Full disclosure: This column invites pieces from people across political parties. Please check the bio for the author’s political affiliations.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come up with some of the best political branding and slogans in modern India. The slogans such as “Ache Din Aane Wale Hain”, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” and “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” became memorable catchphrases that people won’t forget for years to come even though the party itself has stopped using some of them.
The characteristic acronyms that Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses to brand schemes or level an attack against the Opposition not only led to succinct media sound bytes but also served to bolster a perception in the public conscience. Making an acronym like HIRA – Highways, I-ways, Railways and Airways – for BJP’s push for connectivity in the Northeast cemented the perception that the BJP is doing more to connect the region with rest of India than the Congress did in the past 70 years. Other acronyms like SCAM for Samajwadi, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati cemented the idea that the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh is corrupt.
The latest slogan coined by the party to commemorate its four years in government and begin its campaign for the next Lok Sabha elections, however, falls far short of the mark.
Several people have criticised the new slogan “Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas” for having Urdu words even though the party is seen to be a staunch proponent of shuddh (pure) Hindi. That though doesn’t even begin to encompass how bad the slogan is from a branding perspective.
I have personally worked as a consultant on several political campaigns and have led an initiative to find a good campaign slogan in states like Manipur and Tripura, where BJP’s slogan “Cholo Paltai” became so popular that people started using it extensively even when we had only let it out to the world for informal testing.
The design of a political campaign has become so scientific that a slogan like “Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas” would have never made it through even preliminary testing through focus groups. Political branding and communication is an amalgamation of art and science, but any branding professional will be able to quickly identify several flaws in the slogan. Here are just a few of them to contemplate:
The first test that a good slogan must pass is the test of recollection. It must be catchy and memorable — something that people can recall and repeat without much effort. The initial slogans of the BJP like “Ache Din Aane Wale Hain” performed phenomenally on this metric. The new slogan, on the other hand, is so difficult to remember that even after being bombarded with it on advertisements through radio, TV, newspapers and social media a significant number of people aren’t able to remember both parts of it.
2. It doesn’t mean much
A good slogan conveys a succinct message. All of BJP’s initial ones were about how bright the future would be and most of its slogans in state elections were about change (badlav or parivartan). This slogan talks of good intentions (Saaf Niyat) which is an attempt at conveying the message that the Opposition isn’t well-intentioned, but it also has the effect of conveying that not much has been achieved in four years of the Modi government and people should continue to support it because of the intentions it has. The second part of the slogan is equally bad when it comes to meaning-delivery because Sahi Vikas doesn’t mean much. In order to avoid a disaster like ‘India Shining’, a campaign that backfired for former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP in 2004, the slogan doesn’t claim that there has been a lot of development. It only claims that there has been ‘right’ development and there just is no definition for what that means.
3. It isn’t relatable
There is nothing in the slogan that a common voter would relate to. A message of ‘change’ worked for the BJP because voters were dissatisfied with the ruling dispensation. A message of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” worked because common citizens of India see the government as a hindrance when they try to get their work done and most would, consequently, prefer a smaller government. “Ache Din Aane Wale Hain” worked because people desire a better future. The new slogan has nothing that people can relate to. Neither “Saaf Niyat” nor “Sahi Vikas” translates into anything that voters experience in their daily lives on the ground.
These factors and several others clubbed together suggest that the campaign designers of the BJP didn’t do much research into coming up with the party’s new slogan. The party pioneered a very scientific form of electioneering in Indian politics but it is losing this edge every day. Not only is the Opposition catching up, but the BJP too is becoming more reliant on just the personal brand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi rather than on any of the other factors involved in building an effective political campaign. With the Opposition uniting across the country, the BJP will have to step up its game if wants a shot at retaining its government in the coming months.