Modi’s coronavirus speech: from the digital marketer’s playbook

By now, most Indians and even people around the world would have seen Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation yesterday evening at 8pm.

While there were only skeletal details on our nation’s preparedness to the crisis caused by coronavirus, what was particularly illuminating and interesting is how much Modi thinks like a digital marketer.

A digital marketer’s primary concern and reason for existence (and awards, of course) is output and outtakes, and not necessarily outcome.

Output is what he or she produces and floats online. This is entirely within their control as long as they are on top of the budgets and teams.

Outtakes are what the audiences do with the output. This is immediate and almost visceral. This is what most digital marketers are usually obsessed with.

Outcome, or the value or impact the output has created, takes time.

Digital marketing outtakes are usually impressions, Likes, Shares, Comments/replies etc. And marketers seek inspiration from trending topics and other interesting happenings around them to bake them into their own campaigns and ride on them.

Besides having no comments on actual efforts around testing, hospitals, quarantine etc. the two specific call-to-action points from Modi is a masterstroke in headline management and PR.

One: Even as he clearly asked for a few weeks from Indians, the ask narrowed down to a specific request for one single day, as a way to showcase it for ‘preparedness’; a trial. It was branded with a catchy title – Janata Curfew. It’s new, turns heads, has a hook that makes people think (“Curfew is imposed, this is self-imposed? Wow, that is new!”) and is fairly easy to adhere to because it is just for one day.

This is the equivalent of ‘Drop in to our store on (a particular date and time) to get the best deals…’. What if he had asked us to practice social distancing for say 1-2 weeks? Then that becomes cumbersome for many people and they venture out… leading to poor headlines that contradict the Prime Minister’s ask. That would be the equivalent of ‘Drop in to our store anytime all of next week to avail this offer’. People trickle in all through the week but there is no one single-day and occasion when they all perform a singular call-to-action that leads to mighty impressive PR. Walking in all through the week in smaller sets needs to be seen collectively as an outcome – you can, by the end of the week, claim that a total X (say, 1,500) number of people walked to avail the offer, but that’s only your claim, backed by 1-2 people at any given point in time via photos. Compare that to a photo with 100 people at the same time in the store.

And Janata Curfew is almost a hashtag by itself; he could have even added, ‘Use #JanataCurfew on Sunday to show your support’, like his earlier call-to-action on #MainBhiChowkidar. Even if he doesn’t, that is precisely what people would end up doing anyway since they have been conditioned on those lines adequately by now.

Two: To appreciate the services of essential service staff (which is an extremely thoughtful idea, in principle; something that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s address had too. She framed it as, “And let me also express my thanks here to the people who are too rarely thanked. These days, anyone who sits at a supermarket checkout or fills shelves is doing one of the hardest jobs there is at the moment. Thank you for being there for your fellow citizens and literally keeping the place running”), Modi asked for a 5-minute gratitude-showing session on the same day as Janata Curfew – March 22nd.

And he doesn’t leave the mode-of-thanking to our imagination. If he does, we may have 130 crore different ways to show it, and that wouldn’t converge into a single narrative that can demonstrate specific outtakes. The equivalent of, ‘Hit Like if you…’ was, “Stand near your balcony and clap or bang on a plate”. Clearly inspired by all those Italians singing in their balcony and an actual social media-led public clapping session from Spain, this is the 2nd masterstroke from headline management.

I’m reasonably sure this Sunday India would witness an ear-splitting racket like never before between 5-5:05 pm that would be televised and played endlessly.

So, Modi’s output was to place 2 call-to-action items in his speech.

That output will pave way to 2 outtakes. These will be visible and tangible outtakes that the whole country would be looking forward to, collectively. It’d almost be like watching Modi’s ‘post’ gain Likes and Retweets (or Shares on WhatsApp, Likes on Instagram etc.) in real-time.

They would generate an insane amount of PR, videos, comments and debates for a long time. And these outtakes, by themselves, would be taken as a resounding success of his speech.

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