Brand Sajith wave gets traction

Tuesday, 1 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Brand Sajith has the highest equity on ‘Political leadership’ – AI research 

After a long wait, brand Sajith was declared to be the contender against brand Gotabaya for 16 November showdown at the Presidential Elections 2019. 

Whilst there is much speculation and Sri Lanka went into many theories during 49-day lag, the ultimate winner was democracy, in my view – the logic being that the public was disgruntled on the performance of the current administration and people wanted to see a new face in the UNP camp. 

For brand Sajith, strictly from a marketing perspective it was a good wait as there was strong ‘brand pull’ from the public powered by heavyweights Mangala Samaraweera and Malik Samarawickrama that has got strong momentum.

Especially in the last two weeks, the headline stories in all news lines being on the ‘UNP candidate power struggle’ and the public meetings supporting his candidacy have created a ‘wave’ in the country, making brand Sajith a top of mind brand. 

There were moments of the ‘great R. Premadasa’ brand architecture being seen in brand Sajith, which sure augurs well for the sustainability of the campaign. Now the challenge is to develop alliances across the country to attract the north-east vote and then to maintain the brand salience to garner a 45% of the Sinhala vote will be the task ahead. 


AI and brand perception 

If we use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to track brand perceptions on Brand Sajith, there are three key study areas that a diagnostic can focus on. This will be similar to diagnostics that can be done on a tea brand, a hotel or a banking product that is being done all over the world.

The first insight that can be done will be on the name drivers of a brand (which is what I discussed two weeks back on ‘brand Gotabaya’ in Daily FT). These are key attributes that a typical brand is pushing in the marketplace to show relevance and uniqueness. For instance, in the case of brand Gotabaya the key equity driver was ‘Effective Government Service,’ etc.

The second diagnostic that can be tracked via AI is ‘category adoption drivers’. This is what a typical consumer will want from a presidential candidate such as ‘law and order,’ jobs, reducing cost of living, etc.

The third diagnostic that can be checked out from the study is ‘delight drivers’. This is what attribute the people will be delighted to have, Environment protection, as an example.


AI insights – last 3 months 

If we were to look at the ‘category adoption drivers’ (what attributes people want from a presidential candidate) during the period June-August 2019, the number one ranked attribute was ‘national security and law and order’. The second strongest attribute was ‘the presidential candidate – the person’. The third and fourth were being ‘corruption free’ and ‘human rights violations’.

In marketing jargon we call these category adoption drivers, meaning the attributes that will be considered to get a voter to adopt a brand. 


Presidential candidate – Sajith ahead 

If we analyse the political brands at play, the AI research diagnostic is throwing out some interesting insights. Brand Sajith has low traction on the equity driver ‘national security and law and order,’ which is the key attribute that people want from a presidential hopeful. This is understandable post the Easter Attacks, but is an area that brand Sajith must focus and communicate in the next 45 days. This will be key to getting a 45% share from the Sinhala vote. 

For academic reasons the high equity on brand Karu is because of the initiative that was taken during the 51-day siege of Parliament and the outstanding leadership that he demonstrated. Brand Gotabaya has strong equity on this attribute. 


On the second key attribute that people want, ‘presidential candidate,’ the brand Sajith is way ahead. The strength of this equity driver is so strong in relation to competitors that, in my view, it must be further expanded. 

From a strictly marketing perspective, this attribute can be made a key differentiator for brand Sajith given his DNA is strongly anchored with the political history of his father late R. Premadasa. If properly done, it has the potential to dislodge the first attribute from the ‘current adoption drivers’ which is what smart campaign managers do in elections. 

It’s an expensive task as strong investment on advertising and communications must be done but it is possible. The best case in point we saw was the Indian elections and how Prime Minister Modi beautifully implemented this strategy.


Brand Sajith – unplugged

If we do a deep dive into the DNA of brand Sajith, the deep-rooted political threadings can be seen on the high attribute rankings on the attribute ‘presidential candidate’.

