Home / Opinion / Time to shift focus to Brand India

After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in the 2014 national elections, one would have expected the new government to tone down its communication pitch from the high decibel levels to a more tolerable tone and tenor. A few state elections including Delhi followed, and there was no respite. The carpet bombing of full page ads, TV spots, larger than life hoardings and radio spots continued. Panellists continued to growl and scowl on television debates, and the social media brigade on the loose fired like misguided missiles.

A year later, we still have more noise than our eardrums can bear. The ads are inane and TV debates resemble a fish market. Twitter is brimming with professional trolls and rabble-rousers. Each day, a new issue takes a life of its own and turns into a full-blown campaign. And the exploding fan-base of the new government ensures that every issue gets amplified around the world, however bad the sound quality may be.

Measured in terms of sheer noise levels and impact, this may seem effective. But in terms of content quality, there is much to worry about. If content is still king, then the quality of communication, conversation, debate and discussion around politics and governance in this county needs a serious relook. And someone should make it his or her life mission to lift it up several notches.

In the garb of communication what we hear is nothing but noise in 3D, with three parallel tracks running concurrently. One around Brand Modi, the other around Brand BJP and the third around building Brand India, each pushing in a different direction, often contradicting each other.

The team handling Brand Modi continues to be in election mode with slogans, catch phrases, hashtag campaigns and photo ops that project our PM as a global political superhero of sorts. And his cult-like following laps it up.

Brand BJP remains fragmented and devoid of a unifying strategy. Every leader and his coterie plays their little tactical games through the media. Senior leaders left out in the cold or those who quit the party use the media as a tool to convey their displeasure, often making disclosures that are contrary to the projected party ideology. The hardliners and saffron brigade play by their own set of rules, and there is a constant tussle for one-upmanship, leading to many self-goals. This dents the party image significantly, nullifying any positive impact that Brand Modi may have attempted to build over time.

Brand India on the other hand is trying its best to look good, embrace technology, stay positive, connect with young Indians and build transparency in governance. But there are many cobwebs to be cleared, as most government ads still look from the dark ages. In contrast, some ministers, bureaucrats and departments proudly strut their stuff with Macs, iPads and iPhones and make their presence felt through books, blogs and Twitter. Their eagerness to connect with new audiences is a welcome change.

With all of them working in isolation, there is little coherence as a larger whole. For a communication strategy to be effective, the sum total ought to be larger than the individual components. That would have been the case if Team Modi, Team BJP and the government’s communication machinery worked cohesively towards a larger good and a common goal—where one announces a broad vision; the other implements, tracks, measures and reports progress; and the third ensures complete on-ground support. A ‘String-of-Pearls’ strategy of sorts, where each fulfils their part of the larger objective. That would make the right noises, albeit at different frequency levels. And the sound quality would be infinitely superior and sharper.

From a content perspective, the focus should shift from Brand Modi to Brand India, with an attempt to connect it back with its citizens. We are a country of a billion plus, with very little sense of national pride. We are cynical, critical, ready to offend or feel offended at the slightest provocation. We believe in national outrage, not national pride. And this needs to change. National pride comes from a sense of active participation of citizens in shaping the growth and well-being of the nation, and not by remaining mute spectators waiting for a messiah to arrive. It comes from a sense of involvement and engagement from knowing where our taxes are being spent... from knowing that we can live a healthy life with dignity, respect, financial and social security and imagining our next generation prospering right here.

Brand India desperately needs to win back its citizens, and there is no better time to make that happen than now. And if India’s equity rises among its own, Brand Modi’s equity is bound to move up disproportionately, and that is a win-win for any leader.

Our PM could do with a bit more accessibility to mainstream media as well. While the significance of digital will continue to rise in politics and governance, the power of traditional media cannot be undermined. Digital drives what is now, but for a lasting impression, traditional media is the real McCoy. Imagine if Nehru were to tweet ‘Tryst with Destiny’ rather than deliver it as a broadcast speech, would it have the same impact? I would think not.

So Mr Prime Minister, shed that cultivated image, relax a bit and get more real and accessible. Give us an interactive ‘Mann Ki Baat’ with a live audience on television. Let there be regular informal ‘Chai pe Charcha’ mornings with senior editors on weekends. Let us see you interacting with, and igniting young minds on university campuses and within the scientific community. Give us a few straight-from-the-heart interviews. Face your detractors, don’t stonewall them. Perhaps do a light-hearted chat show, too. And turn your international rock shows into graceful charity fundraisers for causes you hold close to your heart.

I promise, these would turn around your harshest critics into your most ardent admirers. Give us some deep bass that will help tone down the treble and cut through the shrill. We deserve better sound quality. While we have heard you roar, now is the time to make India roar in the global arena. That would be the 3-D surround sound we would all love to hear.

(Sanjay Sarma is the co-founder and CEO at Design Worldwide, a strategic branding, design & communications agency. Follow him on twitter @nick_sarma)

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