Our world is in danger. Indeed it is in such a precarious condition. We need a Superman to fly in and save the world. But the problems now facing mankind can't be solved by the Man of Steel's superhero abilities. Population pressure, price rise, falling GDP, climate change, corruption ... these are villains that can't be beaten by the super powers from fiction. There is, however, a real-life superhero on the horizon: Narendra Modi. Narendra Modi has shown the world the “Art & Science of Branding” through his own brand knowledge structures (Gujarat Model of development, Hindutva, etc.) in the minds of consumer (=voter).
Comic books often borrow ideas from science. Superman is fuelled by solar energy; Spider-man was bitten by a radioactive spider; the X-Men are the next stage of human evolution, Popeye the Sailor Man gets his power from Spinach, Asterix from magic potion brewed by Getafix (the potion in which Obelisk fell as a baby), Harry Potter from his magic wand and Iron Man from the Arc Reactor. Almost all the superheroes borrow powers from secondary sources and use them to build the brand superhero. In branding terms these are known as secondary brand associations through which brands build on their brand equity. This makes the super-hero’s defiance of laws of nature seem plausible, and builds on credibility, and indicates ingenuity.
Brand Modi – “I have the power”
PM Narendra Modi has shown how well he can leverage secondary brand associations from his competition/opponents/events in recent times. In effect, the Modi brand “borrows” some brand knowledge and, depending on the nature of those associations and responses, perhaps some brand equity from other entities. This indirect approach to building brand equity is leveraging secondary brand knowledge for the Modi brand. Post elections and forming the government, secondary brand knowledge may be quite important for Modi and BJP to creating strong, favourable, and unique associations or positive responses for Modi to be acceptable nationally and internationally. It can also be an effective way to reinforce existing Modi brand associations and responses in a fresh and different way.
Kevin Lane Keller, Branding Guru, considers the different means by which we can create secondary brand knowledge by linking the brand to the following: companies, country of origin or other geographic areas, channel of distribution, co-branding, celebrity endorsement, other events and third-party sources. Modi has done his brand building homework precisely well, as he has used each and every trick in the book and beyond it to leverage secondary brand associations to build his brand. Modi needs to be applauded as to how he has leveraged these secondary associations like: Sardar Patel, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ice Bucket Challenge, Amitabh Bachchan, etc.
Brand Modi’s secondary brand association’s network
It all started when Modi appointed Amitabh Bachchan to promote Gujarat Tourism - a successful case for destination branding strategy using Amitabh Bachchan as the brand ambassador. Bollywood icon and Gujarat brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan has lent his rich baritone and charismatic presence to attract tourists to many picturesque spots in the state of Gujarat. Bachchan has so far promoted the Kutch region, Dwarka, Somnath and Gir National Park. Subsequently, these places have seen an increase in tourist arrivals, including a 30 per cent rise in foreign travelers.
On 2 October, 2014, Narendra Modi virtually hijacked Mahatma Gandhi's inheritance from the Congress Party. Modi went on doing it with élan, telling the world about the Gandhian philosophy. Gandhi was a man of the masses. After a long time Modi took him out of government files, the ritualistic Rajghat homage and routine Vigyan Bhawan seminars to take him back to the masses - launching a national campaign for clean India, 'Swachh Bharat' on the lines of the “Ice bucket challenge”, even nominating nine personalities to further it up.
On American soil, in a nod to civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, PM Modi said, "I have a dream... by 2022, there should be no one in India without a roof over his head." Keeping in mind the US President Barack Obama’s admiration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally chose and gifted audio-video clips from the 1959 India visit of Martin Luther King.
All this has enabled imparting a larger corpus and a stronger momentum to his core brand. This is akin to inorganic growth companies try via mergers and acquisitions. This also allows mellowing of resistance from some, who hold the secondary brand in good esteem. Naturally, the followership accretion is exponential.
The real challenge
Leveraging secondary brand associations though have worked well for Modi, but then could present some real challenges. First of all, it may dilute the Modi’s core brand elements, bringing in a diffusion, and amorphousness in definition of the core brand. The heterogeneity of these borrowed secondary associations inflects this effect. Moreover, the sources of secondary associations are difficult or even impossible for the Modi brand to control. We have seen how the Congress party facing an onslaught by Modi government, tried to counter by leveraging the legacy of Jawahar Lal Nehru on his 125th birth anniversary, and keeping the whole act sanitised of Modi’s influence/ presence. Any untoward happening on these secondary brands would upset and undermine the borrower.
Also to borrow strengths from other sources has its limitations too. Sometimes the linkages drawn are not very strong or marry well with the brand in question. Also it might lead to raised expectations and may boomerang if not backed by action as promised. It has already started a social media backlash …questioning the claims. So Modi, the Branding Guru/ Activator needs to figure out how to carry forward these secondary associations to build strong brand equity in the future as the best PM of India and deliver as promised.
Brand Modi‘s Secondary Brand Association Network
Gaurav Sood is a brand communication professional, brand educator & research scholar, with a two-decade long practice of creating strong brands.