He was born on 12 January 1967 and went on to attend St. Thomas Preparatory School, Royal College, Colombo and Mill Hill School, London. The talented brand Sajith won the A/L prize for politics and business studies and went on to be appointed a prefect, a rare honour for a foreign student, whilst he pursued his hobby of playing the piano and guitar and singing, which is an indication that he can attract the attention of a crowd. He played first XI cricket for almost four years, captaining the side in 1986. 

A graduate of the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science of the University of London, his degree covered the areas of economics, politics and international relations which will hold him in good stead in the years to come in the Sri Lankan landscape.

Academically, post the B.Sc. at LSE, brand Sajith decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Management at the University of Maryland near Washington DC. 

During his studies, he also had the rare distinction of completing his internship at the US Senate, working in its Foreign Relations Committee under Senator Larry Pressler, a Republican from South Dakota which has trained him on international public diplomacy. 

Some of the other personalities his formative mind has been influenced by are personalities such as John McCain and former presidential candidate John Kerry. Hence it is fair to say that brand Sajith has what is required to strengthen the second equity driver – political leader – and go on to win the November 16 election. It all depends on how sharp and disciplined the marketing campaign will be in the next 45 days, which will mean a strong research-driven approach.


Brand credibility – Sajith

If one go deeper into the science of marketing with a word analysis on brand Sajith, the typical ‘word cloud’ that emerges include ‘happy, forward, blessings from Buddha,’ which is very interesting as they are all likeable sentiments of a human being. The powerfulness of this ‘word cloud’ is when compared with his key competitor – brand Gotabaya – who comes from a military background. 

Hence once again from a marketing personality perspective ‘to develop a personality’ for the brand in the communication strategy, these word cloud elements can be used as a competitive advantage.

To pick up some noteworthy performances of brand Sajith in his career: In 2010 he won the highest percentage of preferential votes of 89% in the United National Party. In 2015 too, he achieved a 86% preferential voter performance which is commendable and tells us the logic for his strong ‘presidential candidate – equity’.


Named brand equity drivers – Gotabaya 

If I go back to the last analysis I made some weeks back on ‘brand Gotabaya,’ I shared the ‘named equity drivers on brand Gotabaya,’ meaning the attributes that the candidate is pushing in the marketplace which we call ‘named brand equity drivers’. The first one was ‘Effective government service’. On this attribute the equity score was surprisingly stronger towards brand Sajith. This could be due to the strong implementation he has been doing in Hambantota and in the Ministry of Housing. 

I guess this is where research-based campaigning will have to come into play to read the consumer before actually driving marketing by both candidates. 

Brand Gota is a clear leader as against brand Sajith in the second attribute pushed by brand Gota in his ‘named brand driver’ – national security, law and order. This is mainly due to the war victory that was championed by him and the debacle that Sri Lanka faced on 21 April that took away 259 lives and left over 500 injured. 

On the third attribute of ‘economic development,’ brand Gotabaya comes out strongly but weak on ‘education,’ which may be because of the non-traction on this area based on his work today. 



If I am to summarise the in-depth study on the two brands, ‘brand Gotabaya’ can be marginally ahead of ‘brand Sajith’ on his ‘named brand drivers’ (attributes that brand Gotabaya is pushing in the market). However on the attributes that consumers are looking for which we call ‘category adoption drivers,’ brand Sajith comes out stronger.

If we name this the ‘August Wave,’ it will be interesting to see what the ‘September Wave’ will bring based on the work done by the candidates last month. Then comes the ‘October Wave’ which will in fact give a good indication on the probable consumer behaviour on 16 November. Interesting times ahead strictly from a scientific marketing view.

(Dr. Athukorala is the President/CEO for Clootrack – Sri Lanka, Maldives and serves on a many Director Boards in the South Asian Region. The thoughts are strictly his personal views and not the views of the organisations he serves. He is an alumnus of Harvard University.)

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