The way India was branded

By Khushboo Tanna , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | July 07, 2009
Amitabh Kant, who has recently released a book called Branding India - An Incredible Story, shares details of the Incredible India campaign and the book with afaqs!

Amitabh Kant is currently the principal secretary and special commissioner (industries), Kerala and has released his book called Branding India - An Incredible Story, which talks extensively about the Incredible India campaign and how the campaign helped put India on the world tourist itinerary. afaqs! caught up with Kant and got some details about the campaign as well as the book. Read on to find out more.

afaqs!: Why did you decide to write a book about the Incredible India story and who does it target?

& #BANNER1 & #Kant: I was probably the only officer who has done a long stint in tourism at the state level and then at the central level, and I felt that there was a huge need to understand the importance and significance of tourism as an employment creator and as a catalyst for GDP growth. I thought that the case study for Kerala and India had an example for other states to become major employment creators through tourism.

The book is for everyone who is into travel and tourism and understands advertising. MBA students can also use the book as a case study.

afaqs!: Did you think that the campaign would become so famous?

Kant: We were very sure that we would do a contemporary, international campaign, which would be the first of its kind, would stand out and become a model for other countries of the world and it has gone on to do just that.

afaqs!: Why did the Ministry of Tourism (MOT) decide to launch Incredible India, a global campaign?

Kant: I joined the MOT in July 2001 and right after that, the attack on the World Trade Centre took place in September 2001, which was followed by the war in Afghanistan. Due to those events, the airlines industry was in shambles and travel advisors were against India. The general hotel occupancy rate was about 15-20 per cent. The challenge was to really bring back consumer demand from key and new markets.

So in a way, it was the crisis that stimulated the MOT into doing the Incredible India campaign and the crisis was the catalyst for the campaign.

afaqs!: What was the MOT doing to promote India before the Incredible India campaign?

Kant: The MOT has 18 foreign offices and before the Incredible India campaign, these offices promoted India by doing individual campaigns. For instance, one foreign office had a campaign called Spiritual India, but there was no core integrated thought amongst all the offices. That's why the MOT launched Incredible India, a centralised campaign.

afaqs! : Considering the fact that the MOT empanels a host of agencies to work on its campaign, how did you ensure that they follow the same line of thought and produce creatives that are consistent?

Kant: For the first three years, the international campaign was handled by Ogilvy India (spearheaded by V Sunil, who is now global partner and chief creative, W+K India). After that, Grey Worldwide created an international campaign (led by Pratap Suthan, who is now national creative director, Cheil Worldwide).

Earlier, the international campaigns were handled only by these two agencies. As far as the domestic market is concerned, different agencies work together to promote North India to the South Indian, East India to West Indians and so on.

Unlike most government organisations, the MOT does not have a fixed two year contact with the empanelled agencies. The MOT calls for a pitch whenever it is looking for a fresh perspective in its campaign.

afaqs!: How did you decide to use the word 'Incredible' in the campaign? What was the thought process behind the use of the word?

Kant: It was important to change the whole perspective of India, such as saints in the Himalayas and snake charmers, and present a young, vibrant and contemporary India through the campaign.

The intention was to differentiate India from the clutter in the market place. We had to differentiate India based on its strength, which is its heritage and culture. India still stands out as the No. 1 destination worldwide as far as culture is concerned. The intention was to take the campaign to very high levels of international feel.

There was a lot of internal debate and discussion before we decided to use the word 'Incredible'. The creative feel of the exclamation in the 'I' goes to V Sunil. (The dot in the exclamation mark represents a 'bindi').

afaqs!: What was the thought process behind 'God's Own Country' (used to promote Kerala)?

Kant: The intention was to differentiate Kerala as it was seen as a high mass and low value destination. The strategy was to make it a high value destination and that is when we started marketing Kerala based on ayurveda and the backwaters, and it changed the profile of the state.

afaqs!: What other factors did you take into consideration while working on Incredible India?

Kant: About 97 per cent of people come to India by air, so it was important that we revamp air connectivity and airport infrastructure - because branding is not only about advertising, it's about the whole linkage to airports, airlines, infrastructure and rural tourism. The reality on ground has to be in sync with the branding image and that backend integration is very hard to work on. That is what I am trying to bring out in this book.

afaqs!: How did you manage to stay away from clichés such as Bollywood and cricket - things that are synonymous with India?

Kant: A major part of the campaign was based on research which showed that India is very strong on culture and heritage, and that was the key area we wanted to focus on. The campaign was born out of a lot of research and it was important to market it based on that research.

afaqs!: How has the budget for Incredible India evolved over the years?

Kant: When the campaign started in 2001, the ad spend was only Rs 15 crore. Now, it has grown to about Rs 200 crore as the campaign got results. Also, from the first year onwards, the traffic and earnings started growing - the earnings went up from $2.2 billion to $11.8 billion. International tourist arrivals went from 2.2 million visitors to 5.6 million visitors, while domestic tourism increased from 180 million to almost 500 million.

afaqs!: How would you define Incredible India's target audience?

Kant: The world itself is changing from sun, sand and sea to experiential tourism and that gives India a comparative advantage on account of its rich heritage and culture. We felt that the positioning of India should be for the upper end of the market, the discerning and the alternate independent traveller who is looking for a unique experience.