Fear is the key: What Sushma, Rajiv and i-pill have in common

ipill

Vivek Kaul

It’s around midnight as I write this and I am just back from a late dinner with a friend. Before we started to have dinner my friend insisted that I use a hand sanitiser. While I have nothing against people pretending to be clean all the time, but the smell of a hand sanitiser really puts me off and can even make me sneeze.
Given that I refused to use it.
“How can you not use a hand sanitiser before eating?” she asked.
“Well I have washed my hands,” I replied.
“But that’s not enough,” she insisted.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because a hand sanitiser kills all the germs.”
“What germs?” I asked, ripping into the tandoori chicken.
“Ah. End of conversation. Guess cleanliness isn’t really your thing!” she exclaimed at my ingratitude.
The idea of using hand sanitisers has caught on(especially with women) after the recent global swine flue scare. But does it really help? As brand management expert Martin Lindstrom writes in his latest book Brandwashed – Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy “Neither swine flu nor SARS can be prevented by the use of antibacterial cleansing gels. Both viruses are spread via tiny droplets in the air that are sneezed or coughed by people who are already infected. ”
In fact as Lindstrom told me in an interview “What’s ironic is that none of those products…actually do any better job than soap and water.”
That being the case why are women so in love with hand sanitisers? As Lindstrom puts it in Brandwashed “The idea of an unseen, potentially fatal contagion has driven us into nothing short of an antibacterial mania.”
And companies making hand sanitisers have simply captured this mania as a profitable money making proposition. As Lindstrom told me “The companies have done a extraordinary job in building their brands on the back of the fear created by those global viruses – indicating that we’ll be safe using these brands…The ironic side of the story however is that the life expectancy in Japan is decreasing for the first time in history – why – because the country simply has become too clean – the Japanese have weakened their immune system as a result of overuse of hand sanitising products.”
What this little story tells us is that fear of something happening (or not happening for that matter) is a great selling strategy and you can’t argue with a woman who has made up her mind.
As Lindstrom put it “we’re all hardwired to be seduced by fear – fear is the number one soft button in our brain – it is a survival instinct. Fear is used by most insurance companies and even Colgate who claimed in one ad that they could remove the risk of cancer by the usage of their toothpaste,” said Lindstrom.
The fact that fear is a great selling strategy makes companies build it directly into their advertisements. The advertisement of i-pill, an emergency contraceptive pill, shows a mother telling her daughter “Kyun risk le rahi hai?” when the daughter calls and hints that she has had unprotected sex.
Or take the case of Saffola oil which has run a highly successful campaign over the years on the fear of a heart attack. It used to run an advertisement for years showing a man being wheeled into the operation theatre, with the sound of the ambulance siren in the background (Let me concede I also use Saffola oil for cooking).Fair and Lovely, which claims to be a skin lightening cream, has run on a plank of the fear of rejection for a “dark” girl. This despite protests from several quarters. The advertisement of the health drink Complan is built around the fear that those not having Complan will not grow as tall as those having it.
Almost every insurance company uses fear as a selling strategy. This can vary from the fear of death, to the fear of not having enough money to meet hospital bills, to the fear of not having enough money for the son’s or the daughter’s education or not having enough money for the daughter’s wedding and so on.

As Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason university in the US, writes in the book, Discover your Inner Economist “Often , buying insurance is about investing in a story about who we are and what we care about; insurance salesmen have long recognised this fact and built their pitches around it.”
Having given these examples, let me concede that some of these advertisements do push consumers towards buying the right product. But most of these advertisements are misleading. As the Business Standard recently reported “Whether it’s Complan or Horlicks, they claim to make a child taller and smarter. But their promises are not based on any scientific data….Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, minister of state for health and family welfare informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply on November 30 that the food regulator had begun prosecution proceedings against manufacturers of 19 leading brands and issued show cause notices to 19 others for making false claims regarding the nutritional value of the product in advertising and on the label.”
As the story further pointed out “ For instance, Complan, a leading drink brand, claims it makes children grow twice faster. Horlicks promises to make children “taller, stronger and sharper”. Kellogg’s Special K claims people who eat low fat food in their breakfast tend to be thinner than those who do not, without providing any scientific study to back this claim. Products like Saffola oil, Rajdhani Besan and Britannia Vita Marie biscuits have been booked for making false claims of being “heart-friendly” and “reducing cholesterol”.”
All these products play on the fears and insecurities of consumers. If my kid doesn’t drink Complan/Horlicks he won’t grow tall. If I don’t eat Kellog’s Special K I will become fat. And if I don’t have Saffola oil I will have a heart attack.
Lindstrom summarises this phenomenon very well in a paragraph in his book Buyology – How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong “That if we don’t buy their product, we”ll somehow be missing out. That we’ll become more and more imperfect; that we’ll have dandruff or bad skin or dull hair or be overweight or have a lousy fashion sense. That if we don’t use this shaving cream, women will walk by us without a glance…That if we don’t wear this brand of lingerie no man will ever marry us.”
Politicians are looking to do exactly the same thing when they practise the politics of fear. The recent debate on FDI in big retail had Sushma Swaraj saying things like “Will Wal-Mart care about the poor farmer’s sister’s wedding? Will Wal-Mart send his children to school? Will Wal-Mart notice his tears and hunger?”
She also said that “The remaining 70 percent of the goods sold in these supermarkets will be procured from China. Factories will open in China, traders will prosper in China while darkness will befall 12 crore people in India.” This is scaremongering of a kind similar to that indulged in by companies to sell their products.
Arun Jaitley, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, also indulged in the same when he said that “India will become a nation of sales boys and girls.”
And before I am labelled to be a Congi by the internet Hindus let me clarify that politicians from across the political spectrum have practised this strategy at various points of time.
“When a big tree falls, the ground shakes,” said Rajiv Gandh after his mother Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
A section of the Indian National Congress (back then known as the Congress-I) whipped up mass frenzy against the Sikhs after the assassination. In the pogrom that followed Sikhs were killed all across northern and eastern India. And the Congress Party got 415 seats out of the 540 seats in the Lok Sabha, a feat not achieved even by Jawaharlal Nehru, the biggest leader that the party has ever had.
Kanshi Ram, had formed the the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti or DS4, before forming the BSP. The rallying cry for DS4 was”Thakur, Brahmin, Bania Chhod, Baki Sab Hain DS4.” This worked so well that when Ram decided to form the BSP he came up with a similar sounding but a more subtle slogan. “Tilak Tarazu aur Talwaar, inko maaro joote chaar.
The late Bal Thackeray was a master of this craft first putting fear of Tamils in the minds of the Marathi Manoos and then Muslims as times changed. His nephew Raj, who left to form his own party the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, took this strategy further and has put the fear of Bhaiyyas and Biharis in the minds of the Marathi Manoos.
Varun Gandhi made front page headlines when in a speech he said “Ye panja nahi hai, ye kamal ka haath hai. Ye kat** ke galey ko kaat dega chunaav ke baad.” Then there are also examples of parties like DMK, which have been built on creating the fear of the loss of culture and language.
When politicians try to create fear in the minds of the citizens their aim is similar to that of companies trying to create fear in the minds of consumers. Fear “is what our brains remember…”writes Martin Lindstrom in his book Buyology. Fear creates what Lindstrom calls “somatic markers” or brain shortcuts that link the brand sold to what needs to be done to take care of the fear: “Want you kid to grow tall? Get him to drink Complan!”
“Want a healthy life without a heart attack? Eat Saffola oil.”
Or in a political context “Don’t want the Chinese take away Indian jobs or sell goods in India? Vote for the Bhartiya Janata Party.”
“Want freedom from the oppression of upper castes? Vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party.”
“Want to revenge the assassination of Indira Gandhi? Kill Sikhs but don’t forget to vote for the Congress.”
While it is not as simple as that, but that is what it essentially means. Fear also gives rise to anxieties and insecurities of people and helps politicians come up with a war cry and make themselves easily heard. As Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva write in Mobs, Messiahs and Markets “Men are ready to die for the group and kill anyone who resists its will.”
The war cry before the Babrji Masjid was destroyed was “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do!”.
As Lindstrom writes in Brandwashed in the context of marketers “So whether it’s germs or disease or some feared version of a future self, marketers are amazingly adept at identifying a fear out of the zeitgeist (a German word which means the spirit of the times, italics are mine), activating it, amplifying it and preying on it in it in ways that hit us at the deepest subconscious level.”
Politicians do the same thing. They identify the prevailing fear, like Wal-Mart will get in all low cost Chinese goods (as if Indian companies are not) and destroy the kiranawallas. And then they activate it and amplify it by talking about it in their speeches. And if the comments on this piece that I wrote a couple of days back are anything to go by, they have been successful at it.
And so was Rajiv Gandhi!

