Campaigning for the general election beginning 16 April is reaching fever pitch. The two main parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have announced their prime ministerial candidates— Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani, respectively. With other political formations taking shape, Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati could well be the proverbial dark horse for prime minister’s chair.
Mint spoke with executives of three advertising agencies on how they would build the brands of the two men and the woman who aspire to run the country. Edited excerpts:
Anybody’s game: (from left) Prime ministerial candidates Manmohan Singh, L.K. Advani. Photographs by: Pankaj Nangia/ Bloomberg, Mustafa Quraishi / AP
Singh: not corrupt but has to connect with masses
Brand values: Perceived to stand for knowledge, development and progress.
Ad strategy: He is seen as not being corrupt, and genuinely concerned about India’s future. While most of his policies over the past five years have been essentially people-driven, he is seen as a bit of an academician.
Positioning: To assume true leadership of the country, it is important that he connects with the masses.
Slogan: Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath (Congress is with the common man).
Brand values: Seen as honest, associated with tough talk and decisions. Top-of-mind association with Advani is still Hindutva.
Arvind Sharma, Chairman of India subcontinent, Leo Burnett India Pvt Ltd
Ad strategy: A section of the country equates appeasing the minorities with being secular. This section will continue to exist and voice its views. It is these people and their opinions that have Advani tied into knots. The only viable approach for him is to ignore this section and any reactions coming from it and let his natural instincts drive his campaign strategy.
Positioning: The tough man needed to solve India’s tough problems.
Slogan: Strong pradhan mantri lao. Desh ko strong banao (Elect a strong prime minister. Make the country strong).
Brand values: Perceived to stand for burning ambition and aggressive attitude. Clever in reading opportunities and capitalizing on them.
Ad strategy: For Mayawati to become a serious prime ministerial candidate, she needs a broader plank than caste. Her strategy should be to project herself as the creator of a new order that neither of the two leading parties can provide. Her third front can stand for elimination of all social evils that have befallen the nation. She can then create an almost Obama-like image for herself as the author of a new political order.
Positioning: Messiah of the downtrodden.
Slogan: Dekh li dono taraf ki durachari. Ab uddhar karne ayi faulad ki naari (We have seen the bad deeds of both the sides. Now the woman of steel will be the saviour).
Advani: the tough leader
Brand values: Perceived to be honest, low-key, but tired and ineffective.
Nirvik Singh, Chairman and CEO, Asia-Pacific, Grey Group
Ad strategy: Singh should talk about the economic progress India has made during his tenure, the building of infrastructure and the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal. A key selling point should be the fact that he is the one candidate respected alike by allies and the opposition. He should honestly address the limitations of coalition politics.
Positioning: One of the few educated, incorruptible politicians in our country.
Slogan: Pragati...paanch aur saal (Progress...for five more years).
Brand values: Perceived to be a veteran, able administrator, divisive and Hindutva proponent.
Ad strategy: Advani’s campaign should focus on the achievements of the National Democratic Alliance that the party led from 1998 till 2004. The party should stress on the conduct of its government during the Kargil conflict, the launch of the Golden Quadrilateral (highways project) and initiation of the Chandrayaan project, among others. Advani must distance himself from right-wing fundamentalism and project himself as a progressive Indian, with the ability to protect India and take firm decisions.
Positioning: Indian, can take tough decisions, progressive.
Slogan: Adig Advani (Firm Advani).
Brand values: Perceived as a grass roots, no-nonsense politician.
Ad strategy: Mayawati’s dual strategy of wooing Dalits and Brahmins cuts directly into the Congress and BJP vote banks. To cast her net wider, she must try to attract the urban voter.
Positioning: She should be positioned as a no-nonsense, good administrator, able to represent all socio-economic classes.
Slogan: Sarvajan hitaya, sarvajan sukhaya (For the welfare and well-being of all).
Mayawati: angry young woman
Brand values: Perceived to be a man with integrity, experience and stability.
Raghu Bhat and Manish Bhatt, Senior vice-presidents and executive creative directors, Contract Advertising (India) Pvt Ltd
Ad strategy: In times of economic uncertainty, the last thing people want is political uncertainty. The spectacle of three PMs between June 1996 and March 1998 is still fresh in people’s minds. Above all, everyone wants stability at a time when the entire subcontinent is in a ferment. Manmohan Singh is seen as someone who can provide this.
Positioning: Vote for us (me). Because India can’t afford a government that will last less than five years.
Slogan: Bharat ko zaroorat hai five-year plan ki. Kyaa apke vote se Bharat ko milega five-year plan? (India needs a five-year plan. Will your vote ensure that India gets its five-year plan?)
Brand values: Perceived to be strong, decisive and clean.
Ad strategy: Attack what is today the Congress’ biggest strength—the image of Manmohan Singh—and weaken it with logic. Logic and argument are Advani’s forte. Stress on the fact that the weakness of the government stems from the weakness of the prime minister.
Positioning: Because tough times require tough leadership.
Slogan: Bharat ko zaroorat hai mazboot neta ke dhaal ki, na ki koi kathputli ki chaal ki (India needs a strong leader, not a puppet).
Brand values: Perceived to be aggressive, ambitious and in touch with the grass roots.
Ad strategy: There is a lot of simmering anger in India today. Not the self-destructive anger of Guru Dutt in Pyaasa, but the constructive anger of the activist. Anger that the guilty are walking away scot-free, anger at the brazen rape of our cities, among others.
Mayawati can tap this anger to create a wave. Her personality lets her do that. Her attack on Manmohan Singh should be on the lines of—acche hain par kacche hain (good but naive).
Positioning: You can’t change something unless you are angry enough about it. Mayawati—the angry young woman—will make a difference.
Slogan: Apka gussa...meri taakat (Your anger is my strength).
As told to Gouri Shah.