Ram Mandir and the Positioning battles!

“Positioning” in my book is one of the most important and enduring concepts of marketing. How you position your brand in the minds of the consumer, leads you to all the other elements of the marketing strategy. Any lack of clarity or misstep mid-way on how your product is positioned in the minds of the consumer, is usually reflected on the poor or waning market share of the product. Why am I referring to the concept of positioning which is already well known, in the context of the Ram mandir?

In the run up to the Bhumi Pujan for the Ram mandir at Ayodhya which took place this week on the 5th of August, it is interesting to see how most of the mainstream political parties fared in the positioning battle. I would group them as winners, losers and neutral based on how the parties reacted to the event.

In the positioning battle, the foremost winner is of course the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party had made the Ram mandir its existential issue in the 80’s with which it could rally the Hindu vote.  Now in power for the second consecutive term in government, the party got a golden opportunity to make good the promise to build the mandir by way of a favourable Supreme Court verdict.  It must be noted that though the temple construction was made possible due to the Supreme Court verdict, in the minds of the party’s voter base, it is the Narendra Modi led government which has made it possible after such a long wait.

Therefore, it was expected that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi would lead from the front in being a part of the historical Bhumi Pujan. For those who scorned at the leader of a secular country being present at a Hindu religious event, the answer lies at the core of BJP’s positioning strategy. That is of the only party in India to represent and protect the “Hindu Hith” (Hindu interests).  So, why would Narendra Modi let go of an opportunity like this being a ardent Hindu to be out there to leverage on the positive public sentiment emerging out of the Mandir construction?

There were also those who felt that a spectacle like this could have been avoided when the country is fighting a huge pandemic. I feel that from the party’s point of view, re-scheduling the event or making the event low key due to the pandemic would have dented its Nationalistic positioning. “When the time is considered to be the most auspicious for starting the work of the Ram temple, why should we dilute the importance of it due to a virus? That too a virus of Chinese origin?” would have been the thinking among the stake holders.  And not to forget the urgency to complete the temple construction and throw it open before the end of the term in 2024.

In my opinion, it would not have done any damage if the party had somehow got its Ram mandir mascot Lal Krishna Advani to attend the function at Ayodhya. In fact, the presence of Advani alongside Modi on the stage would have added  heft  to the event.

If BJP was the foremost winner, the foremost loser in this battle is obviously the Congress. After having positioned itself as the bulwark of secularism in the country, what did it do now? One by one, its party leaders on cue talked about Bhagwan Ram, Ram Rajya and so on. Starting from Priyanka Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi to other leaders like Kamal Nath, Manish Tiwari, Digvijay Singh, there was a virtual stampede to appropriate Lord Ram and even take credit for the temple construction. In the voter’s mind, the “Hindu” space is clearly occupied by the BJP. By trying to be a political “Me Too” (borrowing the phrase from Barka Dutt) in that space, can Congress ever be able to woo the Hindu voter base? On the contrary, it might have ended up alienating its Non Hindu voter base. How will that section of the voters trust Congress now to be their saviour? In fact, this re-positioning could lead to Congress being neither here nor there. In my opinion, Congress should have just said that it respects the SC verdict and happy that it is being implemented.

The other prime loser is the Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena has been in the forefront of the Ram mandir movement from time immemorial.  Its leader, the late Bal Thackeray was positioned as the “Hindu Hriday Samrat” for the longest time. So, here was the chance to cement its positioning as a party that stands for Marathi interests locally and Hindu interests nationally. And accordingly, its leader Uddhav Thackeray should have pulled all strings to be there on the stage at Ayodhya on the 5th August.  Even if that was not possible, the party should have at least been generous in supporting the event. Instead, it chose to make a “sour grapes” statement denouncing the conducting of the event in the midst of Covid!

Apart from the BJP, the other winner in my eyes is Asaduddin Owaisi and in turn his party, the AIMIM. And here’s why. His is a party with a core Muslim voter base back in Hyderabad. So, in line with this positioning he stuck to his guns of strongly condemning the Prime Minister for being a part of such a Hindu religious event in a secular country. This would keep his positioning among his voter base intact and in the absence of alternatives, can help his base expand outside of Hyderabad.

Apart from these winners and losers in the positioning battle in the aftermath of the Bhumi pujan at Ayodhya, I would say there were parties who didn’t gain or lose. These are parties like the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu (just issued a statement congratulating the PM for the foundation stone laying ceremony), Mamata’s TMC (Issuing a plain “Unity in Diversity” message), Janata Dal (United) in Bihar (keeping silent), Mayawati’s BSP (crediting Supreme Court for paving the way for the temple construction) and DMK in Tamil Nadu (remaining silent). In doing what they did, they chose to remain consistent with their respective party’s positioning in the minds of their voters.

