ANNA HAZARE: THE PERSONALITY BRAND’S APPEAL ERODING
“A tale of two fasts: then and now. As the anti-corruption campaign gathers more steam, it is Brand Anna that appears to have become the galvanising force behind the huge movement, backed by India’s increasingly assertive middle class. And the branding appears to be carefully crafted.”
“Many swear by him, several scoff at him. Like him or hate him, but he can’t be ignored. As the anti-corruption stir intensifies, media and advertising experts say brand ‘ Anna’ has overtaken all the other labels in India in different walks of life for the moment.”
On December 27th 2011, Anna Hazare called off his fast that was scheduled to go on for three days at Mumbai’s MMRDA grounds. Many opined that it was principally due to an extremely low turnout of people at the venue. While Hazare’s fast at New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan witnessed around 30,000-40,000 people flocking to the venue, the Mumbai venue saw just 3000-4000 people turning up. The fast was planned to protest against the government’s inability to pass an effective Jan Lokpal Bill in the winter session of the parliament. The general opinion among the masses was that Hazare’s charisma that stirred an entire nation into action regarding the Lokpal Bill had eroded. It was discussed in the media that Anna went wrong tactically and lost focus on the big picture that found majority of the country’s public abandoning his mission. The allegations against some of the Team Anna members regarding misappropriation of funds were felt to be another reason behind the debacle.
However during the fast at Ramlila Maidan, Hazare along with his entire team of activists were found to motivate and mould the sentiments of a large cross section of the Indian populace. The great Indian middle class was found to hail Hazare, a 74 year old social activist as their savior, as a crusader who had the guts and caliber to fight for their cause. Many experts from the world of media and communications felt that the making of brand Anna was a very meticulous exercise. According to senior journalist Bhaskar Roy, “The organizers behind Hazare’s protest understand the market dynamics and the role of media today. Hence the need to build Brand Anna.” Madison World chairman and managing director, Sam Balsara observed, “Brand Anna will stand for honesty, transparency, uprightness, speaking up and silent protest. Yes, Anna is no doubt becoming a brand and Annaism is becoming a phrase and concept that other brands will soon want to ride on.”
BRAND ANNA: THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
A brand whether a product, service or personality is basically a set of mental associations that the target audience can relate to and feel positive about. First and foremost any brand needs to be based on certain core values that are appealing to a large cross section of populace. To start with the core values of Anna Hazare were based on Gandhian ideologies which had been instrumental in generating not just tremendous interest among Indians about Hazare’s crusade but had also garnered huge fan following. Gandhi as a name/ brand inspires respect and reverence and anything or anyone to do something with Mahatma has always found to attract lots of eyeballs.
However before the emergence of Anna on the national horizon, many observed that Mahatma Gandhi as a brand has lost his relevance among the common man. The changing social fabric, the blatant and unrestricted corruption has all contributed to erosion of Gandhi’s relevance. At the same time, people were found to desire for some such personality who would be a contemporary avatar of Gandhi. A person who would be an apostle of Gandhian values but whose conduct will be relevant to the contemporary scheme of things.
One of the primary factors that contribute to the success of a brand is the timing of its launch. Thus in case of brand Anna, the first and foremost aspect that went in his favor was the timing of his emergence on the national horizon. That was the reason why Hazare’s fast at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in April 2011 garnered instant appeal and adulation.
The first step in managing a brand is to develop and conceptualize a strong identity for it. As per Kapferer’s brand identity prism, there are six facets of brand identity and each and every facet needs to be well defined. The marketing masterminds behind the Anna phenomenon ensured that brand Anna projected a strong and well defined brand identity (Exhibit I).
It is the physical facet of a brand that is the starting point of describing a brand identity prism. In case of Hazare, his short, stout stature with an undying resilience on his face had been found to serve as the foundation for the brand’s rapid evolution. Anna’s interaction with the media, politicians and the general public had been observed to impart a confident, honest and upright personality to the personality brand. Brand Anna had been found to possess Indian culture and secular values. Anna Hazare had reportedly caught the imagination of not just the great Indian middle class but also the celebrities from various walks of life. ‘Team Anna’ or the supporters of Anna’s philosophy had been found to be the people who believe and support Gandhian ideology and favor transparency in dealings. The general outlook and lifestyle of these people proved that they were crusaders for a better society. Trust has been found to be the basis of relationship that brand Anna shares with the society.
The evolution of Anna Hazare from a name to a power brand reportedly happened at an incredible pace. A person who was a little known social activist at the beginning of year 2011 had within a period of some six months become not just a brand but a power brand. With his fast at
the Jantar Mantar in April 2011, Hazare became a brand, a name known nationally from being a name known only within the state of Maharashtra. During the course of his fast at the Ramlila Maidan, brand Anna was found to garner huge fan following globally. A power brand is a brand that is known and recognized internationally and that inspires many worldwide.
