Decoding Modi Inc., India’s biggest mass brand

Earlier this month, readers woke up to full page ads of Jio’s much talked about product launch featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

The reaction was immediate. Is it proper, was it legal for the nation’s top politician to be seen endorsing a private brand?

While the discussion rages on as to whether the ad was a violation of the ‘Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950’ which defines situations in which central government officials can be used in ads; that the Reliance Jio was improper is the conclusion.

Anup Sharma, independent communications consultant, explains that the technical debate aside it was a smart move to marry the two biggest brands in the country Reliance and Modi. However, adds Sharma, “It was the manner in which it was done and the creatives used that caused an issue. It was too in your face. This type of positioning for any FMCG is usually given to a brand ambassador, this time it was a PM taking on that positioning.”

Sharma further said that in itself, the use of politicians in ads is not unusual, that public sector companies do it all the time. But it’s unusual for a private sector firm to do so, so openly.

Subhash Pais, founder and business head, i9 Communications puts it bluntly saying, “Reliance Jio ain't exactly the 'Jan Dhan Yojana'. For a moment when I saw the ad on the front page of my newspaper early in the morning I thought it was for a government scheme. My personal opinion is that the PM should've distanced himself from such an ad campaign rather than look like a cheerleader for the brand. On the other hand, who knows, this might start a trend. But i would still like my PM to draw a line between corporate and public.”

The positioning of leaders is a matter of debate worldwide. Internationally, when Barak Obama first became President in 2008, his presence on various talk shows was criticized, perceived as unseemly for a President to be on non-political talk shows. The fact is that the new age politician has to seek out audiences in a larger number of communication channels than ever before.

Brand Modi on social media

Take a look at the numbers for Modi, as per a series of studies brought out by Burson –Marsteller, Narendra Modi is among the top 3 world leaders followed on Twitter. His election tweet “India has won!” makes him one of only twenty-two world leaders who have seen some of their tweets retweeted more than 20,000 times, reflecting major announcements and historic event. He is also the second most followed world leader on LinkedIn globally:

He is also among top ten world leaders on YouTube and Periscope in terms of subscriptions and followers.

Latest findings by the Pew Research Centre also show a continued high approval rating for Modi in India.

If you decode his communications style Sharma says Modi is a disruptor. He has chosen to differentiate himself right at the start of his campaign for PM whether it’s through the Chai pe Charcha or the intense use of social media.

Modi has revived the use of radio through his ‘Mann ki Baat’ broadcasts to the nation.

Sharma says if you compare Modi to a product, then he is currently at the growth stage of a product cycle. Sharma feels his introduction to India as a PM candidate brought him premature attention and dragged him into the launch phase prematurely. This created over expectation from him to deliver.

Amith Prabhu, founding dean, Indian School of Communications & REputation, says Modi is perceived as a decisive leader, adding that, “However, the flip side of being a decisive leader is the absence of bench strength. So all the lofty ambitions and grand plans do not have great executors. Therefore, a lot of ideas are not getting translated into action.”

Challenges ahead: intolerance

One of the main points Modi attached former PM Manmohan Singh was his silence on most ongoing issues. On the issue of intolerance, Modi almost fell into the same trap. Through he has addressed this strongly now, it has come very late into the debate. Given the history with Gujarat, Could this damage his brand as PM?

Says Pais, “The last thing the PM needs is for his energies to be sucked into issues that will further marginalize his work and take away from the developmental achievements that he might want to project in the next elections. The issue of intolerance in society whether it be the JNU, Dalits, Gau Rakshaks or the Patidar and Jat uprising in Gujarat and Haryana will only serve to undermine his legacy. The sooner and in a more proactive manner these issues are taken to task the better it would be for the country. So I would say Yes, brand 'Modi' is being undermined by all that is going on in the country.”

Modi vs. Gandhi

A comparison with the communication style of the only other leader of a national party, Rahul Gandhi is natural. However, experts such as Sharma feel that the comparison is only being made because of their party positions. Sharma points out that Modi is streets ahead of Rahul Gandhi when it comes to mass communication. The one factor that has made a significant difference? The fact that Modi is a superb orator, Rahul Gandhi not so much. Gandhi is also famously inconsistent with his public outreach.

Modi: the way ahead

Modi is likely to engage with mainstream media more in the future through editorial round tables. So far, his interaction with the press has been limited as he chooses to use one way communication methods via radio and social media.

The deliverables on Modi election promises have been slow. His big ticket ideas such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Digital India, Make in India, Startup India will all take time to deliver.

Says Pais, I think the perception of a 'lack of delivery' comes from making big promises during his election campaign. I always thought that the PM and BJP at the time were 'over pitching' their brand to the public and a little bit of caution might have done them good.  The rest as we all know, the economy and its problems were never just going to go away over a 5 year tenure. “

 Yet, Sharma feels that in the run up to 2019, he will launch quick turnaround populist schemes that will result in an uptick in Brand Modi.

As Prabhu puts it, for brand Modi, “The real test will be the 2019 re-election.”

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