This was a first for the grand old party - the Congress. The party has gone ahead to make one of its leaders a brand to win an election. This is the story of Brand Amarinder created by poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his team at Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC).
Whatever the outcome of the upcoming Punjab Assembly polls, this brand creation will definitely make for a case study in political management in the days to come for political science students.
It also signifies how management, in a more corporate sense, has made its place in the electoral politics of India. One can counter that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi's branding has been done in the past but there are many new things when it comes to Brand Amarinder.
It has also come to pass that it is the branding done by Kishor and his team at IPAC that has become the core of the Congress campaign. The team believes that while the people may be annoyed with the Congress they still associate themselves with Captain Amarinder Singh given the fact that he had given up his seats in the Parliament and the state Assembly on contentious issues like Operation Bluestar in the past.
And today what one is seeing is Brand 'Punjab da Captain' - the sketchy logo of a Sikh turban that has become omnipresent and synonymous with Amarinder.
What Kishor and his team have played up is - this is something that his campaign constantly pursued, pushed and reminded the people of Punjab - 'You could be Punjab da Captain too - and contribute towards Punjab's development' and that younger captains should work with him.
Brand building 101
It all started with the youth-centric campaign 'Coffee with Captain' and a Facebook page. Since then the team has ensured that every nook and corner of Punjab and every possible collateral has been branded with the logo. They also made it a point that no one misses the brand - either at home, on the streets, while driving, while surfing online and more.
A new aspect of this brand creation is that the merchandise that has been distributed among the people.
"It has worked with the teenagers, much like the merchandising of superheroes or other powerful characters from books and films. Perhaps this is what the Amarinder's promoters had in mind," said a media person at Chandigarh.
The figures on the merchandise speak for themselves. The team has gone in for the distribution of
- 10 lakh key chains
- 50,000 badges
- 3000 caps
- Covered 1 lakh square feet of space with wall paintings
- 6025 wall wraps
- 42 lakh door stickers
- 50,000 flags
- 8 lakh mobile stickers
- 53,000 car stickers
- 42,000 sling bags, popularly called jholas
According to those involved in pushing forward the campaign, Brand Amarinder has managed to make a mark on the people's mind. They pointed out to studies that have showed that a strong brand recall value has a direct correlation to voting patterns. Hence the importance given to creating regognisable party symbols during polls.
They claim that the consistency in the colour and pattern have helped people in identifying the brand by just a glance and there is only one message in all the branding 'Chahunda Hai Punjab, Captain Di Sarkar (Punjab wants Captain's government)'.
This message is again supplemented by the campaign song with the same title that being played at every meeting organised by the district Congress committees and party workers.
In addition to the merchandise is the Punjab Congress Express, a mobile branding asset in the form of mini buses being extensively used.
The brand team claims that people have started referring to these as 'Congress or Panje Di tempo traveler' (Congress or Open hand's - which is the party symbol - tempo traveler)'.
Every pamphlet used for any of the party's campaign is using the turban logo since the idea is to ensure that people at home have something of 'Punjab da Captain' with them.
Making a mark
Observers point out that this concept of branding is new particularly to the Punjab political landscape given the fact that it is primarily a rural state where leaders in the past have mainly relied on their personality alone.
The personality cult has always been there in the state, be it that of former Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon, present Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the tallest Akali politician Gurcharan Singh Tohra and also Amarinder.
This corporate branding is a new introduction in Punjab's political space and reminds one of the Modi masks that made their presence in 2007 Gujarat Assembly polls after borrowing the idea from the American presidential elections. There after, it was brand Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, and brand Nitish Kumar in Bihar to some extent, but the present one in Punjab is outclassing them all.
It is also being pointed that with Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entering the poll battle as a headless force and the Akalis mainly relying on Badal's persona instead of his deputy and son Sukhbir Badal to garner votes, Brand Amarinder is there to stay during the campaign.
Long run glitches
However, this branding is bound to have a detrimental impact in the long run. Observers point out that with the creation of Brand Amarinder in such a big way, the other Congress leaders seem to have disappeared totally into oblivion.
This is contrary to the perception that there are no other Congress heavyweights in the state. In fact, there are so many that the party high command has always found it difficult to handle them.
Secondly, this leading to a vacuum of sorts when it comes to the golden question - 'After Amarinder who?' - a question to which there is no immediate answer of now.
With Amarinder having announced that this will be his last elections, the party needs to develop a solid second-rung leadership and the sooner it is done the better it will be.
Thirdly, this brand creation is bound to have an impact on Amarinder's detractors within the party who have been sending out the message that the party must treat this as a Congress campaign rather than Amarinder's campaign.
But all these questions will be answered in the days to come. As of now the IPAC team has been able to make a major difference. Put in the words of one of the team members, "We have managed to convert Maharaja into Captain."
Edited by Jhinuk Sen