Never before has a new brand found itself faced with the task of targeting 1.2 billion Indians. Perhaps never has a government allotted an operational budget of Rs 1,900 crore merely to get the infrastructure in place during its launch phase. And yes, it is a new concept that has to be communicated across the country - including in places where mass media doesn't reach.
With government backing, some fine minds working on it, and a humungous task -- both conceptually and in execution -- ahead, Aadhaar - as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has branded its nationwide identity verification project - is on its way to becoming India's largest communication campaign ever.
Nandan Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI, says, "The main communication challenge for us is to achieve scale. Aadhaar targets different stakeholders who have different needs. For instance, urban migrants might not have the same set of needs as rural women. The benefits by Aadhaar will be contextual, so the question to answer is, 'How do we slice and dice things?'"
What Aadhaar is about
This basic lack of identity gets in the way of the poor benefiting from government schemes or subsidies - be it in terms of employment, food, education or medical benefits. The poor can't establish who they are to claim their due and this allows officials to pocket the benefit under fictitious names. Government benefits apart, an identity is necessary for the simplest things: be it to open a bank account or get a mobile phone.
One way around the problem? Create a system that gives every citizen - especially the poor Indian - a legal, verifiable identity that no government official can dispute. Enter Aadhaar, an initiative by the UIDAI (a body under the Planning Commission, and headed by Nilekani) to issue unique identity numbers (UIDs) to Indian.
It works like this: a person gets his fingerprints and iris scanned and provides a few basic details about himself. The record is stored at a central server by the UIDAI. Whenever the person wants to prove his identity, he will have his fingerprint or iris scanned and this will be matched with the data in the central server. All that the biometric match does is throw up a 'Yes' or a 'No' to confirm whether the person at the vendor point - school, bank, hospital, wherever - is who he claims to be.
While a 16-digit number is assigned to a registrant, Aadhar does not depend on a card or document (which can be stolen - the loss is more especially if the card owner has financial details stored in it). The initiative focuses on the person rather than a document and all that's needed to establish identity is a thumbprint or iris scan.
Not an easy road
While some developed countries have attempted a voluntary scheme such as this, the results have been disappointing because every citizen already has some proof or the other of identity. What makes Aadhaar different?
Contrary to popular myths, Aadhaar is not about citizenship, nor is it a security document. It is a biometric match alone. It maintains no record of transactions, it only authenticates identity.
The technological and logistical challenges are awesome. Nothing on this scale has been attempted anywhere. "The world's largest biometric record (the Visit Program of the US Government which records the biometrics of people visiting that country) is one-tenth of what we're proposing. Technology has never been tried on this scale yes, the eyes of the world are on us," says Shankar Maruwada, head, demand generation, communication and awareness, UIDAI. Maruwada, who co-founded Marketics, a Bengaluru-based firm (he exited in 2008 and joined UIDAI in July last year) that offers services in marketing analytics, knows what it is like working on such projects.
Collecting data from over a billion people, feeding it into the system, and ensuring biometric de-duplication (a person's biometric, such as fingerprints, are checked against every other hundreds of millions of records to ensure they are unique) are all computational challenges. According to UIDAI, the software aspect is going to be more complex than setting up the hardware.
The system will work only if lots of other institutions are brought into the picture. For example, it is essential that the partners in Aadhaar, called registrars, such as financial institutions, retail outlets, state government bodies and other service providers buy scanners that match a certain quality standard prescribed by the UIDAI.
Decoding Brand Aadhaar
The name 'Aadhaar' (meaning 'foundation') was selected from among many options because as a word, it travels across the country easily, standing for the same thing across major Indian languages. Its logo - a fingerprint encased within the sun - indicates that service is about uniqueness, while the sun symbolises a promise that shines on all equally. The logo created by Atul Pande, a graphic artist from Pune, following a nationwide competition in February that drew over 2,000 entries. It won for its simplicity because UIDAI didn't want a logo that was open to multiple interpretations.
At the core of Aadhaar's DNA is creating equal access to opportunity. The brand is about entitlement and being recognised as an individual. To create a brand out of Aadhaar and to determine its communication strategy, the government has set up the Awareness and Communication Strategy Advisory Council (ACSAC). Its members are Kiran Khalap, co-founder and MD, chlorophyll; Santosh Desai, CEO, Future Brands; Praveen Tripathi, president, marketing and sales services, Pidilite Industries; Sumeet Vohra, head, marketing, P&G and D K Bose, a communications consultant on social and rural marketing.
Let's talk 'communication'
Because Aadhaar is voluntary, the communication task is demanding. "People should be asking for Aadhaar, it should be a genuine addition to people's lives," says Tripathi. Aadhaar comes for free and in some cases for the under-privileged, UIDAI will actually incentivise them with money to get their UIDs made.
To popularise the concept, Desai reckons, a mass movement of sorts will have to be created because individuals find it easier to do things in a group. The aim is to identify a core group of people who appreciate what the UID can do, and who in turn could advocate the programme.
The communication strategy will have a threefold objective: prepare people about the concept of Aadhaar; carry out enrolments and, thirdly, sustain and reinforce the need for enrolment. Enrolment agencies (some existing, some created) appointed by state governments will take care of the hardware bit and ensure people come on in both towns and villages.
Adds Nilekani, "The other issue is that of making our communication multi-lingual. Aadhaar is meant for the masses, who may not have an acknowledged form of existence - people left out in the cold, who may not have a home or a proper birth certificate. There, it is most meaningful. We have to constantly reiterate that Aadhaar is an enabler, a foundation, a support mechanism. Of course there are issues of privacy but that's something we are working on." The commonality in thought is there - identity need not be a barrier anymore for India's residents. "This is a brand for a billion," Khalap muses.
Not just a TV spot
Other local influencers could be primary school teachers, gram pradhans and members. Post offices could put up Aadhaar information on notice boards, or even paint the offices with Aadhaar branding; railway stations especially in remote areas could be points where people can be educated about UID, or get their enrolments done there (particularly beneficial in case of migrants).
Interpersonal means such as the 'townhall' method, or 'Chitrahaar' kind of tents to explain the concept to people will also be used. UIDAI may also make use of, say, the dance and drama divisions of the states to convert the concept of Aadhaar into street plays.
UIDAI will also seek support from large private sector players who are happy to contribute to a common cause such as this, for example Hindustan Unilever (HUL). "HUL products reach around eight million outlets in India, and they are therefore, servicing a whole lot of people and could help partner us to spread the message about Aadhaar," says Maruwada of UIDAI. "It is in their interest too, to tell their stakeholders what Aadhaar is about," adds Maruwada TV, press, radio, outdoor and digital media will, of course, play a role in igniting the movement, but at the end of it, interpersonal or face-to-face communication is likely to prove most effective.
Having said that, Khalap observes that digital media, especially mobile, could be effective. "Could we perhaps use mobile penetration to our advantage, with over 500 million mobile phones in the country? Why not? In fact, one will be surprised how much small townies welcome intrusion and mobile marketing," he thinks.
When you take a TG of more than a billion and a vast array of avenues to reach them, the exercise can only become one of the most extraordinary communication campaigns India has ever seen.