When the planners of the APS attack were scheming from their hideouts, the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was busy demonstrating his dance skills in Islamabad
Dr Haider Shah
About two years ago I wrote about branding in politics. In the private sector it takes years of hard work and success to create an effective brand image but a single folly is enough to shatter such an image. A classic textbook example is of British jewellery company Ratner Group whose chief executive, in a speech, arrogantly boasted about selling his jewellery very cheap: “People say, ‘how can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it is total crap.” This “total crap” comment resulted in the value of the Ratner group plummeting by £ 500 million and the chief executive had to resign as his comments had caused the firm’s collapse.
In the recent past, we have seen a near collapse situation in the case of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The PPP’s strength lay in the Bhutto brand, which was based on perceptions of revolutionary zeal, liberalism and working class struggle. Under Asif Ali Zardari the Bhutto brand was systematically damaged by deliberate attempts to float the Zardari brand, which could not sell well in Pakistan as it did not carry a positive image.
Narendra Modi from India and Imran Khan from Pakistan have been very shrewd in brand creation, like marketing gurus. From photographs to the use of social media, both worked relentlessly in creating and popularising the perception of a messiah among their followers. The strength of the Imran Khan and PTI brand is its newness. The multi-coloured brand attracted buyers of various inclinations. The ultra-conservative jingoists hoped that he would confront the US and would work towards implementation of sharia. Liberal and educated supporters bought the product offered by the PTI in the hope that Khan would develop the country with progressive ideas.
While enjoying power in one of the four provinces, the brand that Imran Khan had cultivated around his person seems to be extensively damaged for many reasons. The first damage to the brand was caused by Imran falsely believing that he had, like Bhutto of the 1970s, touched the hearts of the masses and, therefore, whoever was nominated by him would easily win the election battle. He refused to listen to his well-wishers when he nominated a local financier of his election campaign with questionable credentials and took home a shocking defeat from the Peshawar seat earlier won by Imran Khan. This early damage to the brand could have been easily repaired if Khan sahib had not unleashed a series of unfortunate events.
Further damage to the brand has been caused by Imran’s long list of astonishing U-turns on major public pronouncements. He once used to publicly admire former Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Chaudhry’s judicial activism and severely reprimanded the PPP government for not following the court’s orders. However, when he himself was faced with the demanding task of following the superior judiciary’s orders he began cutting corners. Perhaps one might have admired his free spirit if he had not very sheepishly apologised when summoned over contempt of court charges. And, after a year, he again went berserk with his allegations without caring to substantiate the charges. He also appeared to be involved in a case of stabbing in the back his former benefactor when there was a bad patch between a private television channel and agencies. Again, very wild allegations were made with little effort to substantiate any of his allegations. Like a barrage of misguided missiles he kept hitting public personalities with wild allegations from his dharna (sit-in) stage.
The biggest shock to the brand has, however, come in the aftermath of the Army Public School (APS) incident. No doubt, I am strongly swayed by Imran Khan’s argument that the security of APS was the responsibility of the army and the buck of their professional failure cannot be passed on to the political government. However, there are some other facts that can also not be conveniently ignored. When the planners of the APS attack were scheming from their hideouts, the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was busy demonstrating his dance skills in Islamabad. From the federal government ministers to major political leaders of opposition parties, from analysts to an ordinary, sensible layman, all had shown concern over Imran Khan’s ill-timed distraction from the core issue of anti-terrorism in the wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the ensuing internally displaced persons (IDPs) problem.
As if that was not enough, the most shocking damage to the brand has been caused by the scandalous manner in which Khan sahib chose to enter wedlock. The timing of the wedding and issuance of wedding pictures in fancy kurta suits while the wounds of the Peshawar tragedy were still fresh carry the Ratner effect for Khan sahib’s brand. Perhaps now he will try cashing in on the negative public sentiment against the government rather than depending on selling his own brand to the voters. At least on social media one can feel the Ratner effect as we see less aggressive marketing of Khan sahib’s image, as his critics on social media appear to be having an upper hand for the first time. To confound the problem the political virginity advantage the PTI enjoyed at the time of the aggressive election campaign in 2013 is now no more available to Imran Khan. So, repairing his damaged brand should be the top priority for Imran Khan. Taking a break from active politics and focusing more on charity work may also be good advice.