The DeitY has recently been in the news for its decision to appoint “Brand Ambassadors” for the Digital India Programme.
My previous post on this subject in these columns has suggested that there are moles in DeitY who are trying to derail the Modi Government’s flagship program. Only a proper enquiry by the Government would unravel the persons involved. It may also be worthwhile to read this article in Business World which also highlights the problem of the Modi Government due to dishonest bureaucracy.
Assuming that there was no malicious intention in appointing Brand Ambassadors and if any shortcomings were there, it was only a reflection of lack of awareness or inefficiency or ineptitude of the officials, I will try to provide some of my thoughts on the concept of Brand Ambassadors.
The concept of appointing “Brand Ambassadors” is popular in private sector where a “Celebrity” is used in advertisements and promotional campaigns consistently in such a manner that the “Association” with the brand ambassador’s own personality adds value to the product. For example, Amitab Bachhan is used as a brand ambassador for ICICI Bank and it is working well. Lux has been using many celebrities over a period of time.
When Brand Ambassadors get associated with a Brand, they mutually reinforce the brand values. If the product is new and the ambassador is reputed, the reputation of the ambassador gets rubbed onto the product. If the product already has a strong brand perception, the ambassador may also gain.
Take the case of all friends of Indrani Mukherjee like say Suhail Seth. As long as Indrani Mukherjee was a successful business women, the associated friends also reaped the benefit of association in terms of perception of the outside world. But the moment she got embroiled in controversies, the friends started running for cover. This is the risk of associating with a brand with an ambassador who has the potential to fail. Such things happen often when sportsmen are used as brand ambassadors. When the sportsman goes through a lean patch, the image of the product also takes a hit.
There are also stray incidents where the failure of the product hurts the image of the ambassador also. Recently, when Maggi was pulled up for being not what it claimed to be, both Amitab and Madhuri Dikshit who were the brand ambassadors were questioned for their role in misleading the public. The instance of Mr Dhoni being hauled to Court is an example of how improper use of the brand ambassador by the brand manager can also cause trouble.
Ideally, the image or personality of the brand ambassador should be in sync with the brand personality of the product. If I am the CEO of a company and want to use the services of a brand personality, I will have to do a thorough background check on the person and be satisfied that his past does not contain any adverse image related issues. Besides, I will also ensure that the possibilities of the person’s image being hurt in future is also reasonably non existent. Otherwise, I may be in the midst of a high stake multi crore publicity extravaganza and suddenly my brand ambassador may be caught in a drunken brawl and arrested. Worst still, he/she may be accused of a crime involving moral turpitude.
The prudence of the Brand management team is to pick the brand ambassador who has an impeccable reputation which gels with the brand personality and is unlikely to be in the wrong end of publicity when his association with the product is being harnessed for the campaigns. If I donot get a proper ambassador who fulfills my criteria, I would rather go without an ambassador for my brand and try to win the consumer’s heart through the product itself.
Now let us apply these principles to the decision of the Ministry in appointing four persons as brand ambassadors to the Digital India project.
Two of these are students who have performed well in IIT JEE. One is working in Samsung USA and the other is Mr Ankit Fadia known more as a “Hacker”. The two students obviously have no baggage. But they also have no great past except as “Topper of IIT JEE”. The third is working in USA and his contribution to India is largely unknown. All these three would get more recognition out of being the brand ambassadors rather than the other way round.
The fourth will on the other hand come with a lot of baggage and most of it is bad reputation. In fact the possibility of Digital India as a brand losing is more in this case as the other three have little or no potential to damage the brand image of Digital India.
If therefore an evaluation was made objectively, certain negative marks need to be awarded to Mr Ankit Fadia’s choice.
I am also not sure if being a “Topper in IIT JEE” should be a criteria for Digital India. Digital Success globally is often represented by school drop outs since “innovative” persons often feel that the education system as it exists at their time is unable to support their innovative brain. Such people will always be “Ahead of their times” and they can never aspire to work for being an IIT JEE topper. Some IIT toppers may eventually end up as successful CEOs but they may be working for the school drop outs. (Remember the film Three Idiots).
The choice of all the four Brand Ambassadors is therefore considered as not prudent since they cannot provide a positive brand reinforcement to the concept of Digital India and at least one of them has the potential to impose a huge negative reinforcement.
I therefore call upon the department to withdraw the announcement.
Hope the DeitY officials will incorporate the principles indicated above when they chose a Brand Ambassador in future if required.
Perhaps for the Digital India Project, Government may not need a brand ambassador at present. There can however be an alternative approach. Once the project is under implementation, periodically Government can identify persons who have significantly contributed to the project and recognize them for their contribution for which some criteria need to be developed. He could be considered the “Brand Ambassador for the Year/Month” until replaced by the next . During the interim period his achievements can be publicized and that will be a motivation for others to contribute to the project in subsequent periods. Such persons can be ordinary Netizens, School Teachers, may be some MPs or even Start Ups and Business owners.
(There is a survey which one of the IS professionals has launched in this respect. Readers can access the survey here and respond. bit.ly/digitalindiasurvey)