Like for brands, being consistent with its positioning is crucial for political parties as well. A mid-course correction in positioning can be undertaken as a strategy but, the new positioning cannot be a poor “Me too” of the market leader. This is what Congress is attempting and in doing so, is walking straight into to the trap “positioned” by the BJP!

Cartoon credit: Satish Acharya

CAE of CAB/CAA!!

In the last one week, what was known as CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) got passed in both the houses of the parliament and became CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) when the President put his stamp on it. However, as we have been seeing in the last few days, the CAE (Cause and Effect) of this has been different in different parts of the country and among different sections of the society.

In Delhi and in states like West Bengal, Kerala and even parts of Uttar Pradesh, the opposition to the Act stems from the point that the act is discriminating against Muslims. This was what was being echoed by the opposition in parliament and by and large by liberals in the media. The narrative here is that the Act goes against the “Idea of India” as enshrined in the constitution which is “Secular” in not singling out a religion on any ground.  On this pretext, as expected there is a large resentment among Muslims and of course among political parties who depend upon their votes and among liberals. So we see huge street protests in Delhi, Kolkata and in Kerala. As I write this, the protests have gone violent and turning into a mob fury!

In some states like Tamil Nadu for example, the disapproval to the Act is because, it has only included persecuted minorities from three countries namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan while leaving out Tamils from Sri Lanka who are minorities there. The opposition on this count is less intense and is mostly restricted to TV debates, newspaper columns and not much on the streets.

The third category is how the Act has been seen in the North Eastern states like Assam and Tripura. Here, the reaction has been more virulent with fire spreading on the streets with little signs of slowing down. And the cause for the same is completely different from what it is in say, West Bengal. The fundamental issue is that people here see this Act as going against the spirit of Assam accord by opening up the states to foreign illegal refugees of all religions. The opposition here is more about protecting regional identity and space and less about Nationalistic considerations.

And then there are other parts of the country where the reaction is muted and thereby letting one to deduce that the people are neutral on the Act.

In Engineering and Quality Management, “Cause and Effect Analysis” is an oft repeated technique to look at all possible causes for a particular effect. This technique was pioneered by Kaoru Ishikawa, a Japanese professor who later came to be renowned as a Quality Guru. The corner stone of this technique is to brainstorm with as many relevant people as possible and list up all possible causes (Man/Material/Method…) that could lead to a Quality problem.

In the case of CAB/CAA, at the outset it could be argued that probably the Act was required to correct a historical festering issue. However, from the kind of reactions which have emerged, it is clear that the government has not thought through the ramifications of the Act in different parts of the country. Hence I would conjecture that the government has not done a proper “Cause and Effect” analysis on the issue by involving a cross section of domain experts to list up what could be the reactions to the Bill.  It is extremely surprising that on a crucial move like this, perhaps in the interest of confidentiality, the government did not discuss the bill and its implications enough before bringing it to the parliament.

The kind of homework and alacrity the government had shown when it went about annulling of Article 370 is clearly missing this time. Otherwise, Assam and parts of North East where BJP has its own governments would not be burning today. Today, the home minister is busy assuaging one and all that the government will address all genuine concerns of the North East states.  And I believe that a roll back is in the offing soon as the government goes about dousing the fire.

Loyalists to the government argue that CAB was clearly part of the BJP manifesto and hence now that it has got the mandate, it is only going about ticking off items one by one from the manifesto. While one cannot pick too many holes in this argument, one cannot avoid asking if this was really a top priority at this point in time.

Ever since May 30th 2019 when this government took over the reins for the 2nd time, two ministries have hogged the headlines, for different reasons. First, the home ministry under a very aggressive minister – Amit Shah, has been busy with issues around Kashmir. Annulling of Article 370 and 35A, splitting of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and then handling the fall out of these moves have kept the home ministry under constant attention. Second, the finance ministry under Nirmala Sitharaman has been on the receiving end of the media, opposition and the industry due to the tanking economy. Quarter after Quarter the GDP has been touching new lows, not to mention of other economic indices as well, except perhaps the Sensex!

To be fair, the finance minister who is considered a green horn in the ministry has been earnest. Though she comes across as haughty, truth be told, she has been busy meeting a cross section of opinion leaders in trying to understand what needs to be done to fix the economy. It is perhaps her bad luck that she was thrown in to the circus ring when the Indian economy was on a decline. Some steps have been taken but they have not yielded any visible results.

Having seen the versions of many economists who have been critical of the economy, one thing is clear. The experts are split down the middle as to whether the problems in the Indian economy are structural, cyclical or a bit of both. So, it would be good for the finance minister to first do a detailed Cause and Effect analysis of the Economy on top priority, understand the causes first and then go about fixing them.  If these are not addressed before the next budget time frame, once again the fabled “India Story” will miss the bus as it did many times in the past!

