Branding Yoga: A case study of 2 different approaches

Superb explanation of a case by HBS Prof. Rohit Deshpandé.

In Branding Yoga, cowritten with HBS Global Research Group associate director Kerry Herman and research associate Annelena Lobb, Deshpandé examines the different paths of two successful yoga teachers.

There’s Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga in America, who has aggressively fought to patent his approach to traditional yoga style. Then there is the former model and ballet dancer Tara Stiles, who isn’t particularly interested in yoga’s roots or rules, but rather in mixing up different styles of yoga to create a beneficial exercise.

“There are two elements of brand authenticity, and they appeal to two different sorts of people,” Deshpandé says.

The case also discusses issues with respect to branding of yoga:

The Indian government, meanwhile, took umbrage with Bikram’s legal claims, arguing that yoga was part of the country’s traditional knowledge. The government put together a panel of 100 historians and scientists that began cataloging 1,500 yoga poses found in ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu, and Persian. The goal was not to challenge Bikram in court, the case explains, but rather to keep others from following his proprietary example…

Deshpandé taught the case for the first time this past spring, drawing a lively debate among participants who were divided on whether the commercialization of yoga is appropriate.

“The discussion was very heated,” he says. “The argument against it is that religion is something that is very personal, and that it should not be commercialized.”

(The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has weighed in on the debate as well. The organization launched an awareness campaign called “Take Back Yoga—Bringing to Light Yoga’s Hindu Roots.” The goal was not to convert yoga devotees to Hinduism, according to the organizers, but rather to have them acknowledge the connection.

HAF cofounder and board member Aseem Shukla wrote a 2010 piece for the Washington Post’s On Faith column called “The Theft of Yoga.” In it, Shukla blasted the “facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis, and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.”

The other side of the argument focuses on business rather than religion. “It’s all about creating value for a large audience. By using marketing and branding you can be more effective and bring [your product] to a larger audience,” Deshpandé says.

Which side are the visitors on?

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