Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Communicating Brand 'Namo': Part 2

Marketing as a term has been considered unnecessary with respect to marketing services whose objective is more of a ‘social good’. Political parties and politicians have been a difficult product to brand and communicate. By definition, brands must deliver on a promise, consistently and in the context of politicians these two aspects — delivering on a promise and consistency are a big question mark.

One may have the best product/ service but it is of no use, until the world knows of it. Communication strategy is about getting the marketing message to your target consumer at an optimum cost. A good and well targeted communication was probably the strength of Modi’s campaign. He made a consistent and focused appeal to Indians yet customized his message differently to the micro markets. With political parties having a big overlap between their manifestos, the only significant point of difference seems to be individual leading the party. 

The brand essence & brand positioning
Modi fought the entire campaign on the promise of development and change. He had a team of media and advertising experts who have worked diligently over more than a year to build brand Modi and packaged, communicated and sold it to the public like any other consumer brand. The team understood that the young Indians (almost 60% of India’s population) had angst against the Indian political scenario. The communication campaign reflected the mood of the nation and promised a leadership which will give them good governance and a better future.

BJP wanted to promote as it was keen to change its image from a communal to be more secular party.  This shift in strategy gave Modi an opportunity to build on his developmental image and dull his Hindutva image. Though Modi did not discard the Hindu image completely and described it not as a religion but a ‘way of life’. He still wore his saffron colours with pride or sported it in collateral or backdrop used, but never let it enter the conversations and the actions. He communicated that he may not wear the symbols of other religions but he definitely respects them all. Modi’s delight in dressing also resonated well with a section of the electorate that valued personal growth and progress above politics.

Lesson 1: Incorporate your core brand essence, loudly or subtly, in your communication to build brand equity. Base your campaign on your brand promise or core brand proposition.

 The message strategy
Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said, “Culturally, Indians have always been quite content to be ruled by a powerful king-figure, rather than the more abstract idea of self-rule, so centralized authority (or even a benevolent dictator) is not at all an anathema for most Indians. Centralization of power and determined authoritarianism could well be seen by today’s India as the need of the hour and an attractive antidote against economic stagnation. Hence, this time the pitch was for Modi Sarkar and not BJP Sarkar.”

Modi’s message was strong and the communication was designed to turn people’s attention away from the memories of 2002 to the more recent economic transformation of Gujarat and increasing confidence among the people of this state.

The campaign was planned over three layers. The top layer that spoke to the nation as a whole was controlled by Modi himself through his team of volunteers. The second layer was coordinated by party leaders who organized meetings with concerned groups and the third layer was RSS and party workers who were involved in the last mile messaging. The strategic message laid emphasis on party’s philosophy and was communicated through ‘Saugandh’, the BJP anthem to which Modi lent his voice. The tactical messages were aimed to create momentum and get party the majority in 2014 elections.

The message strategy broadly followed an emotional appeal. Modi tries to connect to diverse Indians through their individual concerns and problems. He would empathize with them and draw a parallel of similar issue in Gujarat scenario and how his development model worked to solve the issue. Messages were tailored for specific villages and target groups. While in urban areas, he projected the imagery of pro-growth reformist leader, in the Indian hinterland he spoke about common problems including corruption, inflation, joblessness and basic health and sanitation. The final reinforcement of brand Modi was facilitated by RSS pracharaks and many other volunteers through door to door campaigning.

Lesson 2: Brand communication needs to follow a consistent message strategy to communicate the same idea every time. It encapsulates the brand positioning and helps in encoding it into a language which is understood by the TG.

The media mix
Brand Modi adopted 360 degree communication to speak their promise. They used advertising through radio, television (particularly during the IPL cricket matches), print, posters, hoardings and bus panels, in addition to traditional nukkad sabhas, street plays, rallies, social events and public speeches. Human banners and placards dominated below-the-line rally promotions, along with off-line activation. Social media and internet was actively deployed to engage the young audience throughout the campaign period. Though the core message was the same- promise of good governance and development- but it was adapted to the media deployed and customized for each state and urban and rural centres.

