A Proust Questionnaire for Personality Brands: Mahatma Gandhi

January 24, 2019 | By: Martin Cribbs

n a famous episode of the television show Entourage, the main character Vincent Chase, goes from talent agency to talent agency, with each firm promising to make him a “brand”. Unbeknownst to each agency Chase visits, every pitch is presented as an original, brilliant, never-been-done-before idea. After hearing the same song and dance over and over again, it’s clear to the character and audience that there’s nothing different or special about most approaches to celebrity branding. An overcrowded, largely undifferentiated celebrity fragrance market is evidence of that. 

Most celebrities aren’t brands. Legendary icons are.

Working with the trustees of the Michael Jackson estate, one might be startled to hear him referred to in the present tense. It’s a subtly powerful stratagem that the custodians of his legacy use to contextualize the pop superstar as a contemporary, ongoing influencer. Rather than “Michael Jackson was a great dancer and choreographer,“ it might be “Michael Jackson’s dancing is regarded as the benchmark for great choreography.” Repeating this shrewd practice is the kind of discipline employed by strong brands and part of what helps shape an icon’s long-term legacy.   

As agents for some of the most legendary icons in history, we created our own, informal, ‘Proust Questionnaire for Personality Brands’ and asked ourselves how we think and speak about our notable clientele. In honor of the 150 anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, we're starting with the great leader and civil rights activist.

1. What do you do in relation to Gandhi? Beanstalk is the agent for Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, who grew up with him on his ashram. Arun speaks for the Gandhi family when granting approval for commercial uses of Gandhi’s name, image, or likeness. (Gandhi’s actual name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The word “Mahatma” is an honorific title that means ‘great-souled’ and is used as a title of great love and respect.)

2. Why/how did you choose to work with the Gandhi family?  Gandhi is one of the most revered people in human history. In addition to being a great honor, we thought we could be of genuine service by helping the family nagivate the constant use of his image.

3. What was Gandhi's greatest virtue? His commitment to total non-violence.

4. What is the primary message you want to impart to history about   Gandhi? He helped dismantle one of the most powerful empires the world had ever known without raising a fist, without shooting a gun, without the obscenity of war.

5. What does  Gandhi’s legacy do, right now, present tense? The great civil and human rights leaders of the last century, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama, all spoke of Gandhi’s influence on their own activisim. His practice of non-violent, civil disobedience, has lived on.

6. What or who are barriers to Gandhi’s sustained legacy? Lovelessness and ignorance.

7. What do you like about Gandhi’s continuing presence in culture?  Like Einstein, you don’t need to explain who Gandhi is; his image is so iconic and his legacy so impactful that his name alone is synonymous with peace. Gandhi belongs to everyone. He’s the world’s kindly, wise grandfather and is oftentimes portrayed in ways that are lovingly irreverent and fun.

8. The dictionary defines myths as “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society.” Who or what contributes to  Gandhi’s ongoing, positive mythmaking and how does that get told? Arun Gandhi has been a tireless advocate and evangelist for Gandhian principles for seven decades. More than anyone, he spreads the word of total non-violence in the world and keeps his grandfather’s legacy central to the global, political conversation.