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 7, 2012.

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

 

Call of the mall: Tricks they use to make you spend more



Vivek Kaul
On a recent visit to a refurbished supermarket I was surprised to see a bakery right at its entrance. What it clearly told me that Indian retail was finally catching up with its global counterparts when it comes to marketing. Now you might like to believe that having a bakery as a part of a supermarket is a perfectly natural thing. But there is more to it than what meets the eye.
So why do most modern supermarkets have bakeries right at their entrances?  Martin Lindstrom has the answer in his book Buyology How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong. As he writes “Not only does the fragrance of just-baked bread signal freshness and evoke powerful feelings of comfort  and domesticity, but store managers know that when aroma of baking bread or doughnuts assails your nose you’ll get hungry – to the point where you just may discard your shopping list and start picking up food you hadn’t planned on buying. Install a bakery, and sales of bread, butter, and jam are mostly guaranteed to increase. In fact, the whiff of baking bread has proven a profitable exercise in increasing sales across most product lines.
In fact Lindstrom even points out that some Northern European supermarkets don’t even bother with setting up bakeries they just pump artificial fresh-baked bread smell straight into the store aisles from their ceiling vents.  In some cases a florist shop or a cookie store comes into play.  “Smell and sound are substantially more potent than anyone had even dreamed of…All of our other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think,” writes Lindstrom.
Music also has a role to play in this. Ever wondered why supermarkets generally tend to play soothing music? This is to slow down the consumer so that he takes time to look around the items in the supermarket.
And this is not the only trick that supermarkets malls and companies use to get you to buy more than what you may need and even things you may not need.
Another favoured trick is to offer something extra free rather than pass on an equivalent decrease in price to the consumer. Now this sounds a little complicated so let me explain this through an example that Akshay R Rao, a marketing professor atthe Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota in the United States, discussed with me in a recent interview.
Imagine that I am selling coffee beans, and I offer you 100 beans for Rs. 100 on a normal day. Then, one day, I offer you a 33% discount, so you receive 100 beans for Rs. 67. On another day, I offer you 50% extra (or free). You now get 150 beans for Rs. 100. But, I impose no limit on how many or how few coffee beans you can buy, on either day. So, on the day in which I offer 50% extra, you could quite easily have bought 100 beans for Rs. 67! Yet, most people prefer 50% more to a 33% lower price, even though the two options are economically equivalent,” said Rao. (You can read the complete interview here)
This inability of the consumers to distinguish between the options is exploited by businesses. Bookstores often resort to this trick. As Paul Ormerod writes in Positive Linking –How Networks Can Revolutionise the World Marketers observed…that discounts offers such as ‘buy one, get one free’ or ‘three for the price of the two’ – a concept I am very keen on because this is how bookstores often package up their offers – tend to be more effective is boosting sales than the exact equivalent price reduction on a single purchase. The amount of money which is paid for the bundle of products is identical in each case, but more will usually be bought if they are packaged under an offer than if there is a simple equivalent reduction in the individual prices.”
