Reams were used writing about Narendra Modi when he became the Prime Minister and thereafter, on how strong a brand he is. Veteran branding experts spoke of him—Brand Modi—as being aligned with Brand India. They said he was synonymous with India and its development and had managed to achieve in a short time the kind of loyalty brands take decades to build.

Now that the general elections are around the corner—although there is little clarity on when exactly they will be held—it will be interesting to review how Brand Modi has fared in the interim. Is the larger-than-life leader’s aura diminishing or is Brand Modi still shining bright?

Experts say that no brand, be it a product, personality, place, political party or even a corporate entity has universal appeal. All of them have their share of zealous champions at one extreme and active opponents at the other. In the middle are its supporters and those who are, by and large, agnostic. “The champions and the opponents rarely switch sides, but agnostics can often be persuaded to become supporters. This has been the case with the BJP in general and Brand Modi in particular," says Samit Sinha managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. He adds that the majority among Indian voters are the fence-sitters and that “it should be evident from the election results, not just of the general elections, but also the several subsequent state polls, that Brand Modi was able to sway a significant chunk of these in the last four years."

However, Sinha points out there are indications that the Modi brand has lost some its earlier lustre. “His polarising style of politics has undoubtedly made both the hard-core Hindutva advocates as well as his passionate detractors harden their respective stands. More consequentially, it has probably diluted his allure among some of the capricious supporters, especially, among the fence sitters, those who do not hold a strong ideological viewpoint but are more concerned about day-to-day living," he says.

Brand consultant Sanjay Sarma, who is also the founder of strategic design solutions firm Design Worldwide, agrees that perceptions about Brand Modi have definitely changed over the last year-and-a-half. “I would say post demonetisation and then GST. This was followed by rising fuel prices, the Nirav Modi fraud case and several other factors. The cumulative effect among the middle class and opinionated sections of society who were his supporters, has been somewhat dented."

To be sure, Brand Modi began on a strong note and displayed attributes people could buy into.

Sinha says that when compared to the ruling dispensation immediately preceding him, which was characterised by scams and policy paralyses, many outside BJP’s traditional support base would have perceived Modi as an attractive alternative—someone strong, decisive and capable of removing the country’s endemic culture of corruption.

“It is pertinent to note that Modi did come to power on the promise of removing corruption and accelerating development for all Indians with the rallying catchphrase of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas accompanying its more direct exhortation of Abki Baar Modi Sarkar. Entering its fifth and final year in power, even its new 2019 Mein Phir Modi Sarkar already seems diluted by the equivocality of Saaf Niyat Sahi Vikas. This may well be an indirect admission on its part that its 2014 promise has not been fulfilled, which is clearly the case. And I think therein resides the crux of his overall decline in popularity amongst the ideologically non-committed voters."

At a broader level it is simply the difference between what was advertised and the user experience. Brand Modi was packaged well and promised great value. It sold out in 2014, but didn’t quite deliver on a few crucial fronts, argues Sarma. As a result, whether a repeat purchase can be expected in 2019, cannot be predicted, “but I won’t be surprised if he comes back to power," Sarma says.

Brand Modi’s energy seems to be intact. It’s just that it needs to be channelised in the right direction. As a leader he should espouse positivity and emerge as more ‘statesman like’ before elections. “Any negativity should be nipped in the bud and he should talk of genuine development on the ground," Sarma adds.

To be sure, human brands are constantly under public scrutiny. But like any other brand they need to learn from their past mistakes, assess their core strengths, identify a need gap or define a future need, and then make themselves relevant to the situation. But the efforts have to be backed by solid results. “As trust once lost is difficult to regain," concludes Sarma.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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