Marketing Warfare!!!

“Marketing Warfare” is an 80’s best seller from the famed marketing Gurus Al Ries & Jack Trout in which they elevate “Marketing” to a war and through the book talk about competitive positioning and military strategy. But this post is not about the theory of marketing warfare, but about the way to “market” warfare in the context of Geo-political happenings worldwide and in particular post the “Surgical strikes” which India carried out across LOC somewhere in between 28th and 29th of September.

In yesteryears when wars took place between nations, they were reported. These days they are marketed. I am not exactly sure when this trend started but I presume that the seeds for this were sown with the televising of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. And then followed by “global gurus in marketing” – the Americans allowing journalists to be embedded with their troops to capture and report real time military action. And in doing so colouring the view as seen through the American prism. This I believe helped immensely in garnering public opinion in their favour back home and came in handy in political battles. A good example of such proactive communication is the tactical release of the now famous image of Obama and team watching live the ‘Operation Geronimo’ to catch Osama Bin Laden from their war room in the States. I am certain that the image played its part in getting Obama his second term after what was arguably a lacklustre 1st term. So as in conventional marketing where it is not enough to just have a good product but consumers be told of the same, in wars it has become important not just to engage in military action but to win the battle of the minds in the aftermath with astute communication, packaging – in short Marketing!

This is where I feel that India played its cards very well after conducting the “Surgical Strikes” this week. We are told that this is not the 1st time that our military has undertaken such operation along the LOC or across the LOC, but this is certainly the 1st time we made a clear announcement of it and let Pakistan and the world know of the same.  Here the 1st principles of marketing as I elucidated before came into play. That of not just carrying out the operation but communicating to the target audience of the same and communicating well. Which straight away helped build the narrative and enhance the image of our Prime Minister as a person who walks the talk. From here on irrespective of what happens, the Modi Government can take credit for having altered the image of India as a soft nation – a baggage we have been carrying for too long.

Not just this – the moves and communication preceding the operation have also been smart. After the Uri attack, the usual platitudes of condemnation followed. And then followed by the now famous statement that “the Army will respond at a time and place of its choosing”. As the talking heads in TV studios started analyzing what it means in terms of actual action on the ground, the Prime Minister while addressing a public rally in Kerala deflected all talks of war/military action by saying that our war with Pakistan must be to eradicate poverty. After this statement by the PM, most pundits started talking of the “return of Strategic restraint” in our nature of response. But most forgot the basic principles of warfare which is “you don’t say what you do and you don’t do what you say”! So I was not surprised that a clear military strike followed though I was indeed taken in by the quick timing.

On the other hand on the Pakistani side it has been utter confusion in terms of communication. While the PM Nawaz SharifStrongly condemned the unprovoked and naked aggression of Indian forces resulting in martyrdom of two Pakistan soldiers along LoC” the press release from Rawalpindi military HQ dismissed the strike as a routine “cross border strike initiated and conducted by India”. And interestingly brought in a “marketing” element by claiming that “This quest by Indian establishment to create media hype by “rebranding” cross border fire as surgical strike is fabrication of truth”!!! So while the Pakistani military establishment understood the concept of “Branding/Rebranding”,.. they walked into the trap which India laid.

India conducted the operation, “branded” it as a “Surgical Strike” and informed the world of the same. Pakistani military establishment and the Government openly echoed different views of the same. Now the question is – can you take to a level of serious military escalation after having dismissed the Indian operation as a border skirmish? In ensuring a muted response to the operation from the International community, India has successfully controlled the post operation narrative so far.

The Government having done its part so far carefully and smartly with effective controlled communication (the presser was addressed by DGMO and the MOE spokesperson jointly) could have reigned in the media from hyperventilating the whole night on Prime Time. There was an unwanted competition among anchors that night as if there was a “Kaun Banega Nationalist Anchor” competition! I believe there was some communication the next day from the Govt. to channels to pull back the rhetoric!

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The back cover of the book Marketing Warfare says “Marketing is war. To triumph over the competition, it’s not enough to target customers. Marketers must take aim at their competitors­­ and be prepared to defend their own turf from would-be attackers at all times”. I would like to paraphrase the same and say “Today, War is marketing.  It’s not enough to just win the war but to win the narrative after the war”.