Another trick used to great effect by retailers is contrast effect. It has been put to great use by retailers as well to increase the attractiveness of certain products. A 1992 research paper written by Itamar Simonson and Amos Tversky, shows this through an example of a retailer who was selling a bread making machine. The machine was priced at $275. In the days to come the company also started selling a similar but larger bread making machine. The sales of this new machine were very low. But a very interesting thing happened. The sales of the $275 machine more or less doubled. As an article on the website of the Harvard Law School points out “Apparently, the $275 model didn’t seem like a bargain until it was sitting next to the $429 model.” (You can read the complete article here)
This is a trick used by retailers all over the world to great effect. By displaying two largely similar but differently priced products, the sales of the product with the lower price can be increased significantly by making it look like a bargain.
Retailers often use this trick to promote their own brands by placing their own cheaper products against more expensively priced other brands. Tim Harford points this out in his book The Undercover Economist– “In Dalston, Sainsbury’s  (a big retailer) own brand of fresh chilled juice was sitting next to the Tropicana at about half the price., and the concentrated juice was almost six times cheaper than the Tropicana.”
You would be surprised to know that malls and supermarkets are even built in a way so as to encourage people to shop more. In a multi floor store, typically the women’s apparels are on the first or the second floor. This is because women are likely to go the extra distance to shop for something than men. Also, a lot of things that can be bought instinctively and do not require much thought are placed near the payment counter so that people can almost pick them up mindlessly while making the payment.
In fact the reason why most food courts are on the top floor of the mall is because the retailers want you to buy more and pick up things you hadn’t planned to. This is done by ensuring that in order to reach the food court you have to go through the length and the breadth of the mall and in the process you might pick up something along the way. The smarter individuals might just take the lift to the food court. But then once a person reaches a mall the tendency is to loiter around for a while.  This also explains why there are multiple escalators in a big retail store or a mall. This is done to ensure that once you are in the mall you go through a large part of it.
Supermarkets use the same logic and ensure that essential items like wheat, rice and vegetables are placed inwards in the store. This is to ensure you to go through the entire store and thus increase your chances of picking up something you hadn’t planned to. The next time you are at a big supermarket try buying an essential item like milk and see the sections that you pass by the time you have found the essential you are looking to buy. Chances are you might find chocolates and other junk food along the way.
Supermarket shelves are also strategically planned. The more expensive items are typically around the middle shelves to ensure that they are at the eye height of the consumer. The cheaper products are rather right at the top or at the bottom. This ensures that a consumer might just be lazy and buy the expensive product. There is also a psychological aspect at play. The supermarket by placing the expensive products in the middle is trying to project it as a quality product in comparison to the ones placed in the top or the bottom shelf.
So the next time you are at a supermarket or a mall be aware of these tricks and don’t get caught in the trap of buying things you did not plan to in the first place.
The article was originally published on www.firstpost.com on September 28,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/business/call-of-the-mall-tricks-they-use-to-make-you-spend-more-472689.html
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Why warnings against smoking could be injurious to health


