What we can learn about brand building from AAP’s stunning performance in the Delhi elections.
The Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) stunning performance has not only left India buzzing and the large national parties—BJP and Congress—dumbfounded, but there is a lot to be learned about brand building from an analysis of their success.
To win an election, one needs to capture the votes of ordinary citizens. As its name suggests, in targeting, the AAP has targeted the “aam admi” or the “common man”.
Turning to the core value proposition it offers or the DNA of its platform, the AAP offered transparency and an elimination of corruption in politics. This value proposition tapped in to a well-spring of desire in the hearts of a disheartened and disinherited Indian public. A public tired of years of corrupt rule by a privileged and dynastic political establishment that simply sought to feather its own nest.
Indeed, this desire to lord it over and serve oneself, rather than serve the public, is so strong among the established political parties and their candidates, that even immediately following the political outcome of the Delhi elections a sting by Cobrapost showed that politicians from across the political spectrum, including members of the BJP and Congress, could not resist accepting bribes of as embarrassingly paltry amounts as Rs. 50,000 (US$ 825), to write a letter recommending a fake oil company from Australia! Thus, AAP offered a clear and differentiated value proposition that spoke to an important yet unfulfilled need in the hearts and minds of the electorate.
It then went about activating against this key value proposition through several interconnected and mutually reinforcing activities.
- It chose a potent symbol, the jharoo (traditional Indian broom), as its election symbol. This worked on two levels. It symbolized
the party’s platform of sweeping away corruption while at the same time connecting to the marginalized in Indian society—sweeping being the tool of trade of the “untouchables”. This struck a deeply emotional chord. The party also required its candidates and volunteers to wear a Gandhi cap, connecting itself to Gandhian values, one of which was to uplift and emancipate the common (wo)man, and wash away untouchability.
- The name Aam Admi Party or the common man’s party mocks the Congresses false rhetoric to be everyman’s party focused on uplifting the common man. In over 50 years of rule it has failed to do so abjectly. The name also reinforces the party’s DNA that the AAP is indeed the common
person’s party. It further reinforces this idea through its choice of candidates. AAP has attempted to capture fresh new faces, including community workers, “aam admis” if you will, while at the same time turning away those who do not wish to serve the people by requiring each candidate to give up the right to an official car and official residence, should they be elected. It has thus walked the talk through its actions, gaining credibility, rather than through the tired political theatre that the main parties typically indulge in.
- AAP also had the perfect brand ambassador–one of the party founders and leaders, Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal, had been an activist who had been internationally recognized–recipient of the Magsaysay award for Emergent Leadership in 2006–for his efforts and contributions towards drafting and then pressuring the Indian government into passing the Right to Information (RTI) Act in 2005.
Prior to becoming a full-time activist, Kejriwal, a mechanical engineer from IIT (Kharagpur), had in the Indian Revenue Service as a joint commissioner, while also participating in social service in poor neighborhoods. Therefore, Kejriwal came with impeccable credentials that embodied and dovetailed perfectly with the party’s value proposition. By personifying its values through its brand ambassador, the AAP is able to build strong and personalized emotional connections with its target audience, the common (wo)manof India.
- The AAP has also engaged with its target customers building a community around a common cause. It has done so by asking the electorate to contribute towards the party’s election campaign expenses. It is interesting that none of the leading parties has ever tried to tap the electorate for money. It has always been about giving the electorate handouts just before the elections to buy votes. And, the AAP promises to account for every last paisa of the Rs. 200 million (US$3.3 million) th
at it has collected; something no other political party has ever done before. Importantly, this completely aligns with its anti-establishment, anti-corruption platform.
This is classic brand building. Identify the target segment clearly—in this case the aam admi. Articulate a clear value proposition that is differentiated and which resonates with the target audience. Deliver against this value proposition through all your actions. And, last but not least, build an emotional connect, which the AAP has done through its brand ambassador and its community building engagements.
I wish AAP great success in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Indeed I hope that they are able to compete nationally. Faced with the dynastic and corrupt politics of the Congress on one side and the fundamentalist and no less corrupt but also scary politics of the BJP, on the other side, the AAP offers the only reasonable political option for a future India that we can all be proud of.