Saturday, March 2, 2013

If only an ad campaign could do the trick for Narendra Modi….

The TOI today reports that “The next Gujarat tourism campaign will aim at bridging the distance between temples and mosques. Brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan will shoot ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ at an Islamic monument, the world heritage site of Champaner-Pavagadh, built by Mehmood Begada. Also part of the campaign will be Ahmedabad’s heritage walk, which is known as ‘Mandir se Masjid tak’”. This is no doubt aimed at changing Modi’s hardline image; making him more acceptable as a national figure. But if only life was this easy!

Now I come from the advertising world; so I have immense faith in advertising. But the BJP should not be so sanguine about this. They may want to remember their own “India Shining” campaign they had created before the 2004 elections. The point they forgot then was that advertising works, but for that to happen, there has to be at least a grain of truth in what is communicated. There wasn’t one then; there isn’t one now in the Modi’s Gujarat Tourism ad. The people rejected the ad then; they are likely to reject the ad now as well.

Someone must give Modi some lessons in Marketing. He must understand what “positioning” means. He is currently positioned as the “Hindu Hriday Samrat”. Not just “Hriday Samrat”, but with the “Hindu” prominently placed where it is. This title is something that he has earned. Not by advertising, but by his deeds. He has the Godhra riots to thank for that. Now Modi realizes this; which is why he has no regrets for Godhra, Sadbhavana notwithstanding. Not surprising then that the Hindus (especially of Gujarat) love him, and have voted him back to power three consecutive times in the state. But equally, the others (and I don’t want to single out the Muslims here) don’t love him. Rather, they pretty much despise him. And that’s where the rub lies.

Any marketing guru will tell Modi that it will take a lot of time to undo a past image, and create a new one. A strong positioning takes an even longer time to undo. Remember Onida – and its famed line “Neighbor’s envy, owner’s pride”? Highly successful; it established the TV brand as one of the early leaders in India. The brand has since struggled to reposition itself, to face up to the competition brought in by the Japanese and the Koreans. Brands which are more easily positioned (like Pepsi and its youth platform) find it easily to move from one idea to another. Unfortunately for Modi, he is in the Onida category, not the Pepsi one.

So rather than work on the ad campaign, here’s what I would advise Modi to do. He should get onto the National Board of his party, and start looking towards other parts of the country with a new mindset. He will then realize his several shortcomings, which he must necessarily overcome if he has to be successful. For starters, he will have to shed his anti-minorities image. In deeds, not just words. He can start by apologizing for Godhra. He can then nominate more minority candidates for polls that happen in Gujarat, and elsewhere in the country. He can publicly shed his militant vision for Ayodhya. Hold out a genuine hand of friendship to all. Swear by inclusive growth; inclusive including the minorities, SCs, STs and OBCs. All this may take time, maybe even a decade or more. Because brand building requires “consistency”. It cannot be achieved in a jiffy. A brand is tested under severe conditions; under huge provocations.

A little humility might be another trait he might want to build in. His huge pride about Gujarat’s economic progress is because of the people of that state. Will his policies work in Orissa and Bihar? Or in UP and MP? He may need to learn some new tricks, in handling diverse regions; and diverse cultural traits.

He may want to look towards Vajpayee for a little inspiration. Vajpayee had the courage to at least say that Modi was wrong on Godhra; even if he was not strong enough to make Modi make amends. Vajpayee was a moderate; leaving the hardline image for Advani to take. It was Advani at Ayodhya exhorting his troops, not Vajpayee. In Vajpayee’s NDA government, there was a Christian, George Fernandes, who occupied a key position. It was Vajpayee who made Abdul Kalam the President. Modi is not even a patch on Vajpayee.

Modi cannot achieve all this without the support of his party. But will his party agree to make a Muslim or a Christian the PM? Do they even have anyone senior in their party cadres for this? I doubt it. This is Modi’s opportunity. To re-design the organization, just like Rahul Gandhi is trying to do to the Congress. Like I said, this will take time, but Modi is young. What’s the rush??!!

The real truth is that Modi is going down the “India Shining” route. Hiding the lies in the backyard. But people are smart. They probe and find out what the truth is. And unless Modi does something about that, his campaign will just be a huge waste of money. Government money….

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