PRABHU CHAWLA -Journalist - TV Anchor - Speaker
Sunday, March 22, 2015
BJP must devise a marketing mantra ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standrad/ March 22, 2015
BJP Must Devise a Marketing Mantra That Trains its Executives to Sell PM's Dreams Well
Modi with cabinet ministers
“The secret to successful communication is about saying the right thing in the right way in the right place and moment. However, the opportunities to do it right (and wrong) increase dramatically in the more complex and individualistic world.” Sue Elms, head of global brands, Millward Brown.
Success is strategy, while its perpetuation is through perception. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Prince of Perception, has followed this premier principle, but not Team Modi. It is yet to acquire the art of political marketing of its ‘pradhan sevak’s’ ideas to the masses. Last week, when Parliament closed for recess, the image of the government was bruised for no valid reason. It was the most successful session in terms of business. Productivity of the Lok Sabha was 123 per cent and that of the Rajya Sabha 107 per cent. Fourteen bills by the Lok Sabha and seven by the Rajya Sabha were passed despite the most bellicose opposition. Yet the government appears to have lost the battle of perception. It is for the first time since 1989 that parties with polar ideological convictions closed ranks to protest against some of the decisions and legislative business of the government. A few years ago, it would have been considered surreal if the CPI(M) and TMC together joined a march led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and presented a memorandum signed by all. The Land Bill had a rough landing. The ruling dispensation floundered in the use of the social media to swing the pendulum of perception away from its political foes. Very few saffron satraps used the social media to counter adverse propaganda. Technology, which was patented by Modi and his legions as the Brahmastra of political annihilation, was this time wielded by his adversaries.
Such a political conspiracy and need-based alliance against Modi happened because the government’s savvy marketers and strategists couldn’t market legislative bills on mines, minerals, coal and land to the people properly. All of these were meant to be rocket fuel for the growth story, which Modi has been promising as the new national narrative. All of them were improvements over the laws passed by the UPA government. It is another matter that the NDA finally succeeded in cracking the code on a few issues; but on the whole, the first round has gone to the Opposition. Despite deputing over a dozen ministers and party functionaries, the BJP couldn’t effectively counter the allegation that the government was working for the rich and the industry instead for the common man. Of the 350 NDA MPs, hardly two dozen took part in defending the government’s decisions inside and outside the House. Most BJP-ruled state governments were missing in action because they could sense the mood of their constituents better.
The entire Opposition had been itching for a fight and any perspicacious politico would have seen it coming after the government issued ordinances to improve the previous bills on land and other sectors. In reality, all these bills amended through ordinances would provide more money to the states, better compensation to farmers, create more employment opportunities and provide world-class infrastructure. Yet none of NDA’s laggardly leaders chose the right medium and time to convey the positive aspects of their actions to the people who had voted for them. On top of it, they encouraged corporate honchos and the urban elite to support the government, which further sharpened the attack of Modi-baiters who were basking in pro-poor ideology.
The Opposition chose the perfect time and medium to disseminate its point of view. Since most of it comprised regional parties, their access to local media and the masses was better than the BJP’s, whose leaders were seen engaged in narcissistic TV debates and giving facetious interviews to English newspapers. While NDA ministers and their advisors were sitting in air-conditioned boardrooms and preparing notes filled with technical gobbledygook, Sonia Gandhi opted for a more direct approach. She reached out to villages to tell the farmers that the Modi government was out to take away their land without taking their approval. While the Opposition was promoting this view, most of the BJP ministers were competing with one other in histrionic hysteria by shouting down their opponents in Parliament, as if sycophantically impressing their boss was better than selling his dream.
If marketing the image of the government is now an integral part of any ruling party’s strategy, the BJP has ignored the basic principle of a successful campaign. Significant policy decisions are made only after taking into consideration the effect they would have on the target audience. With steps regarding mines, minerals and coal targeted at states holding minerals stocks and big business, the government could defeat the perception saboteurs and make its target audience happy. But when it came to the Land Bill, it underestimated the resistance from farmers who are emotionally attached to their land. In marketing, every product needs a unique catchline and sales pitch. The idea to hawk the bill to the farmers as a choice between holding land or future growth was too vaporous. They opted for land because the Opposition had sold their message more realistically. For the NDA it is a lose-lose game. It was left with a Catch-22 situation, in which it had to save the face of the government as well as stick to its view, however unpopular.
For the BJP, which has to both retain its market share and increase it in the future, it is imperative to formulate a marketing mantra, which takes care of its sales executives as well. To paraphrase the words of Starbucks boss Howard Schultz, perhaps it is time for Modi to train and reorient his wordsmiths and spinmeisters to experience the heat and dust of India’s eternal heartland. Unless he does this fast, his best products will not grab the consumer’s attention.
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