Brand ‘Anna’

Anybody who aspires to be a marketing professional must study the Anna movement.

Shobhika Puri

Anybody who aspires to be a marketing professional or an entrepreneur must study the Anna Hazare movement - not only for what it aspires to achieve but, how it is achieving it. Anna Hazare is a brand already that stands for truth, justice, honesty, courage and conviction; a feat very few brands can boast of.

Companies spend crores of rupees across several years with the help of the best of brains to create a brand like ‘Anna’. But, here is a septuagenarian and until recently a little known social activist with little or no funds back then, who became an icon within a few months. Until now, Mumbai Dabbawalas were a pleasant case study for management students and professionals but, brand ‘Anna’ goes a step ahead. Management schools and marketing professionals are already trying to discover the secret recipe behind this delicious yet nutritious yet affordable yet easy-to-make seven course meal cooked by Anna and his team.

It would be unfair to say that Anna Hazare succeeded because he was there at the right place at the right time and for the right reason. This is true but, it would be too simplistic. There is much more that went into making Anna a brand. It was a judicious mix of planning, spontaneity, presence of mind and innovation.

Anna Hazare, like millions of other Indians, was fed up with corruption all around especially at the hands of the very people who were supposed to curb it. Unlike most people he did not stop at just talking about it but decided to do something. Somewhere deep inside he must have been convinced that this issue would have a universal appeal cutting across religions, castes, classes, age groups and backgrounds. He catered to a latent need in the society for somebody to fight for this cause. It was incumbent upon the ruling and opposition political parties to address this issue but, how could they when most of them were party to it? There was a gap, a gap for somebody to raise the issue. It is this gap that Anna Hazare filled.

No idea is bad; it is the implementation that makes it a success or a failure. However noble a person’s intentions may be unless a proper strategy is put in place, it is bound to fail. Anna followed Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps by making his movement a non-violent one, using fast as a weapon of protest. He must have thought that when Mahatma Gandhi could shake the powerful British empire through this tool, then a democratic government like ours would be no big deal. He made it explicitly clear that there was no place for violence and that he would not harm anybody but himself through fasting. Moreover, he used the brand of a man who is revered by all, for promoting his cause. By associating himself with Gandhiji, he got instant attention. Plus, his marketing team carefully built up his image as that of a second Gandhi fighting for a second freedom struggle. And, this worked especially with the children. Some of them were interviewed on TV and they were excited that they had met second Gandhi in person; a factually incorrect statement for most people but true for them.

Anna had little or no funds at hand when he started. In fact, he did not need any funds for fasting. He made sure that his movement was as simple as possible. His dressing style, his personality and his methods were all simple. It is this simplicity that connected with the common man. They saw that here was an old man, who should ideally be leading a retired life, fighting for a cause that would not affect his personal future and is ready to even stake his life for the same. This instantly connected with their hearts.

The timing of any movement is also very critical. Corruption has been in existence for decades and affects everybody nevertheless; a movement against it requires enough media coverage. Thus, Anna chose dates between popular events like the end of the cricket World Cup and before the IPL matches. He was intelligent enough to understand that if he coincided his event with an already popular event, then the chances of his event getting noticed would be abysmally low. Moreover, Anna also had the first mover advantage, which Baba Ramdev’s movement did not have.

Next, was the venue. Anna has been a social activist for many years but people did not really know about him until recently because the area of his activity was a remote village, much away from the media glare. Anna started his fast in Delhi, a city that is the epicentre of political activity and home to some of the most powerful people of our country. And he was right. His timing and venue got him enough media coverage, much more than probably what he expected.

Anna was very careful in choosing his team. He brought together people with clean backgrounds and those who have contributed to the society through their services. He also made sure that his team had experts who could guide him on various legal, political, security and other related matters. This way he compensated for skills that he lacked. Above all, he made sure that no politicians were allowed to earn brownie points through this movement. He stuck to his guns when he asked politicians like Uma Bharti and Om Prakash Chautala to leave the stage when he started fasting. Anna led by example and earned goodwill in a short period of time.

Like any product or service that is newly introduced, Anna tested the market with a small team in a prominent place like Delhi with a very few cameras in April 2011. His strategy worked and within days the whole country knew about this movement and joined him in huge numbers. The politicians were caught off guard, as always. They could not believe what they were seeing. They thought it was just a fad and would die down soon, but they were proved wrong. They thought they could fool the Anna team into accepting a toothless Lokpal Bill and that by delaying the process they could dampen the spirits of the team. Nothing worked. Anna and his team were determined, focussed and persistent.

There are many people who are good at pointing out problems but Anna was different. He not only pointed out the problems but also came up with comprehensive solutions. He proved to the government that he was no pushover. Enthused by the people’s response, Anna upped the ante. He set deadlines for the government and stuck to it. This increased Anna’s popularity and credibility. His credibility became so high that even when most of his supporters did not understand the merits or demerits of the Jan Lokpal Bill, they supported it because Anna said so. People realized that he was here for good and their good. As a result, he got a lot of word-of-mouth publicity as well.

There are many other things that Anna did right. Unlike the government, his team constantly communicated with the common man especially through the media. Anna also made sure that even when he was sleeping there was somebody from his team available. After his first fast, he made statements to attract more people especially the youth. For example, he said that he got his strength from the youth of the country. This must have struck a chord with the youth, if one were to go by the increased number of youth in the second fast.

Anna and his team gauged the public mood. For example, they kept Baba Ramdev away from their second fast because of his recently eroded credibility. Also, they regularly cleared any misconceptions or doubts about their movement through speeches at the venue of fast, TV interviews, newspaper articles and the like. Apart from clearing misconceptions, such regular communication also helped increase transparency in their system, which was in contrast to the government functioning. This inspired even more confidence in the Anna movement.

The Anna team showed excellent media management. They kept providing fodder to the byte-hungry 24X7 news channels. Another thing that they did right was to make use of the Internet. Social networks and online news media were abuzz with Anna. Probably, his team knew that not everybody who supported his movement would be present physically and thus, they opened the virtual world for them. They even used SMSes and online services like YouTube to spread messages and news that helped in gathering crowds.

Anna had an excellent event management and marketing team. Catchy phrases and taglines like ‘I am Anna’, ‘Doosri Azaadi’ (Second freedom struggle) and ‘Sab neta chor hain’ (All politicians are corrupt) became a rage. Merchandise like caps and T-shirts with ‘I am Anna’ written on them were made available everywhere, which helped in advertising as well. The backdrops of the stage were also chosen carefully. The images of Mahatma Gandhi and Bharat Mata were adorned to spread the messages of secularism, non-violence and fight for a cause for common good.

Anna also helped people get a first-hand experience of the movement. Many lapped up the opportunity to be a part of making history. Celebrities queued up for lending their support. Even little known celebrities were encouraged to get their five minutes of fame. Patriotic speeches, songs and bhajans reverberated the venue of fasting; that also kept the crowd entertained.

Anna and his team thought out-of-the-box. When Anna was arrested on August 16, 2011 and later ordered to be released, he refused to leave the jail till his demands were met. He knew this would gain him sympathy and he was right. He even attended a TV show on the eve of Independence to show how patriotic he was.

Anna has brought the corruption debate to the centre stage. This is no small achievement. No doubt there was an excellent marketing strategy behind its success but a little can be attributed to luck as well. The government kept making blunders after blunders that helped Anna gain even more public sympathy and support.

Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita said: Do your duty to the best of your abilities without worrying about the results. This is what Anna did and the results are for all to see.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)