One of the fundamental rules of forecasting is to make as many forecasts as possible and then publicise the ones you get right. On August 4, 2012, I wrote a piece on Firstpost, in which I compared what would become Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) to a disruptive innovation.
The term disruptive innovation was coined by Clayton Christensen, who happens to be a professor of strategy at Harvard Business School. He defines it as “innovations that transform an existing market or create a new one by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability. It is initially formed in a narrow foothold market that appears unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents.”
A great example of a disruptive innovation is Micromax. Micromax and a host of other Indian phone makers built up significance presence in the smartphone market, while the biggest player Nokia was busy elsewhere.
Bharti Beetel, which produced India’s first landline phones which had buttons on them, did not wake to the opportunity of the mobile phone market. This despite the fact that its sister company Airtel was India’s biggest mobile phone service provider.
RCA, America’s leading radio company, did not see the rise of battery powered pocket transistors which were first made by Sony in 1955. Sony changed the way the world heard music by launching the Walkman and the CDman. But it handed over the digital music player market on a platter to Apple and other companies. Sony did not capture the mp3 player market because it feared that it would play havoc with all the music rights that it owned.
When it comes to low cost airlines Southwest Airlines first woke up to the opportunity. None of the bigger players in the market like Pan American, British Airways, Lufthansa, Delta etc, saw the opportunity at that point of time. Even in an Indian case, a rank outsider Indigo has captured the low cost market, instead of incumbents like Air India and Jet Airways, which continue to make huge losses.
There are scores of such examples in business, where the biggest player(or players) in the market has been rattled by a new player. AAP is a similar disruptive innovator. In the August 2012 piece, I had said that what “works to the advantage of disruptive innovators is the fact that the major players in the market ignore them initially and do not take them as a big enough force that deserves attention.”
And this works to the advantage of the disruptive innovator, which can quietly keep doing its thing. The bigger player is not interested because the market that the disruptive innovator is catering to is too small for them to take seriously. Take the case of smartphones. Smartphones have been around since the late 1990s, but they only took off in the last few years. Hence, Nokia never got around to take them very seriously.
When Sony first launched pocket transistors they catered primarily to teenagers. This led to RCA ignoring the market, because the bigger market was elsewhere. Apple’s first personal computers were targeted towards the youth, leading to the existing players who manufactured minicomputers ignoring the market completely.
Along similar lines, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Congress, looked at AAP as a party which catered to the frustrations of the middle class. And given that the middle class in this country does not care to vote, the existing political parties felt that there was no point in paying attention to what the AAP was upto.
In fact, Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi for the last fifteen years said so in several interviews. In an interview to the Open magazine published in early November, Dikshit said that “he(i.e. Arvind Kejriwal, the National Convener of the AAP) is not even on our radar.” In a rally without referring to Kejriwal, she even called him ‘barsaat ka keeda’.In another interview to Tehelka, Dikshit said “My reaction to the Aam Aadmi Party is nothing..absolutely nothing.” By the time Congress woke up to the threat from the AAP, it reacted the only way it could, by ordering a probe into the foreign funding sources of the party.
The Bhartiya Janata Party also woke up around mid October, six weeks before the election, and decided to project Dr Harshvardhan as its chief ministerial candidate. As the India Today reported on the issue “Highly-placed sources in the BJP have told indiatoday.in that the party wanted to go into the elections with a leader who had a clean image and that made it go with the doctor.”
The only possible explanation for this change is the fact that the BJP came to realise slightly late in the day, that the AAP was no pushover. Hence, it had to project a chief ministerial candidate with a clean image. And this got Dr Harshvardhan into the picture.
The fact that it wasn’t taken seriously by its opponents allowed the AAP to go about building itself right from scratch in Delhi. The results suggest that what the AAP has managed to do in a small span of a little over a year is unprecedented. No other political party established right from scratch has ever won the number of seats that it has, since independence, in its very first election.
