anna built a good team by taking in people whose skills complemented what he required. The brand was imbued with passion and purpose. It even used social media networks very effectively to reach out to the younger generation. And the brand was authentic.

The brand managers for Anna also used Gandhi – our national sacred symbol for all things puritanical – to market his movement. The strategy is somewhat akin to the one used to market Bollywood sequels, wherein an initial successful brand (say, Golmaal) is used as a springboard to attain success for the subsequent launch. At the same time, although he tried to rebuild and reenergize the Gandhi brand, while building and strengthening himself, the Indian civil society overall could not perhaps reason out his thoughts and word, nor were they devoid of a feeling of animosity towards those who would not subscribe to their cause or disagree with their perspectives. His campaign managers started calling his campaign as the second freedom movement. It built a large amount of expectation around the movement, something his followers might have been hugely disappointed in when the Jan Lokpal did not actually fructify.

This is a classic case study of branding where a purpose instead of a proposition was sought to be marketed. The campaign was enormously successful too, since it was based on a larger cause, a purpose that was both current and real; it promised attainment of an immediate milestone – the Jan Lokpal; it was woven around distinct symbols, role models, and rituals; it was an integrated campaign, online and on ground; and it chose media as the target audience too. And yet, the brand seems to have faded into oblivion because the campaign was made around an unsustainable model, a fact that was revealed before the target audience not before long. The cause is not to be doubted, but the fact is that the Indian civil society is not alien to rising up one day to fight for a cause and sleeping the next; one big reason for the whole movement slowing down in speed.

Three things make a great brand: a compelling idea, a need gap, and convincing communication about brand’s capabilities to bridge the gap. Anna was and definitely remains a compelling idea as projected by the media. He represents something – angst and anger against corruption and economic misery – that the whole of India was and is up in arms against. With no resources and nothing to lose, he remains an antihero. And he promises along with Arvind Kejriwal to fill a need gap – rooting out corruption. He was supposed to be an enabler. But this is where perhaps Arvind Kejriwal, with his eyes on mastering the system – by taking part in elections – is gaining mileage and brownie points.

From brand promise to brand action, from what a brand says to what it actually does (because it has the capability), Anna Hazare gave a call for action. Alas, he failed to convert his promise into action not because of anything else but because the time duration in which the change was promised was too less, something the team could not manage. The brand failed to deliver what it promised. As a brand, Anna was packaged to perfection. As a sustainable movement, perhaps it will be the Aam Aadmi Party that will achieve much more.