Post the surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army, beyond the Pakistan border in September last year, there has been a wave of extreme nationalism running through India. This has resulted in the ties between two countries to be at an all-time low. Things have escalated further after the news of death sentence to the Indian national Kulbushan Jadav, the case for which is now being fought at International Court of Justice.
Such is the grip of nationalistic fever that companies too have started pushing their brands painted in such ads trying to cash in on the current mood and the sentiment. National brands like the two-wheeler company Hero has portrayed people saluting soldiers in the transport bus for their bravery and courage and a common man carrying Indian flag running on the roads.
Others like Patanjali are trying to bring back the nationalism and Swadeshi movement of the Gandhian era – asking us to boycott products by MNCs thereby uplifting the economy of the country. For example, its print ads deliver the message, “Give prominence to Patanjali products in your shops as well as in your hearts…Together we can turn the SWADESHI dream of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Ram Prasad Bismil into a reality.” Even its radio jingle swears by the nationalist ideology “Patanjali apnaiye, desh ko arthic aazadi dilaiye” (switch to Patanjali, give the country financial freedom)—preaching the virtues of indigenous industry.
Brand’s founder and face Baba Ramdev too does not shy away from taking digs at these MNCs at the first opportunity that he gets. In an interview to Open, he bluntly stated his case: “I believe that MNCs are looting this country. They have made our economy a prisoner of their interests and held thousands in their thrall. This is not good for my nation.”
Today, Patanjali has become a mammoth brand recording an annual turnover of Rs 10,000 crore in the fiscal year 2017. And due to its success major, MNCs like Colgate, HUL, ITC and Cadbury are facing a slowdown. And the brand has achieved all this on the back of brilliant rural exposure and minimum advertising in the urban landscape. Something these legacy MNCs lacks even today.
Heros and Patanjalis are not the only ones decorating themselves with the nationalistic flavours. Others like Micromax with its ad campaign Angrezipanti ko Angootha advertised its phones having Indian language support and were directly pitted against its foreign counterparts. Jaago Re campaign by Tata Tea and Bajaj’s Vikrant campaign for its motorcycle V (it has done various campaigns over the years with the likes of Humara Bajaj and Buland Bharat ki Buland Tasveer) have tried to touch the sensitive chord with their consumers.
Advertising is all about touching the correct chord with the audience, looking at the current scenario in the society and understanding the customer’s mood. This helps the audience connect directly to relevant themes that are trending and they would want to associate themselves with the brand that aligns with their mood/sentiment.
A report from Deccan Herald mentions, “Advertisements with themes of social awareness always click with the Indian audience. Today, after a series of scams and scandals, and a popular anti-corruption movement, we see commercials talking about the same.”
Anything can be labeled national or anti-national based on how people think about it on the digital medium. Today, the nation is going through a phase where country’s population has divided itself into self-proclaimed patriots, who drive a certain propaganda and others who do not align with this view, labeled under the purview of anti-nationals.
One such brand that was between the firing lines of the digital population was Snapdeal. Film star Aamir Khan stated that his wife felt India is an unsafe country. This backfired on the company who at the time had the actor as its brand ambassador. Not only did the people label Aamir Khan as an anti-national but also did not spare the brand, uninstalling the app which had a lasting impact on its brand value and business.
This was not a one-off incident for the e-commerce company. The recent controversy surrounding the social media app Snapchat, where it’s CEO Evan Spiegel allegedly said during a company meeting that the app did not want to focus on a country like India where the majority of the population is poor. Indians did not take this well and in revolt started uninstalling the app, but that led to a major confusion with its namesake Snapdeal. People targeted their attack towards the e-commerce brand and it led to further decline in its brand image.
Like every industry, advertising too goes through various phases and Indian advertising is no different. One such phase that I recall is companies trying to woo customers with a bevy of international stars to add weight to their campaign and international acceptance among the Indian audience. Micromax is one such brand that has been vying for an international recognition and acceptance for quite some time. Before the ad featuring Kapil Sharma advertising the local languages in its phones, Micromax brought in Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman in a Mission Impossible-esque ad to add an international flavour. Others such as Tata Motors brought in Argentinean football star Lionel Messi to campaign for their car Tiago.
But many a brand consultants feel this phase of brands using advertisements with nationalistic hue too will pass once the Indian consumers’ rational instinct kicks in. There is a strong sentiment currently in the country but the consumer will eventually start to look at products and brands with a reasonable approach to quality and value for money.
In an interview to Brand Equity, Future Brands, CEO and MD, Santosh Desai said, “In India, there’s a certain ultra-nationalistic fervour with the anti-national label bandied about with a frequency that’s unprecedented, if you have anything to say that is not all pointing in the same direction in an exultant manner.”
Yes, patriotism and Make in India are good ways to promote a brand/a product but, relying on it or pushing the brand on a national sentiment will only do well for a limited period. Brands should not sensationalise issues and their message should have a creative synergy with its communication towards the customer. Over utilization or over-dependence only in one direction will lead to alienation by its customers when the phase passes away. Brands will need to evolve constantly with changing times. Nationalism or no-nationalism, brands in the country will have to regulate their narrative, which could either backfire or earn them praise. But following the herd will lead them nowhere.