Vinay Kanchan
Guest Article

Branding darshans from Lord Ganesha

Vinay Kanchan delves into the branding lessons Ganesh Chaturthi, one of India's most loved festivals, has to offer.

Today ushers in Mumbai’s favourite festival-Ganesh Chaturthi; though to be perfectly fair, it is quite popular in many other parts of the country as well. The elephant God does have a devoted following, commensurate with his ravenous appetite. The subsequent days will be all about worshipping this deity.

However, there will also be some pertinent lessons, those involved in branding can learn from this event. The word ‘darshana’ translates into a ‘moment of epiphany’. And across the several Ganesh pandals nationwide, some insights might become apparent to the observant eye. It only needs one to switch on the intellect and look beyond. In the presence of the God of beginnings, starting along a new cerebral path can always be rewarding.

Celebrate the right juxtapositions

Juxtapositions are all about putting different things together. The Ganesh Chaturthi embraces this idea to the fullest. To start with, the God himself is a mashup of a man and an elephant’s body. Add to that, the manner in which we observe this festival today harkens back to Lokmanya Tilak using it as a forum to combine politics with religion; famously employing it as a stage to launch a new phase of India’s freedom struggle. In some versions, the idol also holds a string which perhaps suggests the tying of diverse things.

He also brings together ideas from his two aunts the Goddesses Laxmi and Saraswati, fusing concepts around wealth and knowledge. In many ways, Lord Ganesha seems to be advising us about the merits of synthesizing different influences.

Vinay Kanchan
Vinay Kanchan

This can be seen reflected in the brand world too.

Many automotive companies from Hero Honda and Bajaj to Maruti and Hyundai, regularly walk the tightrope between 'mileage and fuel economy' on one side to 'power and image' on the other. Food conglomerates like Britannia, Nestle, Parle, and Amul are perennially perched between 'nutrition' and 'taste'. Financial players are habituated to juggling conversations around ‘risk’ and ‘return’.

Many brands, typically in the social media, telecom space and cricket, are also trying to huddle disparate audiences together. All this seems to imply that juxtaposition should be a central feature, whenever any conversation around brand design and positioning is underway.

Nurture unique sensorial signatures

This festival is very distinctive. Especially when considered from a sensorial perspective. The sight of different types of idols. The sound of the various kind of bhajans (devotional songs), playing all through this period at the pandals. The delicious taste of modaks. The enticing fragrance of flower garlands. The gratifying touch of the clay statue. Ganesh Chaturthi intuitively leverages all the five senses to fuel worship and devotion.

Having primacy on a sensorial outlet is perhaps akin to buying out an entire media channel for associating one’s brand with. Think back to the unmistakable aroma of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. Ponder how the I-pod stood apart visually from anything else before. Observe how a craving for the taste of Parle-G biscuits arises during tea time. Remember the inimitable ‘vroom’ of an Enfield Bullet passing by. Talking powerfully to the senses just makes so much sense at a brand strategy level.

Appropriate key rituals

It could be argued that this entire festival itself, is basically a collection of a whole host of rituals. There is the installation of the idol on the home premises. Followed by the regular poojas when the elephant lord is in-house. The hosting of various cultural events at the community level. And finally, the long, celebratory journey on the roads, to go to the beach for the final immersion.

Ganesh Chaturthi involves an investment in time, feelings and most importantly actions. Ancient wisdom harkens to ‘actions speaking louder than words’, and that certainly holds true when creating an emotional investment in a festival.

Brands that appreciate the need to be around when people are doing things, generally do better. Some could create new rituals in themselves. But perhaps the savvier way is to ride on rituals already established.

Kellogg’s looks to nudge its presence onto breakfast tables, as does Amul. Fitness brands try to ride on the increasing trend of maintaining a regular workout culture. Of late, Uber has used the exercise of going to the vaccination centre, as an avenue to make the right connection. Brands have realized, it is only when they are part of important actions, that their promises to the consumer will be acted upon.

Schedule milestones properly

The Ganesh Chaturthi spans 10-11 days. And yet, there are intermittent milestones that generate concentrated bursts of interest and activity. This ‘chunking’, helps sustain involvement and does build up things to a memorable crescendo. All in all, there are immersions on the third, fifth, seventh and eleventh days; with idols and accompanying crowds, typically increasing in size as the days elapse.

Just as milestone setting, helps people complete their targets whilst running a long race; brands also do well in embracing the same principle. Brands in the Ed Tech space, like Byju’s, Unacademy and Harappa Education, have internalized this concept rather well. They keep prompting users about the next modules they need to take up, and how far they are from course (and module) completion. And reports indicate, these prompts do help in students managing to finish their learning all the way through. It is often said, people will be willing to go the extra mile when they sight a milestone, and that does not just apply to devotees walking towards the beach on immersion day.

Promise a sequel

Probably the most bitter-sweet moment of the festivities comes right at the end when the idol is finally immersed. This is done to the tune of chants that ring “Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudchya Varshi Luvkar Ya”, which loosely translates to ‘All glory to the God, come again soon next year’. The rendering of these words leaves devotees with the fond hope, there will surely be a reunion with their Lord at the earliest. He simply has to, and certainly will, come back.

In some sense, all great brand experiences are about creating sequels. However, of late, it is fascinating to note how movie brands have exploited this. The Marvel universe, used an interlinking plotline across over a dozen movies, to fuel the expectation of continuity in the entertainment extravaganza just around the corner. The James Bond franchise is on the cusp of the release of its twenty-fifth film, almost like it has a license to thrill. To make a point, maybe all revisits to the same brand must cue an expectation of a blockbuster experience.

To conclude, surely more parallels can be drawn to the branding process, from this, one of the most powerful festival brands of India. Perhaps what it takes is to immerse our past biases of taking things at the obvious level, and sticking with the same hackneyed ideas. And going deeper to adopt a refreshed and novel perspective.

Vinay Kanchan is a brand storyteller, innovation catalyst and the author of ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’, and ‘The Madness Starts at 9’.