Modi left no stone un-turned to reach every nook and corner of India. Modi’s brand team leveraged technology for micro-targeting even in media-dark rural areas. BJP found that 30,000 villages of UP and Bihar were media-dark with no TV, print or radio. They deployed hundreds of mobile vans to reach out to these villages and spread Modi’s message.

He complemented the traditional marketing with equally effective direct marketing initiatives. Modi covered 437 physical rallies, took part in 5500 video conferences, 3D rallies and Chai pe Charcha events. Over the period of 6 months, the team covered 6 lakh villages, almost all TV urban and semi-urban household and was present across every TV channel, newspapers, radio, cell phone and internet media. Modi’s campaign reached out to 12 crore first time voters through his integrated media mix. According to media reports, the party is estimated to spend around 400 crores on the entire campaign.

Lesson 3: Integrated Marketing Communication entails not just employing all mediums but coordinating them in a way that they are in synergy with each other. The synergy within mediums helps in maximizing the returns on media investment

The campaign: Creating Experience and Engagement: the reason for all communication

Launch: First PR to build credibility
Modi started his campaign not closer to elections but long back. The campaign did not take off with heavy mass media budgets but chose soft and surrogate route. Modi’s first objective was to build relevance around the chosen positioning. He therefore spoke about his work in Gujarat to increase awareness and build on his image as ‘development and change’ agent.  He promoted Gujarat as a tourist destination and rolled out a well designed and professional campaign with Amitabh Bacchan as a brand ambassador. Gujarat remained at the top of the mind for most Indians.

Modi’s initial communication strategy focused on winning international acclaim through appearances and mentions in TIME, Economist, NYT, WSJ and other leading American publications.  This forced the national media to focus spotlight on him. Modi and his team understood the Indian colonial mindset wherein we acknowledge and reward people once the outside world does. 

Modi started his campaign in February 2013 and accepted invitations to events that catered to key demographics across the country. These included institutions like Sri Ram College of Commerce in New Delhi, FICCI Ladies Organisation, Google Big Tent, India Today Conclave, Pune’s Fergusson College, where he first articulated his 'Gujarat model' in detail. His aim was to create bottom-up pressure on the BJP leadership. Modi was careful about choosing interview opportunities. His appearances in chat shows was timed appropriately. Also, he is the first Indian politician to make effective use of social media and digital space. 

Lesson 4: It is not about PR or Advertising; loud or soft launch; but knowing when and what to say

Social Media: Creating ‘own’ medium
Use of digital media was a strategic decision because Modi wanted to appeal to the young generation of this nation who is frustrated with Indian political scenario and was looking for a change. They are hardworking and hopeful and Modi wanted to hook on to this ‘hope’ in young India. For the same reason, Modi’s campaign also tried to motivate people to cast their votes to enable formation of a stable and strong government.

In 2007, YouTube was the first social platform that Modi embraced. Modi’s Facebook and Twitter journey commenced in the year 2009.  He then befriended blogging and launched his personal website. In 2010, Modi's Twitter follower base increased to one lakh and by December 2011, he had over four lakh followers, and crossing one million mark in October 2012. He is named to be the first Indian politician to use Google Hangout and has an app on his name, 'iModi'. On Facebook, Modi has 7,549,972 likes and 960,914 people talking about him, whereas he has 4.12 million followers on Twitter.

Modi's content strategy changed with changing communication objectives to influence the various stages of voter’s decision making. Initially, he intended to communicate his ‘brand identity’ and hence established his presence on various social platforms. The content revolved around inspirational quotes, quotes from scriptures and his daily activities.

In the second stage of building the ‘brand interest and associations’, Modi’s social media presence focused on his past performance, achievements and the developments in Gujarat. His followers engaged with the brand by liking or commenting on the posts. While he garnered support, he also invited criticism by opposition, media and a few citizens to create curiosity.

In the final stage of building ‘brand preference’, Modi shifted his focus on building emotional connect with his audience. This was the stage where he built his credibility, increased his consideration and amplified his superiority. Also, there was a notable change in the content strategy. Apart from sharing his credentials, he turned more vocal about the opposition and created strong statements to express his opinions.

He is perhaps the only celebrity leader who also followed others including his colleagues in the BJP, international leaders, eminent celebrities and few of his fans and well-wishers. A top public figure's e 'following back' action indicated him to be a ‘people’s person’ and this created an army of advocates.

