Anisha Motwani
Jan 09, 2014

‘What <i>jhadoo</i> can teach us about brand building’: Anisha Motwani

Celebrities can never be a substitute to symbols and can never be, argues the author

‘What <i>jhadoo</i> can teach us about brand building’: Anisha Motwani


As marketers, our foremost task is to create powerful brands that succeed in the marketplace. While traditionally we have looked at iconic Indian and global brands for inspiration, today, it’s time to add Mr. Arvind Kejriwal to that list. His ability to understand consumer’s most prickly pain point, create a brand that addresses it and above all, live upto his brand philosophy in action and not just words...all make him a strong contender to learn brand building from.

Amidst this broader strategy lies a lesser talked about yet significant element of his marketing mix – the jhadoo. If you think about it, he could have picked a visual that symbolised equality, justice, welfare or even freedom for his party, but instead he chose the broom. There is something very interesting and appropriate about this choice as it works at multiple levels. Fundamentally, it reinforces the party’s philosophy of wiping off all the muck and corruption that exists in the system today and provides hope for clean governance. It is also an apt representation of his party’s brand name. The common man’s party required a visual which was just as common and pervasive across every Indian household. Thirdly, the broom serves not just as a visual but an action...the ritual of cleansing the government of all evils and providing a fair, transparent and effective alternative to run the country.

Interestingly, the use of symbols is not new to politics. From Gandhi’s charka, Hitler’s swastika to the tricolor of the Indian flag, symbols have been used since long to signify meaning and represent the beliefs and values that the individual or country stands for. Infact not just politics, symbols are as old as civilisation itself. From the weapons and vaahans of gods to the seals used by kings, they have served as powerful communication devices since time immemorial. Not to be left far behind, marketers too embraced them wholeheartedly. Remember the Nirma girl, the lightning bolt of Rin or the Maharaja of Air India? At a time when many consumers did not recognize or understand brand names easily, they served to overcome that barrier.

Fast forward to today. While literacy continues to be an issue, there are added challenges of unprecedented choice, media clutter and a huge premium on consumers' time. In such complexity, consumers look for simplicity. In a world of technological clutter they look for solace in the familiar and that’s what symbols can offer. So while times may have changed, the relevance of symbols hasn’t.

But strangely, we find very few marketers investing in creating symbols today. Instead, some of them choose to spend millions on celebrities and ambassadors to represent their brands. Even though they are fully aware that these people are stretched across multiple categories. That celebrities can never be uniquely appropriated, plus their advantages are short-lived. They are not a substitute for symbols and will never be.

Marketers and communication experts need to once again realise the power of metaphors and the several benefits they bring to the table. Such as how they help bring a brand’s philosophy to life; like the Nike swoosh that has come to stand for athletic inspiration. How they create belongingness; like Harley that lets consumers belong to a tribe and also distances them from the herd. How they strengthen the brand; like KitKat where the act of ‘breaking’ the chocolate bar helps reinforce its positioning of taking a break. Or how they make a brand immediately recognisable anywhere in the world – the golden arches that are instantly associated with McDonald’s and seen as the gateway to fun, food and entertainment. 

Some marketers like Arvind Kejriwal have realised how they aid brand recognition and recall, help in differentiation, in typifying the brand personality and in strengthening its core beliefs. It’s time for other brand owners and communication specialists to do the same. With consumers drowned in a sea of information today and shorter attention span, symbols will help you communicate with brevity. To say less and be understood more. So go on, dig deep into your brand’s meaning and find what you want to stand for. Try out various options on how best to express it... a cultural image, a universally understood metaphor, a caricature, an attribute, a sound, a gesture or an action. And once you’ve found your equivalent of the broom, stick with it and see how it puts your brand firmly on the trajectory of success.

(The author is director and CMO, Max Life Insurance. Views are personal.)

Campaign India

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