Why Brand Gandhi needs an overhaul…

28 Feb,2014


By Delshad Irani


Contrary to popular belief, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was not related to this (Nehru-Gandhi) family. The Gandhi surname came from Feroze Gandhi, whom Indira Priyadarshini Nehru (the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru) married, and later chose to change her name to Indira Gandhi after marriage.”


So says the Nehru-Gandhi Family’s Wikipedia page, not the most authoritative source but, at the very least, the world’s most comprehensive. However, even those who care to discriminate between brand Gandhi (Mahatma) and brand Gandhi (the Nehru-branch), can’t help but sense some rub-off.


“They came through the line of Congressman Feroze Gandhi, but even got the benefits of the legacy of the father of our nation,” says marketing consultant Nabankur Gupta. And the day Indira Nehru chose to take her husband’s name marked the birth of India’s most dominant political brand.


It’s given the nation two Prime Ministers, political icons and a riveting family narrative. The Bard of Avon was way off the mark, because as we’ve discovered through human history, there’s a lot in a name. Especially famous ones, like Kennedy, Churchill or Gandhi.


In the corporate world, names like Tata have a resonance that lives on long after their founders. Many generations of Nehru-Gandhi family established themselves as brands. This is true of even the socialist minded Nehru, though in his case it was probably less design and more default.


He had signifiers like the Gandhi cap and the red rose, his fondness for children (which led to his birthday being branded Children’s Day) and the reputation for being an intellectual and philosopher as well as a leader. When his daughter Indira came to the fore, says KV Sridhar, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, “people thought it was an extension since at the time Nehru was called the modern face of Gandhism.”


Indira Gandhi brought her own trademarks from catchy slogans like “Garibi Hatao”, a distinctive appearance, and in a relatively short span, undisputed leadership. It was during her tenure that the Brand Gandhi -Nehru first began to lose some of its sheen with the emergency and its excesses, many of which were laid at the door of Sanjay Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi represented a renewal with his Mr Clean image and youthful optimism.


Communication specialist Alyque Padamsee observes, “With the Bofors scandal attached to Rajiv, the name got a bit sullied. But it survived all that.” Even when not in power, the brand stayed alive through schemes under the names of Indira and Rajiv and the rechristening of prominent landmarks and airports after them. However, the brand may require a lot more than just the halo effect. Mr Gupta observes, “Trust, Brand Gandhi’s biggest strength has become its greatest weakness.


Today, it is associated with politics that’s difficult to define. You would need the personality of Indira Gandhi to salvage the brand, but that is wishful thinking.” Which brings us to Rahul Gandhi who has been willy-nilly tasked with not just reviving the brand but leading it to an election victory. When he first entered politics, a lot was expected of him. Mr Sridhar recalls, “In 2009, he reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi returning from South Africa.” Full of conviction, he could have given the party a lease of life.


But he didn’t says Mr Sridhar: “If you don’t have the power and can’t do anything; that’s forgivable. But not if you have the power and still don’t do anything.” Many wonder what would have happened if Rahul Gandhi distanced himself from the Congress, just as Narendra Modi did with the BJP, to some extent. That the newest custodian of brand Gandhi gets strapped with the label of ‘reluctant politician’ doesn’t help. “He seems to possess a great ambivalence about leadership. That’s muddied the brand,” says Santosh Desai, founder, Future Brands.


“Indira Gandhi ruled as if she was born to rule. While the heir apparent shuffles about uncomfortably.” Mr Sridhar believes that in branding parlance, a flanking strategy would have helped: “He could have stepped aside and allowed a young leader to be the face of the party. Used the brand strength to launch a variant and migrate loyalty to the variant if the brand was weakening.”


Gandhi may have raked up an impressive number of miles as he travelled to places both popular and obscure. But there is still a degree of remoteness to him. Says Mr Desai, “The new breed of politicians has come from the people. Whether you are from Modi’s or Kejriwal’s school of democracy, royalty is the easiest thing to mobilise against.” This is when a legacy, which still swings some people, becomes a load. Yet the name outweighs the burdens of heritage.


Pre-colonial India was a puzzle of princely pieces, each with its own king. “A very large part of the population still believes that the country needs to be ruled by a king and they’ve always come through descendants. That’s the only advantage the Gandhi name has today; its legacy,” says Mr Gupta. “But that population is getting more exposed to other names who also can be kingmakers and kings.”


Nevertheless, to discount the power of emotional equity, which wins a lot of brands many battles, would be foolish. “Brand Gandhi’s time, considering its current course, seems to be up,” says Mr Desai. “But as a political formulation they could coax some more years out of it.


Unless there’s some kind of dramatic reinvention with a coherent, tangible and inspiring narrative. Rahul would have been a better asset if he had spent the last five years choosing the right one,” he observes. It’s perhaps inevitable that Rahul Gandhi be defined by the brand narrative of his family. Whether he can change the plot or be subsumed by it will be his ultimate challenge.


Related Stories

  • No Related Stories Found
Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.