That is why, it is time the government also goes about ticking off the manifesto points on issues related to the economy on SOS basis instead of just focusing on home affairs. Here, I feel that the finance minister needs political heft which can be provided only by the Prime Minister. And it is time he does that. What was that? “Modi hai to mumkin hai”, right???

Pic courtesy: Indiatimes

“Ideas Mela” – What an Idea Sirji !!! Part – 4

 “All the forces in the world are not as powerful as an Idea whose time has come” – thus said the famous French writer Victor Hugo on the power of Ideas. I think today the world – whether it is managing an enterprise or Governing a nation thrives on 2 I’s – Ideas and Implementation. In marketing and communication, “What’s the Big Idea???” is the question often asked but with few answers. Great Ideas are few and far between. Hence the need to celebrate the power of great Ideas and the people behind the same.

In these posts “Ideas Mela”-What an Idea, Sirji!!! series, I share interesting marketing Ideas which I come across which have used unusual and innovative media which made me say “Wow”. These posts are not about great marketing campaigns (there are so many) but “Big Ideas” hidden in “Small places”, novel ad placements, innovative media adoption,…  If you have not, do read my earlier posts Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 and here’s some great stand out Ideas from the recent past:

  • For a great Idea, concept is the Key. Yes, in the Tata Zest car Campaign, that literally was the case. Readers received The Times of India (TOI) paper dated 26th Aug, with a “Car Key” and an invitation to test drive the car. A smart innovation to a normal full page ad which would have been just an also ran.

TOI,Zest

  • It’s now well documented that BJP ran a Hi voltage 3600 campaign in the last Lok Sabha elections. “Abki Baar Modi Sarkar” resonated all over. But the stand out phenomenon was the way they used social media to reach out which I personally got to experience. On the day the BJP Manifesto was released, when I tweeted using #BJPManifesto, lo I got a direct message from Narendra Modi’s twitter handle, thanking me for the message with a link to the full BJP Manifesto. Anybody who tweeted with that hashtag got this response. Normally I don’t read manifestos of parties and so I believe do most of us. But on receiving this, I did do a quick read of the party’s promises.
  • Talking of promises, a marketer’s job is always to communicate the brand’s promise effectively to the customers. And what better way to do that than providing an experience. So when Emami launched their men’s deodorant – HE, they chose the International Men’s day to spread the brand promise, well literally. The TOI newspaper of 19th Nov. smelt nice of the HE Deodorant, making the product stand out or rather smell out. (Though this is not the 1st time a brand used the smelling newspaper route – HUL used It for their coffee as well before)

Emami HE

  • HUL has been a torchbearer in India for marketing innovations. So was not surprised when they chose to tag along with the Prime Minister’s social awareness campaign – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to promote their products. “Toilerforbabli” was an interesting social media campaign supported by Domex (a sanitation related product) where they goaded people to blog about sanitation, cleanliness,.. and invited people to join their effort to make India’s villages “open defecation” free. Read more on this campaign here. The brand and cause association makes it a Big Idea.
  • At times, you find great Ideas parked in unforeseen places. In the parking lot of a mall for example. At the parking lot of Mumbai’s Inorbit mall, the automatic entry gate was seen wrapped with branding of a store (Me n Moms) that was in the mall. As cars stop in front of the gate for a few minutes to collect the parking ticket, this branding cannot be missed. A brilliant Idea which I am sure that doesn’t cost a parking lot.

Hypercity,parkinglot,102014,1 (1)

  • If you have been through the passport issue routine in India recently, you would have experienced the waiting ordeal. As I was killing time, watching whatever was dished out on the TV screens there, I was impressed to see a pop out spot for Godrej Safes running continuously which said something like– “Keep your passports safe in Godrej Safes!!!” Again the placement of the spot takes the cream for a fantastic Idea.
  • I have said this in my earlier “Idea” posts. I have always found interesting Ideas at PVR Cinemas in Mumbai. A few days before the film PK was released, the guys at the cafeteria were wearing this PK T Shirt as part of its promos!!! Thankfully they did wear something unlike the alien in the movie!!! The whole marketing campaign for the film was excellent and this bit was quite interesting. Do you remember seeing this???

PK promo,122014

  • And among interesting Ideas this one which I just saw couple of days ago takes the cake. There are many ways to caution people not to drink and drive. And a toll naka is one of the apt places to remind this I guess. And it is more apt is this reminder is served by Lord Yamraj (God of death) himself. So here it is a seemingly innocuous banner at the Mumbai Airoli Toll Naka which cautions people not to drink and drive with a visual of Lord Yamraj on the side view mirror which prominently says “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”!!! I don’t know who came up with this Idea but hats off and What a brilliant Idea, Sirji!!!

Airoli Toll

 In the meanwhile, Idea Cellular the brand behind the “What an Idea, Sirji???” continues to impress with its latest campaign – called “IIN” – Idea Internet Network!!! What an Idea!!! Till the Idea for the next blog post, cheers!!!