Which salt do you buy?

Can Marketing of Salt explain Modi’s triumph? Kanishka Sinha explains

When I was a budding marketer at HUL I was constantly surprised by the irrational ways that consumers made purchase decisions.

I didn’t understand why a housewife would believe that an Aishwarya Rai would actually use Lux soap (Dove, Pears, and many other soaps are far more premium).

I didn’t understand why they would respond favourably to the proposition ‘this beauty soap contains peaches and cream’. Women may have been fed the mental imagery of peaches and cream complexions being desirable… but the mechanism through which putting peaches and cream into soap would make the user look like peaches and cream eluded me.

The only reason to put peaches and cream into soap that would make sense to me was if consumer research indicated that women were bathing with, and eating the soap in the shower.

One particularly bizarre example was the advertising around certain salt brands that were based around the idea that since they were iodised and iodine is required for the brain, your child would get smarter if they ate food with iodised salt. The message being that if you were a good Mom, you’d better be buying iodised salt.

It seemed more than a little far fetched and I asked my boss at the time to explain to my Humanist brain why anybody would believe this.

He told me that salt is a low importance purchase. There really isn’t much distinction between one brand of salt and another in product quality or price. So the purchase decision is ‘nudged’ by linking the brand to something that is important to the mother.

Moms may or may not believe that the salt does anything amazing but she’s got to make a decision based on something for a product that is effectively a commodity. Some moms may be moved by the ‘Desh ka namakh’ tagline of Tata salt, some may be moved by the ‘natural’ tagline of the ITC salt, some may be moved by the ‘make your child smarter’.

And so let’s market to their emotional needs rather than the functional needs.

I’m beginning to think it’s the same for political parties.

I used to think that the BJP was infinitely evil because their riot politics and religious bigotry offended my sensibilities more than the casteist and regionalist identity politics of other parties.

But election results seem to be largely anti-incumbency led. Punjab (SAD to Congress), Uttarakhand (Congress to BJP), Goa (BJP to Congress), UP (SP to BJP).

I don’t think the common man really experiences the political parties as that different from each other in terms of governance. They are all hopelessly inept.

Functionally they are pretty much identical to each other.

Just like different types of salt.

And so like any commodity, the marketing battle is based on random stupid things like beef ban and Ram mandir and secularism and reservations.

Things that have a high emotional salience but do nothing to change the quality of life of the common man.

The politics we have is reflective of our cultural backwardness and our cultural backwardness is reflective of our politics.

It’s a vicious cycle.

The days of great leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, and Ambedkar are gone. Perhaps the times required greatness to emerge. And perhaps even they would be reduced to normal politicians by the critiques and demands of appeasing frothing social media opinion storms.

I do think that AAP is distinctly less corrupt than the other parties, having seen them and their work at close quarters. But unless they can translate it into performance that is tangibly and discernibly different in the experience of ground level voters, they won’t be able to escape the pull of salt marketing politics. And given the complexity and number of stakeholders with vested interests that are entrenched in their positions, that will be hard to achieve.

There is no Lee Kuan Yew like leader that is going to take India to Singapore levels of efficiency. Nor are there any demons that are going to take us to Nazi style holocausts. In fact there are no leaders in Indian politics who are going to make even the slightest change to our overall direction.

I’ve been over reacting.

I think everyone has.

As Macbeth would have said “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

Change, if it comes, is going to come from elsewhere.

I don’t yet know where that is.


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