The media thus described Brand Anna as the leading power brand of 2011.
There are four major components that contribute to the equity of a brand viz. brand awareness, brand association, perceived quality and brand loyalty. Hazare’s crusade against the corruption within the government machinery was found to seek exclusive and wide spread coverage in the online and offline media. It was reported that Anna Hazare had been the most searched keyword on the Internet during the period of April 2011 and August 2011. The above facts clearly indicated that brand Anna had successfully generated high amount of awareness. Generally people associate a bespectacled man with white kurta and dhoti along with a Gandhi cap on his head standing for the right issues and speaking fearlessly with an inspirational figure, probably a politician of a bygone era when the common man looked up to the politicians as role models of the society. Thus it had been observed that Anna Hazare with his accessories and conduct was able to connect with the greater chunk of the society. In case of personality brands, perceived quality is based on a person’s wisdom, actions and thoughts and there too brand Anna had reportedly ruled the roost. Anna Hazare had reportedly attracted thousands of people to his fasting venues along with triggering large scale protests in various parts of the country. Not only nationally, but internationally too, Indians had reportedly come out on the streets favoring Anna’s actions which confirmed the fact that brand Anna enjoyed high degree of loyalty.
Controversies had often been found to play a major role in brand building. Utopia is something that is generally unbelievable and unacceptable by consumers and they have been found to be more attached with such brands that resemble a normal human being who is supposed to have some grey shades along with white. In the case of Anna Hazare, there were certain members of the Congress Party who called Anna a corrupt person fighting against corruption. There were also some who felt that Anna was adamant about continuing his fast at the Ramlila Maidan just to seek greater mileage and there was no feasibility as such after the Prime Minister appealed to Hazare to end his fast stating that his government would definitely look into drafting and introducing an effective Lokpal Bill in the Parliament.
It has been observed that good brands are not always successful brands and that indicates that any brand needs to be marketed effectively to garner maximum consumer franchise. Many felt that the success of brand Anna was not just a matter of values that Anna Hazare as person stood for but it was more to do with the marketing machinery behind the promotion of the cause and the brand.
MARKETING THE ANNA PHENOMENON
It has been observed that successful marketing of a brand starts with suitable targeting and positioning strategy. Marketers of the contemporary era have been mostly found to target the youth while introducing their brands. Around 70% of the country’s population comprises of the youth out of which 55% of them fall in the 15-25 age bracket. Any brand that can woo the youth brigade in this country has reportedly been found to seek rich dividends. The same had been the case with brand Anna. The two fasts of Anna Hazare especially the one at Ramlila Maidan witnessed tremendous participation and involvement of the youth. They were found to be the major force behind forcing the UPA government to seriously reconsider the suitable drafting and introduction of the Lokpal Bill. Brand Anna was positioned as the modern day Gandhi, a crusader for a better society with Gandhian and secular values.
Another very important marketing strategy that has often offered rich dividends to marketers is the repositioning strategy. Brands are often required to alter their stand, their approach a bit in order to gain greater acceptance and relevance. In case of brand Anna, a similar aspect was observed. During his first fast in connection with the Lokpal Bill at New Delhi’s
Jantar Mantar, a poster of Bharat Mata (Mother India) formed the backdrop of the stage that invited criticisms from the Left parties. Moreover personalities like Swami Agnivesh and Baba Ramdev were prominently observed to share the dais with the Hazare that many felt was largely a Hindu representation. During Hazare’s fast at Ramlila Maidan, the poster of Bharat Mata was found to be replaced by a giant portrait of Mahatma Gandhi which imparted a secular face to the demonstration (Exhibit-II). Moreover it had been only Hazare who had been on the dais which were the reasons for the greater acceptance and reverence of the personality brand.
A well planned and executed celebrity endorsement strategy has often been found to enhance the identity and image of brands. Anna Hazare as a personality along with his thoughts, values and actions had been endorsed by leading movie stars from the Hindi film industry like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan as well as by the cine stars of the regional cinema. Personalities from various other walks of life like Kiran Bedi (the first woman IPS Officer of the country) and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy were also found to actively support and propagate Hazare’s demands. Such endorsements had been found to lend more credibility and impact to the cause and the man behind initiating the cause.
For quite some time it has been observed that event-based merchandising has a positive rub-off effect on the event and the person(s) involved in the event. During the course of Anna’s fast at the Ramlila Maidan, it was observed that merchandise like the Gandhi caps with taglines – “I Am Anna” or “Main Anna Hoon” have been sold like hot cakes. People of each and every age bracket were found to don the caps with pleasure and pride. Apart from the caps, posters of Anna Hazare, the national Tricolor along with wrist brands with the tricolor painted and umbrellas were sold at the fasting venue as well as at various other parts of the country
In the contemporary era, it is largely believed that no brand can survive and sustain by catering to the offline community only. There are billions of netizens across the globe and successful brands have been found to connect with them through various modes. Social networking sites like the Facebook had been found to play a defining role in garnering support for Team Anna and their crusade against corruption within the government machinery. Moreover gaming sites were found to quickly latch on to the opportunity of creating some interesting games around Anna’s crusade. ‘Play the Anna Hazare Game’ had been one such game that was found to be quite popular on the Internet
The marketing of the Anna phenomenon was found to inspire several responses in the academic and the corporate world. Many opined that the meteoric rise of brand Anna had been the reason behind such responses.
