How PM Narendra Modi has positioned himself, his party and the Government’s achievements brilliantly in the media to build an invincible brand
How PM Narendra Modi has positioned himself, his party and the Government’s achievements brilliantly in the media to build an invincible brand
BY SIMRAN SABHERWAL & SAMARPITA BANERJEE
The summer of 2014 saw something historic happen in Indian politics. BJP functionary Narendra Modi, powered by chants of ‘Ab ki baar Modi sarkaar’, grabbed the spotlight in the Indian national political scene, becoming Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world, and catapulting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to power. His monumental victory truly harnessed the power of social media that carefully built and marketed Brand Modi, working on the simple yet powerful messaging of ‘Maximum governance, Minimum government’, ‘Achhe din aane waale hain’ and ‘Abki baar, Modi Sarkar’.
With the Modi Sarkar now completing three years in office - a time span after which the anti-incumbency effect is usually felt by leaders - Brand Modi is more popular than ever. In fact, according to a recent survey by business news magazine Businessworld, 80% of Indians believe that Modi is likely to come back to power in the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
CAREFULLY CRAFTED IMAGE
Elected on the promise of development, the carefully crafted image of Modi evolved from the electioneering phase itself. Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison World, who led the media mandate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says, “Brand Modi now focuses on three main pillars - Development, Performance and Communication.” And it is on the communication front that the PM has ticked all the right boxes.
Highlighting three points on how Modi has converted his image, Dilip Cherian, Group Managing Director, Perfect Relations Group, says, “Narendra Modi has made it very clear from his imaging that he is the Prime Minister of India, which means he is the first among equals, which is what the Cabinet system is all about. For example, at the photo opportunity for the inauguration of the Dhola-Sadiya bridge in Assam, he was the first person in the frame and the ministers and other officials followed later. This is visual imagery. Secondly, in ‘sound imagery’ he has created and used the radio programme ‘Mann ki Baat’ effectively and his voice is now recognized across the length and breadth of the country. Thirdly, he has bypassed traditional media like Print entirely to go for direct social media engagement, effectively occupying the spaces he always aimed for.”
The choice of Radio as a medium couldn’t have been more appropriate. In the words of Abraham Thomas, CEO, Radio City, “While TV follows a one-to-many format of communication, Radio has the ability to engage with listeners on a one-on-one basis and deliver a message more potently. Mann ki Baat utilized the inherent power of the medium and allowed the PM to have a direct communication with listeners without any intermediary. It empowered ordinary citizens to discuss issues that mattered, find solutions and understand the Government’s plans directly from their elected head.”
FROM POLITICIAN TO STATESMAN
From a grass root worker of the BJP to the Chief Minister of Gujarat to holding the top job in the country, the image of Narendra Modi has evolved to fit each role. According to brand expert Harish Bijoor, Founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, “The politician has evolved to be a statesman. Brand NaMo has evolved every day over these three years. From being a combative politician, PM Modi has evolved to be a more involved avatar of what he was. Today, he is more of a brand that wants to occupy the space that is so empty and vacant at the top. The immediate brand avatar to follow is that of Atal Behari Vajpayee. And Modi has done well to toe that track reasonably well.”
Positioning himself as the quintessential outsider, Modi was able to break the glass ceiling and go from being a CM to the PM. Says Ambi M G Parameswaran, Brand Strategist & Founder, Brand-Building.com, “This is a rapid transformation for a person who, until four years ago, was only a State CM. This evolution has been helped by bold, well-branded moves, travelling around the world tirelessly and very smart use of media. He has created his own media and not depended on traditional media to carry his messages to the public. I suspect he has only done two or three TV interviews in the last three years. His use of old and new media has been exemplary.” What has probably also helped is his style statement - use of kurtas and jackets – that add to his appeal.
MODI: A MARKETING GENIUS
Upon completing three years in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his monthly radio show, Mann Ki Baat, that he welcomed constructive criticism of his Government’s performance as that helps in strengthening democracy. It is steps like this that has helped Modi build an image of himself in the minds of Indian citizens - an approachable leader who is open to dialogue – which is very different than the image of any earlier PM.
In the last three years, the ruling Government has come up with quite a few talked-about initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, the ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ campaign, Make in India and Start Up India, among others. While governments before this had also come up with similar campaigns, what is different now is the way these campaigns are being marketed. The work being done on all the campaigns are made into TVCs, Radio, Print or social media ads. The Government maintains that the aim of this is to make sure that citizens know what is being done, to make them a part of the entire process.
