Nothing, it seems, can deter the rise of J Jayalalithaas Amma brand; neither the protests over the seemingly odious labelling of food packets during the Chennai floods nor, the criticism over the insensitively displayed portrait at the Siachen martyrs funeral service. The Tamil Nadu chief ministers eponymous brand is both omniscient and omnipresent in the state.
Amma is the moniker that was given to her by her followers. The brand which is believed to be her brainchild was meant to keep her engaged with her fan base. And given the remarkable ease with which the brand has straddled the worlds of politics and business for the past four years, many politicians may just take a leaf out of her book.
Numerous political leaders have tried to market themselves as brands in recent years, the most recent elections in India being a case in point. Also there have been attempts by political leaders to name popular schemes after them or to distribute laptops and cycles with their image plastered on these. But not many get it right, confusing their image with their political brand. According to a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Communication Association and the Canadian Political Science Association under the aegis of the University of Victoria, British Columbia (2013) on Justin Trudeau (current Prime Minister of Canada) and political branding, "An image is the evoked impression of an entity formed from the recall of all communication impressions; a brand is an evoked image that resonates on an emotional level and which stimulates customer loyalty."
Brand Amma was launched in 2011 after she took over as CM for the fourth time. It flies in the face of conventional marketing logic - it does not follow a set marketing plan, does not have a single team managing it and extends into seemingly disconnected products and services (cement, bottled water and grievance redressal schemes). Revenues and expenditure numbers are impossible to untangle from the maze of state finances and no profit and loss statements are available.
However there is an underlying philosophy that the brand adheres to. Tamil Nadu Finance Minister O Panneerselvam said that "the people are assured that our chief minister will ensure that they do not suffer the pain of high inflation". Thus the 530 canteens sell subsidised food, 71 vegetable outlets sell produce at 40 per cent of the market price, a one-litre bottle of Amma mineral water retails at Rs 10 against Rs 20-22 by private players and a bag (50 kg) of Amma Cement is sold "to the poor and needy" at Rs 190, almost half the market price of Rs 300-350 a sack. Besides, there are 106 Amma Marundhagams (pharmacies) that sell medicine at affordable prices. Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults said that the brand name is a clever one because it has four letters, two syllables and is quick on the tongue and essentially means mother in many languages.
|ONE BRAND, MANY FORMS|
The brand came into being with the Amma Unavagams or low cost canteens. Run by women self-help groups these canteens are clean sit-down places that sell idlis at a rupee, a plate of curd rice for Rs 3 and sambar rice for Rs 5. According to the Chennai Corporation, the canteen model is being studied by other states and even other countries. It was reported that the Delhi government is looking to set up subsidised Aam Aadmi canteens.
The canteens serve over 2 lakh people a day and were incurring losses of Rs 5 lakh a day according to unofficial estimates, a few months ago. Each canteen costs around Rs 5-6 lakh to set up and over the past year and more, earnings have crossed Rs 15 crore said a member of the management team. A government official said the state wants corporate houses to join hands with them to set up canteens as part of their CSR programme.
Also popular is the state revenue departments grievance redressal platform Amma (Assured maximum service to marginal people in all villages) Thittam. The state claims that over 50 lakh petitions have been heard over three years under the scheme. A senior AIADMK member said that idea is to touch peoples lives in as many ways as possible and to accelerate governance delivery and speed up growth and development activities in the state.
J Jayalalithaa, definitely no novice in the political arena, is said to keep a close watch over the brand which, many believe helped AIADMK sweep the 2014 assembly elections. She is not put off by criticism because even that helps build a brand. Bijoor says that the Amma brand could be a wake-up call for big companies. However he strikes a warning note, "The cadres (who manage the brand) dont know their ankles from their elbows and they make mistakes and these mistakes will be costly." Perhaps that is why when criticism over the alleged callousness of labelling disaster relief material with the Amma brand and such other practices flooded the media, the cadres were held responsible and the chief minister swiftly distanced herself from their actions. Even the most astute brand strategist would approve.