Friday, January 12, 2018

Can a personal brand win an election?

Superstar Rajinikanth is the latest silver screen hero to take the plunge into politics
December 31, 2017 was a day for fireworks, celebrations, and popping of champagne corks in most parts of the world. However, for the political leaders in Tamil Nadu (or at least for some of them) alarm bells began ringing!
Rajinikanth, known around the world as “Superstar”, finally announced that he will launch a political party. Mind you, he has been threatening to do this for as long as I can remember, so the announcement didn’t come a moment too soon. Let’s not forget that Rajinikanth is from the South India , where there is a unique culture in which people from tinseltown make it big as political leaders; whether it was NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, or MGR and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.
At the risk of being slaughtered, thanks to the internet, I think Rajini is perhaps a bigger brand than the doyens of old. But the question is, will his personal charisma and brand lead him to power, even as he vows to contest from all 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu in the forthcoming elections?
Political leaders can be brands
The world has seen several political brands, be it Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Gandhi, John F Kennedy or more recently, Narendra Modi, they all had strong brand associations. Lincoln stood for equality of blacks; Churchill was stubborn and refused to give up; Gandhi stood for non-violence, and so on.
Rajinikanth’s strongest association is his ‘style’, which may or may not cut much ice with the political masses. But I am sure he has the following to cause some disquiet amongst his opponents. He has to refine his positioning and offering, which has a greater relevance for voters.
Promise, big promise, effectively worded is what moves the masses. Remember “blood, sweat and tears?” “Garibi hatao”, that Indira Gandhi used to great effect, “Labour isn’t working” which swept Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party to power, or “achche din aane wale hain” that ensured a Modi landslide (even if there is no talk of that now).
Similarly, if Rajini is to follow in the footsteps of MGR and Jayalalithaa, he has to craft his own positioning that will be a much lower common denominator than the spiritualism plank that he has taken to launch his party. I am sure the king of punch dialogues that Tamil Nadu loves will come up with his own slogan for the future of his party.
The time is right
Successful brands always seem to gauge a gap in the market. There is a crying need for them; and that’s where Tamil Nadu is right now. With the passing of Jayalalithaa and the continuing illness of M Karunanidhi, there seems to be a complete void in leadership.
The people of the south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, seem to strongly believe that they need film heroes and heroines to save them! What bigger hero than the ‘Baasha’ to save the people of Tamil Nadu?
It is also in the same breath that we need to speak of another film star — Kamal Haasan, who has also started a political party, perhaps only on Twitter. But I am sure he realises the opportunity and the gaping void in Tamil Nadu politics that is yearning for leadership and direction.
What of the future?
I am hardly a soothsayer and we all know the hazards of making forward-looking statements, particularly in the stormwaters that Indian politics can be. Merely launching a new party or great credentials may not be enough. Rajini has to demonstrate that he understands politics as well as he understands films. He needs to find a position that is better crafted than the interesting platform of spiritualism. He needs to have a proper team, as fans might give you loyalty but they are yet unproven in politics or administrative capability. Rajinikanth needs a strong promise that will click with the people who may be disillusioned with the Dravidian clique and the fact that Tamil Nadu is no longer the dominant state it was. Clearly, the Dravidian oligopoly is not working.
Tamil pride and anti-Hindi as clarion calls have outlived their usefulness. Sadly, the Tamilian psyche seems to believe that giving and accepting bribes is okay as long as the job is done. However difficult this may be, Rajini must change the passive acceptance of wrongdoing which is rapidly dragging the state down.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
It is too convenient to expect dramatic things to happen overnight. But given the increasing discontent in the state, and the disenchantment of the people, perhaps the time is right for personal branding to come to the fore.
Maybe Rajini can take a leaf out of MGR’s book. MGR would never drink or smoke in movies and women always wooed him! Every Tamilian completely believed the screen persona of MGR and thought that he could do no wrong and eventually voted him to power. Rajini has similar credentials. He is a decent guy, God-fearing and free of controversies. More than anything else, he is a leader with a large following.That might tilt the balance, just.
So let’s wait to see what the people of Tamil Nadu have to say about the latest personal brand in politics.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A brand new logo for a struggling old city