Many consider Modi to be a marketing genius and the way he has gone about sharing information around each initiative does help build a positive image of the Government, and of him as a leader. To promote Swachh Bharat or Clean India campaign, the PM innovatively started a chain campaign on social media, requesting people to upload a picture of a filthy place and then to upload another picture of the same place after it was cleaned up. He also tagged Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, actors Kamal Haasan, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, businessman Anil Ambani and the team of popular serial ‘Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma’ to spread the word and requested each of them to draw in nine more individuals. Soon, every media platform was filled with people cleaning up – starting with the PM himself to Salman Khan and Tarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma team. Similarly, when the demonetization drive was announced, it was the PM who used TV to address the nation about the pain they would face as the Government attempted to curb black money and shift India to a cashless society.
Says Sunil Lulla, Chairman and Managing Director, Grey Group India, “Modi has rightly understood the importance of presenting himself as a brand rather than just a political party. He has multiple messages through different media for different target audiences and they are doing extremely well. He now can’t afford to be the same brand that he was earlier as a CM. He has been very consistent about his policies and the way he communicates.”
The agenda is clear - to drive behavioural and attitudinal change - and this is something which previous regimes have also tried, but with much less success. Lulla says, “If you look at Swachh Bharat or even ‘Make in India’, previous regimes have also tried these themes. But Modi has given a branding to all these ideas. His style, his unique principle of working is to make it simpler for the common man to understand what he is communicating.”
In fact, Modi’s ingenious use of social media even had Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, use his example to prove that social networking helps establish direct dialogue between elected representatives and the electorate. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Modi has the highest number of followers on most social media platforms as compared to other leaders in power.
AMBI M G PARAMESWARAN
Brand Strategist & Founder, Brand-Building.com
Brand BJP is today seen as subservient to Brand Modi. But we should remember that just four years ago, it was the other way round. It is to the strength of the party that it has been able to rally behind a strong leader, help him power it ahead and also take the party ahead. I think it is great strategy.
Brand expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc
Modi appreciates the fact that he cannot be in the midst of everyone all the time physically, and has therefore embraced the tools of Digital and Social media, and combined it with older mediums such as Radio, Television and Outdoor, to establish rapport. Take Mann Ki Baat, the LPG #GiveitUp hoardings that have Narendra Modi looking out benignly and of course his ever active Twitter account, and you have the full package.
Chairman & Managing Director, Madison World
Modi has been the single biggest factor in influencing the electorate. After all, he is the leader the party rightly projects him as. No Government in my memory has focussed so much on communicating with the public as much as the Modi Government does. This Government recognizes the importance of mass communication and this has been one of the corner-stones of their success.
Group Managing Director, Perfect Relations Group
It creates a very brave and strong image for any Prime Minister to try and associate himself with national behavioural change. Even the idea of ‘cashless India’ is something that he personally got his name associated with in his broadcast to the nation on November 8, 2016. These are signs of what I call ‘brave image-making’ because you have to be able to cope with the possibility that it may not succeed as much as you are projecting.
Chairman and Managing Director, Grey Group India
Something like a ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has made a big difference. But, what’s really important to understand is that he has been able to put simple concepts in front of the people and has been able to give the concept a name and branding and also maintain his tone of voice.
For creative agencies crafting the Government’s communication material, working with the current Government has been a challenging but transparent experience. For starters, the overall system has been consolidated. Says Lulla, “Unlike earlier, everything is now consolidated under the Department of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP). The system is extremely transparent. You put out a brief, have a meeting and ask your questions. They are very clear on what they want and you clearly know your target. Once the creative shortlisting is done, promotions are open in front of everybody. It’s a public and transparent system which is one of the biggest differences made by this Government.”
RK Swamy BBDO worked on a 360-degree campaign talking about Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, the Government’s initiative promoting financial inclusion. The campaign included a letter from the PM to all bank branches, TVCs in 11 languages, Radio ads in 13 languages and an anthem, among other things. Recalling how the agency went about it, Sangeetha N, President – West & NCD, RK Swamy BBDO says, “We had to come up with the entire concept from scratch to finish in just 10 days. Our PM is particular that the public has to be informed and involved, so many of the campaigns and initiatives are crowdsourced and come from the people. The crowd comes up with ideas and we build it from there. They are very professional about the entire thing.”
Even here, the PM has a hands-on approach, says Sangeetha. “While we did not really meet the PM, the campaigns were done through the normal procedure but done very fast. However, everything has to be run past him, and when he would be travelling, he would inform his secretary to give us the necessary information. He is like the CEO of a company,” she says.