P.S: Everyone who has seen US presidential debates knows that the real show begins after the candidates have said Goodnight. And that is in the “Spin Room” where cherry picked faces from both sides give a spin on what their masters actually said and meant in the debate!!! It’s a war out there, you see!!!

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Where is the Line of Actual Control ???

Lakshman a central character in the very popular Indian mythological epic – ‘The Ramayana would never have imagined that a line he drew would become a brand by itself and would draw references day in and day out in modern India.  The line named after him as the Lakshman Rekha is believed to be the central raison d’être of the epic itself.  If Sita had heeded to his advice and not crossed that line when Raavan under disguise came to her for alms, it is believed she would have escaped all the sufferings she had to go through later.  So every time the Lakshman Rekha is brought up as a metaphor in the context of crossing one’s limit only to endure misery later.

  •   “Don’t cross the Lakshman Rekha” exhorted a minister from Madhya Pradesh to women if they want to avoid unwanted consequences
  •  “Don’t cross the Lakshman Rekha” said even the Supreme Court to journalists in the context of reporting

The context of Lakshman Rekha again dominated public discourse recently when Pakistan killed 2 Indian soldiers and allegedly beheaded and mutilated their bodies and dumped them against established international conventions.  Somebody said Pakistan may cross the Lakshman Rekha at its own peril. My piece is basically to focus on drawing the Rekha (line). The reaction in India to the indeed dastardly act by Pakistan has been extremely raucous.  In TV channels the radars of the OB vans shifted from the Delhi gang rape incident to this absolutely heinous act.  There have been cries for firm and tit-for-tat response to this from media, the opposition and the public by and large.   Let’s look at some of them:

  • If Pakistan does not return the severed head of the martyred soldier Hemraj, India should get at least 10 heads from the other side said an opposition leader and a potential Prime Minister candidate in that
  • Call off all talks with Pakistan and end the dialogue process
  • Stop all trade and commerce between India and Pakistan
  • All cricketing and sports ties must be severed with immediate effect
  • Why is India not carrying out covert action across the LOC (Line of Control) and create trouble on the other side?
  • Why is India not getting powers like US to stop aid to Pakistan and put pressure???
  • ,..,..

In the days following the event we saw TV channels and their wannabe Arnab Goswamis I mean anchors (with few exceptions) getting politicians, journalists, diplomats, so called defence experts and Ex-service men from both sides of the border and engaging in mostly over the top debates on what should be India’s response to this.   And as childish it would seem, some of them wanted answers from the Govt. to their questions on the type and nature of response.

The irony is from the discourse it appears that if India calls off the cricketing ties between the two nations or stop Pakistanis from being a part of the annual IPL festival, it would amount to some tough response from India!!   From all what I followed, I couldn’t get a sense of exactly what the opposition or the media or the defence experts wanted Government of India to do which will tantamount to a “tough response”. 

The question is can governments conduct diplomacy thro OB vans? Even if the “Nation wants to know” can the government’s spokesperson appear in prime time debates and announce that from tomorrow R&AW is going to depute 10 officers for carrying out undercover operations across the border?  Can the military representatives come out in the open as to their strategy for countering the shocking acts of Pakistan? Do we expect the MEA spokesperson to outline the different tactics they are going to adopt on the diplomatic front?

Given that the act was indeed barbaric and flouting all humane conventions, it calls for a firm response from our country.  However we must have firm faith in our military and leave it to them to deliver that firm response.  From that point of view the measured and mature response of our Army Chief among the din is indeed commendable.  After all it is his team which has this onerous responsibility of protecting our borders and he has to ensure that his men are high up on morale and motivation.

Most of the shrill noises called for action – which will put India and Pakistan on an even scale. The fact is that it is not. The stark truth is – the India Vs Pakistan issue is not an issue among equals. Just because India and Pakistan are nuclear states doesn’t make them equal. In size, economic strength, military might, political stability we are way above our neighbour and that calls for a response which is restrained, mature and firm. 

The ‘Line of Control’ is considered to be the border  between India and Pakistan for all practical purposes and both the countries have an underlying understanding to observe restraint across it.  So in effect this becomes the Lakshman Rekha for both the countries. However there is a need for a Line of Actual Control for our media, politicians, and commentators when it comes to matters of external security.  Where is that Lakshman Rekha and why is it missing?

In the meantime, do enjoy Surendran’s superb cartoon in ‘The Hindu’ on ‘Lakshman Rekha’!!!

rekha