Inclusion and Exclusion Works Well in Both Marketing and Politics

Dr. Alby Anand Kurian

The Inclusion-Exclusion Game, as a Marketing Tool in Politics

Guest Editorial, Written by Dr Alby Anand Kurian, 
June 6, 2019, Singapore

Imagine that you are sitting in the portico of your very select club; you have just been admitted as a member there. Around you, you hear the soft hum of conversation, the rich and famous are unwinding over the weekend. You feel very good about life, at the moment.

Somewhere at the back of your mindfairly deep in the recesses of it, where you don’t have to confront itis  the small thought that you enjoy it the more, because all of this is not available to everyone, that you have been included and many others have been excluded.

The Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game

In the case of your club, we see that the majority of people are excluded and only a small minority is included. What we see currently playing out across the world in politics is rather different in many significant ways, it could be referred to as the Inclusion-Exclusion Game. Since election victories are decided by numbers, to win an election, the player must attract the majority.

Political parties and political leaders have various means of winning an election – by ensuring a good economy, equal rights for all, peace at home and abroad – in short, by good governance. Or instead, political parties and leaders could choose to follow the path that we see increasingly being used – they could employ the Inclusion-Exclusion Game. We have seen recent applications of the Game to elections in several countries. Since election victories are decided by numbers, the player must attract the majority to win an election. (This is a rather dramatic difference from positional products, where the majority is excluded.)  

Here is Subramaniam Swamy, a Harvard University alumnus, a member of India’s Parliament and an articulate leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, talking about the relevance of good governance to elections. ‘Governance is a necessary condition for achieving electoral victory, not a sufficient condition. For sufficient, you needed some sentimental issues. For us, for the BJP, the sentimental issue was Hindutva. And unless we articulate that, we will not be able to win. Economic development is a must, but you can win the polls (even) if the economy is flattened.’

Subramaniam Swamy may be right. The Bharatiya Janata Party has employed the Inclusion-Exclusion Game rather adroitly to win elections, using their call for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (‘Hindu Nation’), a concept that excludes non-Hindus. President Donald Trump seems to have used the Game with equally consummate skill. While Trump’s clarion call may have been to make America great again, was the underlying message, at a subliminal level, to make it white again?

Writes Steve Phillips in the New York Times, ‘From the day he opened his presidential campaign in 2015 by demonizing Mexicans to the enthusiasm generated by the calls for building a wall along the Mexican border to aggressively ramping up deportations of immigrants of color to eliminating DACA to vulgarly denigrating African nations and Haiti, this administration has been quite clear about its preference for white people.’
You see a similar pattern of the Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game being played by politicians in far-flung countries. In Malaysia, it was institutionalized several years ago. The Malaysian government has conceived and developed policies to favor the ‘bumiputras’ (‘sons of the soil’) which The Economist had denounced as "racially discriminatory". The groups included are the Malays and other indigenous peoples, those that are excluded are the Chinese and Indian Malaysian communities. A similar pattern is visible in Indonesia with the Chinese minority being the one to be excluded.

Of course, the beneficiaries of the Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game could enjoy subsidies and reservations from the government (as in Malaysia) but even without tangible benefits, the Game would still achieve its objective. More than concrete profit, it is the sense of inclusion (‘We are part of the group’) and the pleasure that comes from exclusion (‘They are not part of the group’) that makes it work. (Remember that the gratification that accrues from being a member of an exclusive club does not emanate from the club infrastructure and facilities that it offers.)

Why people buy into the Game  
In her studies of Nazi Germany, Hannah Arendt  wondered in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil if the events of the time could be explained by a ‘tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion, without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions’. 

That certainly could be part of the answer but, perhaps, not the whole of it. The call of the Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game, when it is made, seems almost impossible to resist. The call seems to become more irresistible when it rationalised in religious terms. The religious underpinning to the campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi  in India is rather obvious; in the case of Donald Trump, it was less obvious but the dog whistle was heard and understood by his target audience.   

The Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game is also made irresistible at times when it is justified on the basis of history, and on the basis of past wrongs (which could be real or manufactured). Adolf Hitler was adept at using historical wrongs very adroitly to his advantage. His goal, he declared, was to bring about a New Order, to replace the post-World War I international order (dominated by Britain and France that he claimed was unjust).

Subramanium Swamy harps on similar issues, as do members of his party in India: “We Hindus are being put upon, we are 80 percent, but we are treated like the 10 percent… We are the ones who fought the Mughals, we are the ones who fought the British, but Hindus are the ones who have not been able to rule.”

The Globalisation Paradox
Sometimes, it may seem anomalous that we are seeing the Game at play in these times of globalisation. Technologies are erasing borders as never before. Large populations are traveling on work and for leisure. It may be better understood if we realise that, perhaps, the backlash occurs, not in spite of globalisation but because of it. At one level, while it may seem we welcome it, perhaps, at another level (not often expressed), we resent and fear it. 

Even the humourist Joel Stein of Time, was motivated enough to write of the changes he saw in his own home town. (In his inimitable way, he wrote, ‘I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J’. He subsequently apologised, saying, ‘I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town when I went to visit it.’).

There could be a biological hardwiring, within us that makes it difficult for us to view the world as one global village. As the zoologist Desmond Morris pointed out in The Human Zoo, ‘The sobering lesson to be learnt from all this is that the ancient biological need of the human species for a distinct tribal identity is a powerful force that cannot be subdued… Well-meaning authorities talk airily about “hopes for a global society”. They see clearly the technical possibility of such a development, given the marvels of modern communication, but they stubbornly overlook the biological difficulties.’

Those who practice the Game today use the changes in local culture that are caused by globalisation and the unease that some members of the community may feel to provoke thoughts that their community and their culture are under threat. Given that the Inclusion-Exclusion Political Game is proving to be an effective marketing tool in politics, it is very likely that we will see even more of it in the future, than we have in the past.

(Alby Anand Kurian, PhD, is a marketing communications practitioner and theorist whose clients have included Coca Cola, P&G, Nestle, Pepsi Foods and Unilever. Kurian also teaches at the MBA programme and supervises the doctorate programme of the Management Development Institute of Singapore. His book, The Peddler of Soaps, featured in the bestseller list. His recent concept, ‘Conflict as a Marketing Tool’  has been published by Wharton Business School.)

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