Vivek Kaul

First it was Naseeruddin Shah. Then came Rahul Bose. He was followed by Irrfan. And now the baton for the thinking woman’s sex symbol seems to have been passed onto Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Siddiqui in his tour de force performance as Faizal Khan (pronounced Faijal) in Gangs of Wasseypur II has firmly made himself an actor to watch out for.
His character is shown to be constantly smoking cigarettes or ganja throughout the movie. In a doped state he promises his mother “baap ka, dada ka, sabka badla lega tera Faijal”. He even tries to impress his girl friend ala Rajinikanth by trying to flip a cigarette first unsuccessfully and then successfully, into his mouth. Given this, the movie does begin with the usual disclaimer “Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. It causes cancer.” The disclaimer appears even after the movie starts again after the interval.
The information and broadcasting ministry now has planned to tighten the screws further on movies which show characters smoking. In a circular dated August 2, 2012, the ministry has made it mandatory for films that have smoking scenes to shoot a 20 second disclaimer. This disclaimer is to be shot with the actor who is shown to be smoking in the movie. It has to be repeated when the movie re-starts after the interval, like the current disclaimer is. Over and above that a message saying “cigarette smoking is injurious to health” has to be flashed during the entire duration of a smoking scene. (You can read the complete report here).
The move is in line with the government policy to discourage smoking. In line with this policy, every packet of cigarette now carries gruesome pictures showing the negative effects of smoking. These graphic images show various ways in which people are affected by smoking. These could be lung tumours, gangrenous feet and toes, throat cancers and so on.
On the face of it these moves seem to make sense given that one third of adult males around the world smoke. Nicotine addiction is one of the biggest killers of human beings around the world.
But the question that crops up here is that do these warnings really work?
First and foremost the disclaimers in place or those that are being put in place work with the assumption that people who smoke “cigarettes” do not understand the risk of smoking. Is that true?
In his bestselling book The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell talks about a study carried out by Harvard University which asked smokers to guess how many years of their life smoking would take, if they started smoking at the age of 21. The average response of the smokers was nine years, higher than the actual six or seven years that it would cost them. So the notion that smokers smoke because they do not understand the risks of smoking is at best juvenile.
But what about a country like India where half the population is functionally illiterate? Do those who smoke cigarettes understand the risk of smoking them?
If we look at the definition of poverty in this country, those spending less than or equal to Rs 28.65 per day in cities or Rs 22.42 in rural areas, are deemed to be poor. Now these are not the people who would be smoking cigarettes which can cost anywhere from Rs 2-5 per stick. They simply cannot afford it. They smoke bidis.
So chances are the average Indian who smokes cigarettes earns reasonably well and is educated enough to understand the risks of smoking. But he still smokes.
If the government really wants to discourage smoking and reduce the ill effects of tobacco consumption in this country, they should be concentrating on bidis, gutkas and pan masalas rather than cigarettes.
That’s one part of the argument. People who smoke understand its risk and continue to smoke. The other part that needs to be discussed is that do pictorial warnings and disclaimers of various kinds work? Do they discourage people from smoking?
A recent research seems to suggest the opposite i.e. the warnings seem to encourage people to smoke more. Brand Guru Martin Lindstrom carried out a functional magnetic resonance imaging tests on the brains of smokers a few years back. He showed them what he felt was one of the most effective anti-smoking ads he had ever seen.
“A group of people are sitting around and chatting and smoking. They’re having a jolly good time, except for one problem: instead of smoke, thick, greenish-yellow globules of fat are pouring out of the tips of their cigarettes, congealing, coalescing and splattering onto their ashtrays. The more the smokers talk and gesture, the more those caterpillar-sized wads of fats end up on the table, the floor, their shirtsleeves, all over the place. The point being, of course, that smoking spreads these same globules of fat throughout your bloodstream, clogging up your arteries and wreaking havoc with your health,” writes Lindstrom in his book Buyology – How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong.
When this advertisement was shown to smokers who took part in this experiment they weren’t put off by the gruesome images of fat. As Lindstrom writes “They weren’t put off by the gruesome images of artery-clogging fart; they barely even noticed them.”
But what the message did instead was that it activated the “craving spot” in the brain. “Cigarette warnings…stimulated an area of the smokers’ brains called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as “the craving spot.”. The region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body desires something – whether it’s alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, or gambling. When stimulated, the nucleus accumbens requires higher and higher doses to get its fix,” points out Lindstrom. So the gruesome advertisement made people want to smoke more instead of less. This was an unintended consequence.
“Camel smokers experienced more cravings when they saw illustrations of Camels and Camel logos, and Marlboro smokers experienced more cravings when they saw illustrations of the iconic Marlboro Man,” writes Lindstrom in his new book Brandwashed – Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.
Another move that has been resorted to is the blurring out of smoking images when the trailers and songs of new movies are played on television. The song Chikni Chameli from Agneepath has some side dancers smoking bidis. This visual has been blurred out on television. In the trailers of Gangs of Wasseypur II the chillum being smoked by Faizal Khan has been blurred out. What is the point of doing this? I guess the only people who do not understand that the character is smoking a bidi or a chillum are the babus at the ministry of information and broadcasting. In fact the blurring may even attract adolescents and children and they might try to figure out what exactly is being blurred. Ironically scenes in older movies where characters are shown drinking and smoking continue to be broadcast as it is.
Also this does bring us back to the fundamental point whether cinema is a reflection of the world that we live in? The world that we live in allows smoking. It is not an illegal activity. But rape is illegal. And movies are allowed to show rape scenes. Actor Shakti Kapoor made a career out of raping film heroines on screen. So if rape scenes are allowed on screen what is the problem with smoking?
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 11,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/living/why-warnings-against-smoking-could-be-injurious-to-health-414602.html/2)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer who can be reached at [email protected] He does not smoke)

