How Do You Market A Junta Curfew to Regional India?
How did a failed medical policy, in a time of medical crisis and panic, give the government an uncontested public relations boost?
Modi’s sudden declaration of a 21-day lockdown reminded many of his announcement of demonetisation. From a marketing standpoint, it had a lot more in common with his speech last week.
The #JuntaCurfew organised on Sunday (22/03/2020) was, from a social and political standpoint, a huge success. But, from a medical standpoint, the exercise was a failure. Large groups of people gathered to clap and bang pots together at 5 PM, and many assumed that the 9 PM deadline for staying at home had helped drive the coronavirus away for good.
So, how did a failed medical policy, in a time of medical crisis and panic, give the government an uncontested public relations boost?
Controlling The Narrative
First off, the #JuntaCurfew gave people some sense of unity under a central government whose policies have polarised large sections of the country in the last few months. But, relying on just this temporary emotional bond is what we call impromptu persuasion marketing without an underlying brand marketing strategy (i.e. an ill-thought out Hail Mary pass).
There might be a few people who are able to ignore the videos of people celebrating together in defiance of the social distancing need of the hour. But, most people would be disillusioned — which is why the government needed to reinforce their message to ensure the success of the policy.
Messages claiming the scientific efficiency of the #JuntaCurfew were distributed via WhatsApp and other popular social media and file sharing mobile applications. These messages were perfectly calibrated to provide the right amount of scientific terms, impeachable credentials, and a scientific logic that makes enough sense to the scientifically under-educated.
But, looked at without bias, it’s clear that these messages are untrue. NASA can not be tracking the spread of coronavirus in the method mentioned, because the “SD-13 wave detector” does not exist.
Similarly, a“bio-satellite” is a device that carries living organisms into space to understand the effects of space on the organism. Not a space device to measure the spread of viruses on Earth.
Enough truth to seem real, distorted to serve a smart marketing strategy.
Similarly, another powerful strategy is to link the success of the policy to nationalism and patriotism, which is then linked to the Prime Minister. The first example is a little subtler, with a simple message of being “Proud to be an India.”
The second message is far more obvious. With multiple Indian flag emojis, a couple of ‘Om’ emojis, a hashtag promoting the Prime Minister, a bold call out to “the versatile genius and visionary” Modi, the extreme declaration that India is “CORONA FREE”, and framing of the crisis as a victory over a Chinese bio-weapon, the second message is clearly targetting a more hardcore Modi supporter.
The first message promotes a more calm and rational (if completely untrue) argument claiming Indian achievement; aiming for the uneducated fence sitter. The second message promotes validation for BJP and RSS supporters (many of whom may not consider Modi the best leader for the party) for choosing Modi again in 2019.
Both are targetting different audiences, but maintain the same brand position — India achieved something great, because of the government’s policies.
Interestingly, there is no proof that these messages were created or propagated by the BJP, the RSS or the government. Even though these messages are clearly pro-government and pro-Modi, they did not need to force this propaganda. Instead, they have taken advantage of the culture of social media creation and sharing to empower their followers to create messages of support for them.
That brings us to the point of this article — advertisements can work well, but they can never be as effective as a good branding campaign. And the BJP are inarguably the best brand marketers in non-metro India since Mahatma Gandhi crossed the subcontinent with nothing but a dhoti and a walking stick.
Building A Brand Takes Time
Modi and the BJP have been at this for a decade, on two main points. The first is to establish the BJP candidates as the smartest, most capable politicians in the country. The second is to indelibly link Indian patriotism to support for Modi.
Ever since the old Congress coalition government fell headfirst into every scam they could find in 2009–2011, the BJP has been promoting a dual idea; the Congress is incompetent and corrupt, and Modi’s Gujarat is a shining beacon of economic and humanitarian growth.
This has leaked into the national consciousness. None of the underlying numbers for Gujarat in the last 20 years, or India in the last 6 years, has shown that to be outstandingly true. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to have affected Modi’s and the BJP’s image as credible sources.
Meanwhile, the growing usage of terms like ‘anti-national’ and ‘urban naxal’ to describe those in opposition to the government’s policies — from demonetisation to the Rafale process — has created an association that to support Modi is to support the country.
Using these two long-standing, well-built brand positions, the government can now fearlessly announce new policies such as the #JuntaCurfew and a 21-day lockdown. Should they succeed, the country has succeeded and therefore Modi is a mastermind. Should it fail, the country has failed, and therefore Modi has been let down.
A strong advert can change opinions; a strong brand can withstand a change of opinion. There is no question of whether Modi and the BJP are right; only if you are ready to listen to their advice, and do the right thing for India.
But, What Has This Got To Do With My Business?
It is important to recognise the difference between a short-term persuasive ad (that, for example, tells you NASA’s SD-13 wave detector has noticed coronavirus leaving India) and a long-term branding campaign (that, for example, convinces you that Modi is the smartest, most compassionate man in Indian politics).
The former will have better immediate results. It will get you the downloads you want, the WhatsApp shares you need, the eyeballs you require. The latter will create an atmosphere that will simplify customer acquisition and elevate your KPI expectations sustainably.
How does that look in the real world?
In 2008, Tesla launched their Roadster. It was a one-of-a-kind car, and it sold almost 2,500 units until production stopped in 2012. On November 21, 2019, Elon Musk unveiled the CyberTruck (including a failed demonstration of armoured window strength when a metal ball broke the window). The truck had 250,000 pre-sale orders within 10 days.
So, what was the difference? A combination of trust, longevity, credibility, production ability, and much more. What do they all have in common? An underlying brand value of brilliance, progress, and achievement — all traits that will be subliminally transferred to any customer that buys the vehicle.
It’s why a broken window was debated as a pre-planned “accident” to drive virality, by no less an authority than Forbes. Any other car company would have seen sales drop through the floor after a failed launch. Tesla was able to withstand the change of opinion that should’ve occurred after Musk broke the CyberTruck at its unveiling.
This principle holds true when you are talking about marketing to regional India. Unlike Musk’s mishap that was debated endlessly across platforms and publications, most brands don’t have the instant virality of a populist founder or Prime Minister.
Your brand needs to put in the hard yards to get noticed among audiences that are still struggling to trust information from the Internet, as I explained in my last article.
Are you unsure of how your business can balance branded marketing campaigns and persuasive advertisement placements? Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at email@example.com.
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