Baba Ramdev's latest advertisement blitzkrieg coinciding with India's Independence Day is an attempt to deal a below-the-belt blow on its bigger global rivals and goes against the spirit of the free market economy that India strives to become.
In the ads, Patanjali has compared its global rivals to the East India Company of yore, the British company that started trade with India and later colonised the country. The company has since become a symbol of colonisation and oppression and that is what Baba Ramdev's reference calls attention to.
"Though we got political freedom 70 years back, economic freedom is still a dream," screams the print ad. "The way East India Company enslaved and looted us, multinational companies are still doing the same by selling soap, shampoo, toothpaste, cream, powder and similar daily items at exorbitant price," it says.
In advertising, any claims are par for the course. The end is to sell the product. But these from Patanjali have pulled out one fact to make it seem it is a better brand only because it is desi. Actually, Ramdev has pushed the battle for the market to a new low with its claim that a home-grown company has the interest of the people than MNCs.
Advertising guru Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director of Ogilvy & Mather India and vice-chairman of O&M Asia-Pacific, terms these advertisements as 'negative'. Especially at a time when prime minister Narendra Modi is inviting the world to India to do business, it is wrong for Ramdev to use words like thieves and loot for MNCs.
“Calling MNCs thieves and using words like lootna is not a nice thing to do. I have a problem with the usage of these words. Some of the MNCs are more Indian than many Indian companies for they have been in India for over 70 years,” says Pandey.
According to him, in advertising, you can say X is better than Y because of some features. "It is indecent to use words like loot, for instance, to differentiate yourself from others. Baba Ramdev should sell his products on its own features instead of blaming others and throwing mud on everyone.”
Another issue Pandey flags off is usage of the Independence Day celebrations to promote a product.
“One should stand under the flag and salute it on I-Day and not open a dukaan under the flag in the garb of patriotism. To use the Swadeshi movement, which fought for the country’s independence, to sell products is wrong.”
There are others like Harish Bijoor of Harish Bijoor Consults who feel the ads are a clever strategy. In the marketing arena, everyone is aggressive and Baba Ramdev will choose every tool in his armoury to sell his products, says Bijoor. “The desi proposition is his astra in his armory. He will use it to make a differentiation. To pass a value judgment on what Baba Ramdev and Patanjali is doing is wrong,” he says.
Similarly, Alpana Parida, Managing Director, DY Works, a Mumbai-based brand strategy and brand design firm, feels the ads will change the perception of Ramdev and his products.
“His popularity and easy acceptance until now was that he made no claims of a godman. Earlier, no one talked of Ayurveda or managing illness in a holistic way the way he has and that is where his strength lies. Ramdev’s products and the brand was accepted by the public because he made no claims to differentiate the product from others and that was its strength,” says Parida.
That is how Baba Ramdev positioned himself as if from ‘another planet’ unlike the others who were fighting the advertising wars. However, by making claims now to distinguish itself from other brand, “he has descended into the advertising arena,” says Parida.
Ramdev's strategy clearly goes against the spirit of free market that fosters healthy competition between companies on terms of quality of products and services. Seen in this context, Ramdev's pop patriotism in the ads are a meaningless political rhetoric that goes against everything India wants to be.