Sonia Gandhi and the art of mystery branding


Vivek Kaul

Who is Sonia Gandhi?
Do we the citizens of this country really know her?
What are her views on various things?
What does she think about the current state of the Indian economy?
What does she think of the government which she runs on “remote control”, like Balasaheb Thackeray once did?
When she went abroad recently for medical treatment, what is it that she is suffering from? Does it bother her that her only son Rahul is in his forties now and is still unmarried?
Does she find time to be with her two grandsons?
Are her Hindi speeches written in Roman script?
Pardon me for being rhetorical, but I am just trying to make a broader point. The citizens of India don’t have answers for any of the questions asked above. They need not have answers for every question. But they definitely need to know her views on the Indian economy, the government she runs on remote control and the medical illness that plagues her.
The other questions are personal and answering them would just satisfy some curiosity and nothing else.
The fundamental question that arises here is why is there so much mystery surrounding Sonia Gandhi? Nobody currently influences the economics and politics of India more than she does. But when was the last time you read an interview with her and heard her interacting with the media?
The answer behind all her mystery might very well lie in the art of branding a product. As brand guru Martin Lindstrom writes in Buyology – Truth and Lies About Why We Buy “Mystery is a fascinating component as many brands leverage this in order to make us pay more for a brand.”
And so many big brands make mystery their selling point.
“Ye PSPO nahi jaanta,” went the catch line of an advertisement of Orient Fans. Towards the end of the advertisement it was revealed that PSPO stands for “Peak Speed Performance Output.” Now what does that mean?
Or take the case of “ZPTO yukt naya clinic All Clear.” What does ZPTO stand for?
Or take the case of Tata Xenon XT, the new car from Tata Motors. What does XT stand for?
Or Johnson’s natural baby oil with aloe vera? What is aloe vera?
Or products like Ariel Oxyblue and Opti-ThickTM Harpic?
All these abbreviations and terms stand for something. PSPO is a technology that uses lesser electricity to deliver more air, over a larger area. ZPTO is a microbiocide, which is supposed to kill microbes which cause dandruff. But dandruff can happen for a lot of other reasons as well.
The XT in Xenon XT stands for Cross Terrain. Aloe Vera is a plant with supposed medicinal qualities and has been often cited as being used in herbal medicines. It is even mentioned in the New Testament ((John 19:39–40))
Do most consumers understand what do these terms mean? The answer in most cases would be no. But do these terms matter to consumers when they make a buying a decision? Yes, they do. The mystery associated with such terms, makes the product more appealing to consumers. “Take the Sony Trintron TV for example. What is Trintron? No idea. It’s some technical mystery, which claims that the TV is better – it sounds technical and fancy and seduces us to believe this is something very special. This is mystery in action,” says Lindstrom
The case with Sonia Gandhi is very similar. The “mystery” associated with her along with her foreign origin makes her very appealing to the Indian voter.
And she goes out of her way to maintain the mystery. The recent “circus” in the run up to the Presidential election is a good case in point. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, went to meet her to discuss who would be the Presidential candidate of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Banerjee came out and told the waiting press that the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and the vice president Hamid Ansari, were the two candidates on Sonia’s mind. No one officially knew till then what was Sonia Gandhi’s take on the issue. The cat was suddenly out of the bag.
Banerjee then went to meet Mulayam Singh Yadav and put out three candidates of her own, the former President, APJ Abdul Kalam, the current Prime Minister, and suspended CPI(M) member and former speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee.
But pretty soon Yadav had backed out of the so called deal he had struck with Mamata. It is said that Sonia Gandhi had secret meetings with Mulayam Singh Yadav, and soon he was ready to support the UPA’s candidate for the President.
There are couple of interesting points that come out here. One is of course that you don’t play games with the President of the Congress party, who comes from the Nehru-Gandhi family. But more importantly it was a lesson to everyone about what happens when you talk to the press about what Sonia Gandhi is thinking on a particularly important issue. The “mystery” is important to her being and it must be maintained.
Maintaining the mystery behind a good brand goes a long way in maintain their selling point. Lindstrom provides a very good example of a shampoo launch to explain what happens when the mystery associated with a brand goes.
“When Unilever was getting to launch a shampoo in Asia, a mischievous employee with time on his hands wrote on the label, just for the hell of it, Contains the X9 Factor. This last minute addition went undetected by Unilever, and soon millions and millions of bottles of the shampoo were shipped to stores with those four words inscribed on the label. It would have cost too much to recall all the shampoo, so Unilever simply let it be. Six months later, when the shampoo had sold out, the company reprinted the label, this time leaving out the reference to the nonexistent “X9 Factor.””
The company was in for a surprise. “None of the customers had any idea of what the X9 Factor was, but were indignant that Unilever had dared to get rid of it. In fact, many people claimed that their shampoo wasn’t working anymore, and that their hair had lost its luster, all because the company had dropped the elusive X9 Factor,” writes Lindstrom.
With the mystery gone consumers thought that the brand wasn’t simply good enough as its earlier version. Sonia Gandhi seems to be working on the same principle in keeping her mystery going and keeping her publicity to the minimum.
She is rarely seen speaking unless it’s an election meeting, where her speeches are largely prepared in advance, unlike Atal Behari Vajpayee who spoke impromptu on a lot of occasions. I don’t remember ever reading and interview of hers. Even the few biographies written on her are largely about the days when she first came to India and was put up at the house of Teji and Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Her initial struggle to adjust to Indians ways. Her strong relationship with her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. Her reluctance at Rajiv Gandhi entering politics, after the death of his brother Sanjay. And so on. None of them get into the political side of Sonia Gandhi.
And so the mystery continues. That’s what great brands are all about. If that means that Indian democracy is run out of a ‘backroom’ with a ‘remote-control’, then so be it.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 21,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/sonia-gandhi-and-the-art-of-mystery-branding-352184.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])