Case studies on the marketing of the Anna phenomenon were developed by various leading management institutes of the country. At the Faculty of Management Studies, New Delhi, students were found to have a class on ‘Brand Anna’ where they deliberated on the phenomenon. A leading faculty member of the institute facilitated students to gain insight into how Hazare turned the corruption issue into a brand and the marketing involved. Various blogs were started to generate information and insights for developing case studies on the issue. In December 2011, it was reported in the media that Anna Hazare was planning to go on fast again if the government at the centre failed to pass an effective Lokpal Bill in the winter session of the Parliament. Anna was reportedly not happy with the contents of the Bill as he wanted greater accountability on the part of the government representatives. Although the newly drafted Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the Bill did not see the light of the day as it was stalled in the Upper House and Anna declared to go on fast at Mumbai’s MMRDA grounds.
There were many in the media who predicted a flop show of the event at MMRDA grounds as because it was largely felt that Anna Hazare committed certain cardinal mistakes during the months between August 2011 and December 2011 while the UPA government at the centre was meticulous with its manipulation. It was felt that
by declaring a fast at the said juncture, Hazare got his timing and tactics wrong along with highlighting his loss of focus on the big picture.
The big picture concerning the Bill was to bring the Prime Minister and other bureaucrats within the purview of the Bill. This aspect was included but then Anna was not satisfied with the details involved. The citizens of the country were interested in the Bill getting passed and the Congress-led government at the centre was attempting to do just that while they found Anna creating hurdles in such a scenario that did not go well with the public. They strongly felt that Hazare was trying to seek political mileage and was attempting to secure his political ambitions in the name of the Bill which saw a large cross section of the Indian population staying away from Hazare’s mission. Apart from Hazare, Team Anna member like Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi were perceived to be desperate to make their own mark in India’s political landscape.
The second big mistake committed by the surging personality brand, Anna Hazare was regarding the timing of the fast. The fast in the month of April was felt to be well timed as India won the World Cup some fortnight back and there was a dearth of some ‘big story’ in the media. Moreover it coincided with the unveiling of the multi crore 2G spectrum scam. After two big and successful fasts, the third fast by Hazare on the same issue was observed to be too soon that actually highlighted the threatening and unreasonable nature of the man who showcased himself as a staunch Gandhian.
The third mistake committed by Anna was constantly attacking the Congress party at the centre. It was initially fine but then the general consensus was when a party was trying to make amends, they were supposed to be given time to come up with a properly drafted Bill which Team Anna was not providing. Moreover, Hazare was found to mix more with the BJP and the Shiv Sena who are in the Opposition and the public by and large do not have a greater faith on these parties. It was due to the representatives of the BJP in the Upper House that the Bill could not be ultimately passed in the Parliament. Calling a fast against the Congress party at such a juncture was considered as total tactical blunder by many.
However with the ‘flop show’ at MMRDA grounds in Mumbai, there were many in the world of media who were forced to ponder regarding the future of Brand Anna.
At the juncture of the fast at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, there were certain experts from the corporate world who felt that corporate brands would definitely be riding piggy back on the success of brand Anna while there were others who felt that corporate India would be cautious in this regard. Future Brands CEO, Santosh Desai (Desai) observed, “Corporate India is adopting a cautious approach in this issue since this is a completely new kind of category of protest, so they do not know which way to go.” P.N. Vasanti, director, Centre for Management Studies too was found to echo similar thoughts as she opined, “Business houses are still not a part of the debate since it is a war between the government and the civil society and they do not want to go against the government.” While expressing his appreciation regarding the phenomenal rise of brand Anna, Desai mentioned, “His image is fresh and clean, he looks like somebody you can trust and he has proven this by his actions and track record.” Ad man and lyricist Prasoon Joshi however felt that it is parochial to restrict Hazare to being a brand because he is much bigger than that. He observed, “What we are seeing in India (now) could be a phenomenon, a thought process. It is much bigger and broader than a brand.” After the debacle at MMRDA grounds, there were in the corporate world who felt that a phenomenal personality brand like Anna Hazare stood exposed. His limitations had come to the fore and it needed to be seen how the personality brand that captured the imaginations of the country’s populace almost overnight would make a turnaround.
Exhibit-I Brand Identity Prism of brand Anna
Exhibit-II The Dais at the Ramlila Maidan
Exhibit-III Anna Hazare and Event-based Merchandising
Exhibit-IV A Snap of ‘Play the Anna Hazare Game’