On various discussions that happened across television channels yesterday political analysts brought up the example of NT Rama Rao. NT Rama Rao stormed to power by winning the January 1983 assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. His Telgu Desam Party won 199 out of the 294 assembly seats. In comparison, AAP’s performance looks pale.
But its worth remembering here that NT Rama Rao was the biggest Telgu film-star at that point of time. He may have been contesting elections for the first time, but everyone in Andhra Pradesh knew who he was. And given how crazy Andhra Pradesh was and continues to be about cinema, NTR did not have to start right from scratch like AAP did in Delhi.
Some others also compared AAP’s success to the defeat that Mamata Banerjee handed out to the Left Front in West Bengal in 2011. While what Mamata did was huge, it is worth remembering that it took her almost three decades to do that. And when she moved out of the Congress Party to form the Trinamool Congress, a large section of the Congress Party moved with her. This meant that there was some sort of organisation that was present at the ground level when Mamata seriously thought of taking on the Left parties on her own.
When the success of AAP is looked at with these factors in mind, it really is unprecedented.
Another point that comes out here is what marketing gurus Al and Laura Ries make in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. In the last few decades the biggest brands have been made through public relations and not through advertising. As Al Ries told me in a October 2008 interview that I did for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) “Almost all of the recent brand successes have been public relations (PR) successes, not advertising successes…In its first 10 years, Starbucks spent less than $10 million (total) on advertising which is a small amount in a country of 300 million people. The Body Shop has never advertised. Yet recently, L’Oreal paid $1.1 billion to buy the company…Red Bull today is a worldwide brand with $3.3 billion in annual sales, yet the company does little advertising. Same is true about Google, Facebook, Twitter, which are now some of the biggest brands in the world.”
In fact, the success of AAP is a very good example of the same. The party did not have enough money to go through the conventional advertising route of advertising on television and in newspapers. They came up with innovative ways of advertising which did not need a lot of money, like getting their volunteers to stand with banners of the party at strategic traffic points. They also advertised on autorickshaws, which was a cheap and effective way of reaching a large number of people.
In fact, they got spectacular coverage in the media by exposing corruption in business and crony capitalism. Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP were on the front pages of newspapers all over the country, for fairly long periods of time, over the last one year due to this. In the end, this strategy was overused, businessmen cracked the whip and finally a large section of the media stopped covering there exposures. The door to door campaign in Delhi that it carried out was also a spectacular public relations exercise.
As I said earlier, the big boys never really took the AAP seriously. They asked all the practical questions. Where would the AAP raise all the money to fight an election? How would they be able to put an effective organisation in place, in such a short period of time? How would they manage to achieve all that we have achieved in the last sixty to hundred years, in a period of one year?
The party did this and a lot more.
It raised money directly from people, something that has been unheard of in Indian politics. The party also innovated when it came to reaching out to people, something expected from a disruptive innovator. It organised small mohalla sabhas attended by a few hundred people at a time, all across Delhi. Of course, existing political parties used to large rallies, did not see much worth in organising events where at best a few hundred people turned up.
The AAP also used social media very effectively when it came to drumming up support, something no one other than Narendra Modi, has tried to do.
The question is will the AAP be able to replicate its success in Delhi through other parts of the country? The answer is not simple. The incumbent politicians would like to believe that it will be very difficult for the AAP to play the game of caste so important in large parts of the country.
But what should give them hope is the fact that the larger political parties are still not taking them seriously. A senior BJP leader said on NDTV India yesterda that comparing BJP with AAP was like comparing “Raja Bhoj with Gangu Teli”. Another BJP leader challenged them to win even a single seat out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharasthra.
This tells us that the incumbent politicians are still not taking AAP seriously and feel that they will find it difficult to replicate their success outside Delhi. How successful AAP is outside Delhi, only time will tell us.
To conclude, AAP’s spectacular debt in Indian democracy was best summarised by anchor Punya Prasun Bapai on Aaj Tak yesterday, when he said “Jhadu, Tiranga Ke Saath Lehra Raha Hai”.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 9, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)