Sentiments on the social media clearly signalled enthusiasm for the brand Modi. In September 2013, when Modi was declared the PM candidate for BJP, he set on the final stage of building ‘brand resonance’ with active campaigning for elections. They integrated social media with ground level activations and other mediums. The party made extensive use of SMSes, Twitter, Emails and Facebook to garner support from masses. Modi’s comments on social platform were picked up by other mediums for greater discussion and buzz by newspapers, radios and TV channels. Twitter discussed Modi and his accomplishments in 140 words to educate people on the brand ‘Modi’. Many volunteers were entrusted with the tweeting activities across 12 tables.

He used the Youtube to spread his messages. All his speeches and interviews on various platforms including political rallies, industry events, management workshops, university sessions, inauguration ceremonies etc. was uploaded on You-tube. He is also the first Indian politician to reach out to young audience of India and outside through Google Hangout. For the 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, special web pages like NamoLucknow, NamoBaghpat, etc. were created to start debates and inform young India on BJP volunteers and current controversies. Social media seemed to be the anchor medium for BJP campaign, aimed at every stage of voter decision making. It was integrated with other mediums during various stages of the campaign. It was predicted that social media could influence the election results in 160 constituencies.

Mobile Strategy
India has 205 million web users but a base of 915.9 mn mobile subscribers as per 2013 date of Internet and Mobile Association India. The viral messaged shared through chat platforms, the India 272+ app for Android devices and Modi4PM donation drives increased the visibility and created positive brand associations. Speeches were made available on mobile phones for those who could not connect to the You-tube platform. Mobile and social media strategy helped Modi engage people and think of themselves as contributors to India’s development. This sense of ownership not only helped in bringing more and more people to polling booths but also earn majority for the party.

Lesson 5: Owned Media including Facebook, Twitter, You tube if used well can help the brand ‘earn’ free media platforms. These two together, one with maximum control and other with least control can help the brand fulfil various communications objectives through the decision making process.

Advertising: Leveraging existing mediums for mass reach
To connect with the young audience, Modi campaign used the creative hook “Ache din aane wale hain” which captured the need of the people in bundling hope.  This was a simple expression of the brand story that brought hope and positivism to life and hence resonated well with Indians. In line with this creative idea, the campaign developed advertising tagline ‘ab ki baar modi sarkaar’, created by agency Soho Square (O&M). This was aimed at young generation, many of whom were first time voters who wanted to see India move on a development path.

Modi’s campaign managers took the nation’s problems and connected it with their proposition of change through catchy couplets like “Bahut ho gayi mehengayi ki maar, ab ki baar Modi sarkar; na sahenge naari pe atyachaar, ab ki baar Modi Sarkar”. These became so popular that they were extensively shared over chat and social media platforms.

Punchlines such as “Janta maaf nahin karegi” added further buzz to the campaign and fitted well under the campaign theme of hope and positivism. A hard-hitting series of films and animation-based executions humorously promoted the tagline 'Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar', and a musical titled 'Ache Din Aane Wale Hai, Hum Modi Ji Ko Laane Wale Hai' that positioned Narendra Modi as a harbinger of happiness were created for mass media promotion. However this was targeted at the oppressed common men who were finding it difficult to make both ends meet. Other activation ideas like “Modi aane wale hain”; “chai pe charcha” etc. were customized to communication activities planned around them. All the above propositions bombarded the television space, newspapers, radio, outdoors. The consistent message focusing on brand imagery, saffron background and highlighted key message helped in clutter free and attractive creative.

Lesson 6: The creative hook is the port connecting the brand to the consumer. It helps to bring core brand idea in a language that is resonating with the TG. Coordinated and clear advertising built around this creative anchor helps to generate word of mouth-able message, creating greater awareness and contributing to the campaign buzz.