THE GO-TO PRIME MINISTER
The extensive use of social media, not just by Modi but other ministers too, has helped create the impression that the Government is approachable. The Government has also been organizing a lot of events to get up close and personal with people. In 2016, after completing two years in power, the Government organized a talkathon, ‘Ek Nayi Subah’, which saw a massive turnout along with many celebrities in attendance including Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan, who spoke on various Government initiatives.
This year, further plans have been made to reach out to citizens. That Modi is a brand in himself is clear from the acronym that the Government has chosen for this year’s celebration, Modifest, which stands for ‘Making of Developed India’ fest. At the festival, being held in smaller cities across the length and breadth of the country, each of the smaller events is expected to draw around 15,000 people. The events will be aimed at educating people about the Government’s work and how they can benefit from different government schemes. While the PM has been reaching out to the masses through Mann ki Baat this year, another programme Jann ki Baat is being organized to get feedback from people about different government programmes and policies.
Chief Ministers and other ministers from the ruling party will also visit States ruled by opposition parties. Close to 450 BJP leaders, including the PM, will hold 900 events in places outside their home States. This is probably for the first time that events are being organized to reach out to people on such a massive scale.
BRAND NAMO: FROM GANDHINAGAR TO NEW DELHI
Narendra Modi first became the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001, months after the devastating Bhuj earthquake, and it was during the rehabilitation efforts that he earned his stripes of being an able administrator. However, the alleged complicity of the State Government in the 2002 Gujarat riots saw Modi emerge on the national, political and media scene. Though the 24-hour media coverage dented the image of the then CM and he was seen as a polarizing figure, Modi went on to win two subsequent elections and built his image as a doer. So, while industrialists flocked to Gujarat, migrant labour and visitors to the State went back and spread the word that Modi was a leader focussed on development and taking Gujarat forward. This approach helped expand Modi’s base nationally and his campaign focussed on economic growth helped contain any detractors. Now, while Brand Modi has become a formidable force, what also needs to be addressed by the PM is the increasing religious identity that is being played out and his inability to rein in fringe elements and the so-called vigilante groups.
THE PARTY DYNAMICS
As Brand Modi goes from strength to strength, it is interesting to reflect on how the party has become all-too dependent on Modi. In effect, Modi has become the mascot of the party, with BJP capitalizing on the Modi star power not just for State elections but also for local elections, even at the municipal and panchayat level. Says Bijoor, “No other PM has achieved the status Modi has to date on this count. We need to be ungrudging in this acceptance. To that extent, every election has dipped into just one primary name for a start: Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. The power of the BJP today is really the power of Narendra Modi.”
Speaking on the over-dependence of BJP on Modi, Cherian says, “Modi has successfully converted into a party mascot. He speaks for the BJP and the BJP only speaks about him. It’s a highly centralized image, but one that’s given them victory, so you don’t want to argue or change the formula that is working for you. However, if you look at the ‘image dependency’, I would say the dependency factor is over 75% and that by any measure, it is a very large dependency index.”
GOING BEYOND INDIAN SHORES
It’s not just in India that Brand Modi has created waves. His foreign visits have created the image of a person who is personally involved in crafting global diplomacy. What is also new is the unprecedented media attention that these visits get. The highlight of Modi’s first visit to the US in 2016 as PM was his speech attended by close to 20,000 supporters at New York’s Madison Square Gardens and him quoting Star Wars at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park with Hugh Jackman for company.
Ambi says that Modi’s appeal is global, going by his recent experience. “I was in Dubai in November, a couple of weeks after demonetization in India, and so many Pakistani taxi-drivers I met were all praise for our PM. Mind you, this was not a one-off incident. I had long conversations with drivers from Peshawar and Lahore.”
WHAT LIES AHEAD
While Modi’s honeymoon period with the masses continues, is there something different that needs to be done now? On this, Bijoor says, “While there is a plethora of schemes unleashed, it is important for the Prime Minister to add method to madness. He needs to be the ultimate sutradhaar who weaves the purpose of it all together, and presents it to the nation at large as the big story that weaves all these small tales of progress together. He also needs to focus on connecting communication with ground reality as any gap there can prove detrimental to the purpose.”
On a similar note, Ambi says, “It is now time to see how well the campaigns have been delivered on the ground. What has been the impact of these schemes? The Government has been bold in many of its moves. In a similar vein, they should be bold enough to withdraw programmes that have not worked and re-launch them under a new brand name. For example, the Land Acquisition Bill needs to be re-launched as Land Redevelopment Bill.”
Balsara too believes that there is still scope for improvement in the overall communication. “The quality of creative must improve. For this, they must hire senior talent from the private sector for DAVP or commission high quality agencies to do the job,” he observes.
Category: Impact Feature Volume No: 13 Issue No: 52
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