Political branding has become a part of Indian elections and more than the symbol of political parties it is the individuals who have now become the face of the party.

For the BJP it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), once identified as NT Rama Rao’s party, has N Chandrababu Naidu as its face, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has Naveen Patnaik as its face, YSR Congress Party has YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, and Rahul Gandhi is the face of the Indian National Congress (INC).

The latest elections in Andhra Pradesh are a good example of how political branding followed by individual branding works.

How does the branding of politicians happen? Does it influence the voter? Does it make a political party more individual centric?

Political branding is different from political advertising. Here the stakes run high on one individual if not the party. As experts say, the brand is an organisation’s most important asset as it gives it an identity and helps create a niche.

According to Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, a private-label consulting firm that specialises in brand and business strategy, “The brand of a politician actually emerges slowly but surely. In the beginning there is a hunger to establish a share of view, a share of mind and of course a share of heart with the electorate.”

Political pitfalls

“A politician typically follows in the footsteps of those who have been there before and emulates typically what has been good practices of politician branding. In the bargain many of them make mistakes because one of the key issues in branding yourself is the fact that you must not look like the other, and most politicians end up looking like one another,” he pointed out.

A politician’s branding occurs in the minds of people and hinges crucially on the politician’s actions, inactions, and acts of commissions and omissions.

“Many try and harvest family names, family work, etc. But the best thing to do would be to depend on your own work and establish for yourself a very solid high ground. In branding, occupying a key high ground is very very important,” he said. Look at two politicians from two ends of the political spectrum — Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Says Bijoor, “I think Rahul Gandhi realised over a period of time that it is not enough to look like the other, but it is very important to distinguish and look disparate from Modi. And therefore, if you look at the recent high ground occupied by Rahul Gandhi you will see that if Modi talks of religion Rahul Gandhi talks of caste and caste consolidations. If Modi talks about wealth creation, Rahul Gandhi talks about wealth redistribution. And therefore, I think the story has been learnt and there is a new brand Rahul which you and I see today.”

According to Robbin Sharrma, Director ShowTime Consulting, and mastermind behind brand CBN for these elections, “Branding of politicians is connected to the party he/she represents. It is simple. Face of the party represents the positioning of the party. For example, in Andhra Pradesh Jagan Mohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu were representing their parties.”

Voter impact

How does it create a recall value in the voters mind? “The brand by my definition is a thought that lives in a person’s mind. The politician brand is a key thought of a persona which lives in a voter’s mind and establishing that key thought is the task of the politician brand. When it comes to voting day, it is this brand equity that helps swing a vote in favour or against the candidate in mention,” Bijoor sad.

“In the realm of politics there are two brands really — there is a party brand and then there is a leader brand. Both matter, but in most cases, it is the charisma and the persona of the individual that override the party brand. If you look at BJP, the BJP story is PM Modi, and it has done exceedingly well for the party. And Modi has ruled the roost and hearts of the voters,” he pointed out.

Sharrma says it is very important to create a differentiator for individuals or parties. For example, TDP was created by NTR then Naidu came in. YSRCP was close to Congress in its positioning.

“We had to work on a differentiator. So, we ensured that Naidu talks about development. A party’s positioning and ideology had to be in sync. For example, if Congress starts talking about hardcore Hindutva then how will it be different from BJP? When branding a leader we keep in the crowd which is the target as well as the colour,” he said.

“For TDP we chose yellow and red representing hope and energy. Naidu was being projected as coming with new energy at 74 and Nara Lokesh getting ready to take over the mantle from Naidu subsequently,” he added.

So when marketing Naidu, the brand colours used were 30 per cent red, 60 per cent yellow and close to 10 per cent green (farmers), while for Lokesh 70 per cent red and 30 per cent yellow, he said.

Branding does have an impact on voters. Going ahead, political branding is going to gain momentum but for politicians and parties maintaining that image will be a challenge.