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Brands in 2011 Anna Domini: Zero Hero

india Updated: Sep 04, 2011 22:41 IST
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When future historians write about these stirring times, they will note that 0 Anna Domini (AD) is when it all began. Before 0 AD there was only corruption. After 0 AD there was no corruption. Anna Hazare - the Zero Hero - gets his own exclusive year too. In the more traditional calendar, there is no Year Zero - 1 AD follows 1 BC. Here 0 AD fills the gap between 1 BAH (Before Anna Hazare) and 1 AAH (After Anna Hazare). From BAH to AAH is misery to happiness. It's as though you were dissatisfied with your choice and then discovered that all cats are grey in the dark.

You can't call Hazare a cat; he's a much-lionised tiger. But even to the roadies and toadies around him, he is a bit of an enigma. There is in him a touch of Macavity. ("Macavity's a mystery cat: he's called the hidden paw.") Alternate view: he is just a cat's paw? Luminaries of the ruling party have found various hidden hands behind Hazare - the RSS, Big Business, the US...

What is Anna Hazare? What is brand Hazare? He is a creation of the Facebook Generation. There is nothing wrong with that; youth has always led revolts. But the Facebook Generation differs from the Baby Boomers or the Millennials because they are a temporary phenomenon. When they enter the workforce, their most pressing problem is: "OMG. My boss wants to befriend me on Facebook." Says The Wall Street Journal: "That's a real dilemma." So you escape from the social web (more appropriately the anti-social web) and start living, even as the fiend from Facebook is singing, "I wanna hold your hand." The next Hazare fast - such things can be addictive - will draw new crowd-sourced supporters.

How much is brand Hazare worth? Believe it or not - nothing. Here again Anna's the Zero Hero. No one will use brand Hazare for advertising purposes. Can you imagine Wendy's ("Where's the beef") hiring him as brand ambassador? Or Anacin "for fast, fast, fast relief?"

The newspapers have been full of the Anna brand and the business it has generated. But they are simply adding up the number of Gandhi caps sold (Rs 5-15 apiece), face jobs (tricolour paint Rs 10 per cheek) and tricolour scarves (Rs 50). If you are Kiran Bedi, you don't buy; you borrow the scarf. A brand has no value until it can be monetised. And most of Corporate India hasn't quite taken to Anna; he might threaten a fast if the workers' canteen doesn't serve Gandhian delicacies. Managements know that they have to mind their Ps and Qs if Hazare is stirring the pot. (The only company that has found a role model in Hazare is Godrej Consumer Products for its Hit pesticide. Rather appropriate, that. And Amul has found its weekly joke.)

But Hazare has become a subject for study? Reports the Mint newspaper: "The Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore has included corruption as a new elective." With their fat-cat grad salaries, teaching at the IIMs has always been about making money. Add corruption to the menu now.

At FMS Delhi, associate professor of marketing Harsh Verma has done work on why Anna works. Some of the symbolism: frail body - simplicity; white dress - clean against unclean; fasting - positioned against feasting; Anna bands (tied to biceps) - power; Anna waist bands - fasten seatbelts, preparedness; Anna cap - Anna vs non-Anna.

Was all this planned? Who's the spin doctor? "In my opinion it was not planned." Verma told Hindustan Times. "But Anna is a Gandhian in his ways and means. To that extent the image works."

Brand Anna has zero value but it has worth. But what can one say about Band Anna - not the great man's bicep bands and waist bands? The crew that has anointed itself Team Anna is made up of glamorous godmen with vast business empires, lawyers in the Niira Radia mode, warders from Billingsgate, and the flippitygibbets of Facebook. They talk a lot; they know little. They have negative equity.

Wikipedia has just introduced Anna Hazare as the 20th Anna from history. His predecessors include King Anna of East Anglia; Anna, Grand Duchess of Lithuania; and Anna, Empress of Russia. Anna has so far been identified as the man who would be Gandhi. Now, targeting electoral reforms and looking at his lineage, he may well be elevated in status to the man who would be king. He is hungry enough.

The writer is Managing Editor, Business India.