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Marketing of Narendra Modi: Obama Style

By Jagdish N. Sheth Email By Jagdish N. Sheth
June 2014
Marketing of Narendra Modi: Obama Style

The Modi campaign was unique among Indian campaigns in many ways. It resembled the Presidential election in the United States, and especially President Obama’s election campaign in 2008, as described below.

For the first time in India, the candidate was as important as the party. People were electing a leader of the nation and not just voting for a party.

Second, Obama used the internet and smart phones to generate grass root contributions from ordinary citizens. Small amounts of five or ten dollars added up to the largest campaign contribution for a candidate. Many people who had never been to the polls were energized by their contribution and for the first time registered to vote. This was particularly true among the young voters.

Third, many people not affiliated with the party in small towns in each of the states volunteered to campaign for Obama. These were not just party loyalists but altogether new groups of people.

Fourth, the Presidential Candidate Obama campaigned in several key states to support the local politicians for the Senate or the Governor races and secure their win against the opposition.

Fifth, as an underdog, Obama attacked in key swing states (Ohio and Maryland for example). It was crucial to win in those states. I think this was key to Modi’s strategy to attack in Uttar Pradesh, Bihars, and other state where Congress had a well-established legacy.

Sixth, Obama ensured that many undecided and independent voters would lean towards him and ignore the fact that he is a Democrat.

I think the communal and caste vote banks in India were also divided in favor of Modi. This includes Muslims who voted for regional parties in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Andra Pradesh.

Finally, and most importantly, relentless campaigning in different parts of the country and in different settings (college campuses, factories, military bases) kept the Obama campaign fresh and localized to the audience and the context. It gave Obama the opportunity to discuss different issues relevant to target markets.

Obama also reached out to people from all walks of life and to all ethnic groups including African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians in addition to reaching out to the white middle class majority. He overcame his own background as the first black candidate. I think Narendra Modi, by reaching out to masses such as chaiwalas, established himself as egalitarian and distanced himself from being elitist.

In the final analysis, Modi also benefitted from the rise of the Am Admi Party (AAP). Its anti-corruption agenda clearly suggested that the country was out of control in terms of governance, and that it needed a strong leader.

In the end, I believe Congress, like any successful institution, suffered from denial, complacency, competitive myopia, and to some extent, arrogance. It manifested many of the self-destructive habits of all successful institutions, which I have articulated in my book, Self-Destructive Habits of Good Companies…and How to Break Them (Pearson Education, 2007).


[Dr. Jagdish Sheth is the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, and an international thought leader and advisor to corporations and governments.]


Published June 11, 2014 on the Khabar website.


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