Designing a logo isn’t going to save Bengaluru, a city that is bursting at the seams
On December 24, Bengaluru got itself an extremely interesting and striking new logo. This had several firsts to its credit. It’s the first time an Indian city has had a logo. Many cities in other countries already have distinct logos and identities. (Remember, the “I love New York” logo and campaign that made its way onto T-shirts, caps, pens and mugs?) Another feature of the new logo is that the design was crowd sourced and chosen from 1,350 entries. The design, with its blend of English and Kannada, also subtly draws attention to the tagline ‘Be U' or be yourself.
The State government, while feeling justifiably proud of its latest creation, talks about creating and marketing merchandise to the bevy of tourists, both local and international, who flock to the already crowded city. Let me state upfront that I find the logo distinctive, colourful and striking, which are all laudable qualities in choosing and identifying a logo when multiple alternatives are presented.
But, as someone who has lived in Bengaluru for almost my entire working life, I have certain suggestions to the city and its administrators on the branding front as a brand is not only about a logo or colours. I really love this city, or at least what it used to be, so all my comments should be viewed in the spirit of the anguished cries of someone who is getting increasingly frustrated living here.
Brands need strong logos
A logo is the visual representation of a brand and the first thing that brands invariably do when they have a name in place is to design an identity that is distinctive, has certain strong colours, and stands apart from its competitors.
Companies have also discovered that consumers remember shapes and when reinforced often, they will creatively recall them in the context of that brand. Who doesn't remember the Nike swoosh that is so powerful, you may not even have to write the name Nike when you are referring to the brand.
Children remember the “golden arches” of McDonalds and are drawn to it when they are anywhere near a mall; never mind the brand’s current problems in the North and East India.
But these brands and the many other successful ones we have come across, have more to them than a strong logo and a visual identity. This is precisely my bone of contention with the Bengaluru logo. While it is commendable that the administrators have finally realised that Bengaluru has the potential to be a brand, they are, in my opinion, a bit late to the party.
The most recognised city in the world
Bengaluru has always had several tags. It was initially, rather derogatorily, referred to as the “pensioner’s paradise”, as many old people, suitably clothed in mufflers, were seen walking in the gardens of the city. The widespread greenery soon earned it the distinction of being the “garden city”; something that I quickly realised the truth and value of when I came from a parched Madras in 1980.
Then, with the emergence of software majors such as Infosys, Bangalore, as it was known then, became the “software capital of India”. People who lost their jobs in software got used to the expression “Bangalored”. The city was a boom town and grew on its own accord with capricious politicians who allowed even greedier builders to build anywhere and gave away lakebeds for development.
The traffic is a nightmare, roads non-existent and garbage reigns everywhere. Any outsider who comes to Bengaluru complains about the roads (or lack thereof) and the traffic. The city spawns jokes such as: “In the US, people drive on the right side of the road, in the UK, on the left side and in Bengaluru, on what is left of the road”. But the government was secure as Bengaluru next became the “start-up capital of India”.
Mind you, it is important to remember that a large part of Bengaluru’s development happened without any special effort from the government and, in many cases, despite the government. In fact, many global players bitterly complain about the lack of infrastructure and governance.
What of the future?
Now that the government is taking credit for the new logo, it can also formally recognise that Bengaluru — as it’s now known; another harebrained change — can actually become a brand that is known and respected world over. This cannot happen cosmetically, by designing a logo. It is time to realise that the brand needs a champion who can guide the city to its destiny. It is time to realise that there are other important stakeholders: the people who live here, the investors who come from across the globe, and also the tourists, who are presently being targeted.
The government is sitting on a gold mine of a brand. Only if they realise its value and nurture it can the brand hold its own globally; and the government can hold its own not just on the strength of design but on political will. And that, my friends, is what is lacking. Let’s build on the equity of brand Bengaluru now that we have made a beginning with a new logo.
Is anyone listening?