What brands can learn from Gandhi!!

Every year around this time we end up remembering the architects of our Independence – among them stands a ‘half-naked fakir’ who always outshines the rest – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Ever wondered how much brands can learn from the greatest marketing campaign ever launched by an Indian? Think about it – it was touted as a ‘campaign’ against the Raj and it drove them out of this country (oh and also brought about the timely demise of the British Empire).

Here are few lessons which we can learn from what Gandhi did and brands can adopt these principles to successfully make an impact in today’s world:

1. Involve people – it’s the participation economy honey!

Perhaps one of the things that Gandhi did remarkably well was he mobilized the masses. At a time when there was no digital media, when television was a luxury which most of the country could not afford, and when literacy was a serious challenge, he made sure people did not passively receive his broadcasting, but reacted and participated in the movement. Everybody was urged to do their bit and participate in the cause.

Brands cannot afford to simply put themselves on a pedestal and broadcast messages. Brands need to involve consumers, like Pepsi did with The Game on television. For the first time in the history of Indian advertising, a series of television commercials were used to engage the consumer and get him to play the ‘game’.  It produced stunning results – more than 1 million people participated in the gaming contest and it generated phenomenal amount of word of mouth for the brand. Pepsi ranked one of the top 5 in the buzziest brands that year…

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Pepsi Game – Level 1

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2. Stand for an idea

Gandhi’s idea was his greatest differentiator – his idea was the reason why he was loved, his idea was the reason he attracted millions, and his idea was the reason why the Independence movement gained momentum and peaked under his leadership. The idea of non-violence was ‘clutter breaking’. It was a way of life – people adopted the idea. Even during Gandhi’s times there were many detractors, and even today there are plenty who swear at him for his political gaffe (walking into the Divide and Rule trap) – but still today, people admire his idea of non violence.

Brands need to stand for an idea – a way of life. Iconic brands such as Apple have stood for one idea – ‘think different.’ That singular idea has inspired their product lines, drove their expansion plans, and created the culture for the brand. Apple lovers will tell you that they don’t love their Macbooks or their iPads simply because of its operational excellence– they are brand loyalists, advocates who swear by what Apple stands for.

3. Find a symbol for your belief

Gandhi the marketer found ace symbol(s) for his movement – the charka and the khadi were symbolic of belonging to the Gandhian camp. Of course it had a political and economic significance – we would produce our own goods, and boycott England’s cotton mills but as a symbol it captured the spirit of what Gandhi wanted – to drive out the British.

Brands need to either find a symbol or better still create a symbolic act to convey what they stand for. Nike’s swoosh is symbolic of what the brand stands for. So much so that in the commercials that they launch these days, they don’t even need to spell out the brand name. The symbol is good enough and widely known.  Another example of a brand that has intelligently created an act and interwoven its philosophy with it is Tata Tea. The on ground activation of urging young adults to sign up and participate in elections is symbolic of what they stand for – awakening (Jaago Re).

4. Simplicity rules

Gandhi embodied high thinking and simple living. Although he was ridiculed initially by world media for the way he presented himself, barely covering his nether regions, his simplicity of attire and simplicity of thought, both caught the imagination of teeming millions across a nation that was grappling with the possibility of freedom.

Brands that have embraced simplicity – both in thought and in execution have always attracted mindspace. WWF is a brand that comes to mind – here’s what they did to stand for the cause of saving trees:

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Vodafone is an example which cannot be kept out of any brand discussion which revolves around simplicity – the brief was to tell Indians that we have the best network coverage and thus was born the idea of the pug:

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Next time you remember Gandhi, it might not be the 15th August or the 2nd of October, it could just be the date of your brand strategy presentation

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6 Comments

  1. Yuvraj Goswami |

    A footballer’s shirt is soaked in sweat, steamed in body odour, and sunk in the filth of self and soil, yet is highly desired regardless of the rather loathing outer appeal. This purely suggests the extent to which consumer irrationality can be exploited. Gandhi, the most successful entrepreneur cum brand ambassador of all time, brilliantly cracked the code to this. Perhaps that too is a lesson for all our corporate goons to take motivation from, apart from the daily mantras of morality and good will that we are otherwise overwhelmed by. What brands can indeed learn from Gandhi is that ‘Gandhi’ himself was a formidable brand; he himself endorsed it, he selectively and strategically marketed it, he solely cherished the profits of his enterprise. He sold his sweaty and stinky shirts by telling the world that they were footballers’; too bad the consumers ‘bought’ that; too great the consumers today too would!

  2. Brilliant………….and Gandhiji made sure that all the symbols reinforced his single message- chakra, khadi,Gandhi cap, the way he dressed etc…………imagine he going for usual consumer research and asking them- Hey what you think about my idea of dressing up and chakra or cap. People would have told him its weird or unusual-don’t do it. Thank god,he believed in what he said and DID. I think even brands need to be bold and sometimes craft their own vision of idea by symbol, by involving people and by simplicity and then be confident about it. But so many times these brands let consumers define them quite a lot instead of creating their own voice and letting consumers follow them.

  3. Simple to the point…undoubtedly something we should emulate, the only problem is that we sometimes twist it too much – for e.g. the point – find a symbol for your belief – dread the statement, lets throw in a character bablooo…emm

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