“Capt Avinash Rathod, ek soldier ke nazar kabhi neechi nahi honi chahiye” (roughly translated – a soldier must never look down) – says the lissome model in the latest Airtel ad on TV. The ad is well made, and effectively showcases the possibilities of the 3G network in bringing people together like never before. But what it is indirectly doing is riding on one of the strongest, most recognizable, but also most under-leveraged brand in the country – the Indian Armed Forces.
That the Armed Forces are held in universal high regard in the country is indisputable. Notwithstanding the recent aberrant cases of corruption amongst some senior officers and falling recruitment figures for officers, a large section of the youth dreams of donning the uniform and doing all the wonderful things that the “Do you have it in you” ads showcase. That they don’t actually do so is more to do with the availability of greener pastures and an inclination to avoid hardships than with the unpopularity of the persona that exists around an officer and a gentleman. The image of the Armed Forces is linked to deeply rooted values such as integrity, commitment and courage. It is also viewed by people at large as a competent organization which unfailingly delivers – whether it is war, counter insurgency, or even an incident like a child trapped in a bore well. The belief – and not unfounded – is that if all else fails, its time to call in the Army. It is thus considered a differentiator amongst preponderance of dishonesty, corruption, incompetence and lethargy that they feel afflicts systems in general within the country. Besides, visuals of servicemen and imagery connected with them evoke emotions of patriotism amongst most.
It is no wonder then that ads such as this, amongst many others ( Axis Bank – two soldiers betting on a yak at Ladakh, Pepsi – showing Shah Rukh Khan as a soldier, and of course, the many amusing Amul Butter print and hoarding ads, to name a few) effectively use images of men from the forces to motivate people to invest in their products and services. It is also why shows such as National Geographic channel’s ‘Mission Army’ are popular amongst the young and elderly alike. That Newspapers like Indian Express offer free ad space to ‘Salute the Soldier’. What all these people are successfully doing is using ‘Brand Army’ (and I use the term Army loosely for Armed Forces for sake of convenience). They are transferring the brand equity to their own products and services. By associating themselves with the image of this brand, they are subtly projecting that their values and competencies are in alignment with it.
“So –what’s the story here?” you may ask. Consider this – the Royal Navy sold its logo – the White Ensign – in 2006 to appear on products ranging from clothes to computer games, in what it said was an attempt to market its “quality brand” to potential young recruits. As per the publicity director of Royal Navy, it was a deliberate attempt to appear “trendy and cool” to a young audience. There are riders, of course. The logo is banned from appearing on liquor, tobacco, knives or violent software games. While asserting that it was not about the money, the use of the brand came at a price, and the money would be re-used on PR and recruitment campaigns.
There is definitely an idea here – a model that can be improved upon and tried out in our context. The ‘Brand Army’, which is already being used without any official consent or endorsement, can be effectively utilized in a manner that benefits the brand holder too. Use of visuals and imagery connected with the Armed Forces must be a property of the Armed Forces, to be allowed through consent, and under an agreement. The logos must be registered, and be made available for use on approved, high quality products which bear some relevance to the image of the Armed Forces. For instance, adventure gear such as hiking equipment, sports watches, aviator glasses and camping equipment. The revenue generated from the use of the brand must be accounted for and managed with adequate transparency, for which a mechanism can be created – akin to the regimental funds. The utilization of these funds can be for PR activities and welfare, or any such purpose that may be decided upon.
Thus, there would be a threefold advantage – it would prevent shoddily made commercials displaying the Armed Forces in a distorted light, it would project the Armed Forces in a manner that we would like to – for attracting better talent – and of course, it would generate additional revenue.
One can sense the resistance and disapproval that mere mention of an idea like this would bring from a large section of the uniformed community. After all, we have been brought up to abhor commercialization of any kind – it is viewed as ‘un-soldierly’. Admittedly, that was my reaction too, when I read the news about Royal Navy’s experiment some time back. But ever since, every advertisement of the kinds mentioned above that I see makes me ponder whether there is some substance in this line of thinking. And the clinching point was this Airtel ad – I am sure the toss of that pretty lady’s hair won more recruits for the Indian Army than a hundred of the ‘Do you have it in you’ ads.
(This article first appeared in Purple Beret magazine www.purpleberet.com . Re-posted with kind permission of the Editor Cdr Atul Bhardwaj)