BTL Activations & Direct Marketing: Building momentum to create Buzz
The creators of Modi Campaign well understood the importance of creating buzz to bring the maximum returns to their communication strategy and fulfil mission 272. This required brand advocates and champions. The first innovative step taken by the managers included building of volunteer army, especially of people under the age of 30 i.e. the group that believed in change. Volunteers were invited through a missed call initiative at a specific number and they took Modi’s vision and promise to each house of this nation. The reports reveal that there were average of 10000 missed calls every day and generated more than 130 million interactions. This initiative was also aimed to recruit volunteers from the interiors and hence build a networked bandwidth of party workers. Meeting voters in their houses helped the party listen to the concerns of real India and remove disconnect between the intellectual debates and the actual conditions. For example, when party thought that delay in releasing manifesto could cost them enormous votes, the party workers found that it was a non-issue for common men as they were more concerned about the future and not written promises.

The campaign taglines were made contemporary, sometimes controversial to initiate viral messaging round. It became a ‘national time pass’ to forward these Modi supporting messages and jingles. The viral spread was so immense that small kids were also heard repeating the campaign taglines.

To take care of urban youth, BJP put up small skits named nukkad natak (street corner play) to reach out to the youth. 1,200 such acts were performed on themes including price rise and corruption. They formed NaMo band which was played in malls, college canteens, barista and Cafe Coffee Day outlets. 

The flash mob idea of Modi Campaign was aimed to create WOM buzz. Music bands were unleashed in public places, which started by singing some popular numbers to collect a crowd and then switched to singing Modi-and BJP-theme songs. All these activities added fuel to the campaign and made it word of mouth-able proposition, which at the last stage was spread by people themselves. The NaMo ‘roti’ branding at Varanasi, in line with Lifebuoy roti branding during Kumbh created media buzz and visibility.

The 3D studio: Reaching out to people
Modi connects to his large audience through 3D appearances during rallies, seminars and other events. With this virtual and hi-tech medium, Modi had flexibility of addressing many more Indians and reach out to greater percentage of population. Modi’s experiment with 3D holograms first happened in 2012 Gujarat assembly elections wherein he delivered a speech to 53 locations simultaneously. These 3D hologram rallies were conducted extensively during the election campaign of 2013-14.

Chai pe Charcha: Connecting People
The ‘chaiwala’ tag given to Modi was soon converted by BJP into a property ‘Chai pe Charcha’ to engage people and plan other outreach campaigns around tea. The campaign was planned based on the insight that tea in India serves as a social binder and people discuss a lot over tea, formally and informally. Modi believed that tea stalls are like footpath parliament and many critical interactions happen here.

Modi connected electronically with lakhs of supporters and citizens of India through this outreach program. He would host the event from a tea stall in Ahmadabad and the event was relayed across 1000 tea stalls in 300 cities. Mosi would appear on a giant screen at these tea stalls...with a cup of tea and discussed with them issues related to good governance and development. People could interact and ask their questions using a combination of satellite, DTH, Internet and mobile technology. Participants were served tea in NaMo branded cups and from a NaMo branded pots. These events were hosted on You tube. This campaign highlighted two aspects of Modi’s personality: Someone who had a humble origin and someone who had aspirations. And that was exactly what young India wanted in their leader.

Lesson 7: While traditional advertising and online activities can spread the message, BTL executions and direct marketing activities helps the brand connect with its customers by engaging them and making them a contributor. Such activities help in building customer-brand relationship and hence generate greater buzz and WOM. And any amount advertising is smaller than WOM because all communication is ultimately aimed at creating WOM.

Brand Modi has been persistent, insistent and consistent, the combination which gives compelling and convincing communication. His communication was simple yet strategic and could find a place in consumer's minds and heart. However, good communication can only work if the product is great. Past performance of Modi added credibility to the communication strategy. However, it remains to be seen how Modi would continue to engage the young population of India and communicate with them consistently and continuously. 


  1. Part 1 was very interesting and was expecting this part to be quite simple and relative. But it was lengthy and more of story telling.

  2. Great, interesting analysis.

  3. Nice Article..Glad to know Facts behind the success story. Much required content to support the lessons identified. I Liked it..Enjoyed reading this article.

  4. Nice post! I have really enjoyed reading your blog post. It is so interesting. Similarly, I would like to share something about our company that Brand harvest is branding agency based in Mumbai. We do consulting for brand communication strategy to all over India.

  5. Nice analysis, Its great to read such a story which is articulated in such a way.

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