Neither Big B nor SRK: Can Incredible India think beyond film stars?
Promote the location and not the Bollywood celebrity.
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So Aamir "Intolerant" Khan has been sacked from the Incredible India campaign (OK OK, "contract not renewed" to be politically correct) and Amitabh "Tolerant" Bachchan is the frontrunner to replace him.
But then why not have Akshay "Mr Bharat" Kumar or Shah Rukh "NRI King" Khan? Or then what about a prominent heroines like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone if you are a feminist? But a larger question to be asked is why doesn't the government of India dare to think beyond Bollywood?
Why are we so obsessed with Bollywood that they dominate our every reality show, talent hunt and even school function?
Why do we need the artificial sing-and-dance world of Bollywood to promote the real, stark and diverse India, which is radically different? Hasn't Amitabh already diluted his brand by selling everything under the sun? And wait a minute, isn't SRK already the lifelong brand ambassador of Incredible Switzerland?
But we are diverting a bit. Let's go back to the beginning. What is the purpose of Incredible India anyway? It was a specific campaign launched to promote the tremendous Indian tourism potential by showcasing its culture and history in fields like yoga and spirituality. (That sounds totally non-filmy to me!)
Here's the thing. Bollywood is not as widespread as we are led to believe. Most of the money made from the foreign box office is from NRIs and PIOs and they don't need any convincing about how incredible India is in the first place. They romanticise it in any case.
A hard cold fact is that most people in the West are not that familiar with Bollywood and its stars. They vaguely know that it's a sing and dance thingy.
In fact even if you take an absolute superstar like Sachin Tendulkar, he's hardly known in the non-cricketing world. If you don't believe me then you probably missed the whole Maria Sharapova controversy.
This tennis superstar was born in Russia, lives in America and travels the whole world but was clueless about Sachin. If she saw him in an Incredible India ad, then she'd probably change the channel.
The point I am making is that the number of foreigners who are clueless about both cricket and Bollywood is a huge market and you'd be wasting your money thanks to the exorbitantly high fees that our superstars charge.
The economics is straight.
The Indian taxpayer is funding the campaign.
The foreigner who doesn't know much about Bollywood or cricket is the target audience.
In fact if you have seen the old campaign then you'd realise how silly the whole thing is. The ministry of tourism declared that it wanted to bring more and more tourists into India. Instead of showcasing our tremendous diversity, we, by and large, had a sanctimonious Aamir lecturing Indians on how they should treat foreign tourists better.
So here's the incredible idea. Focus on the tourist destination and not the personality. Promote the location and not the star.
Instead of having one superstar doing 20 ads, why can't we have 20 personalities doing one ad each and promoting and developing a single location?
If you got chess champion Viswanathan Anand to introduce Kanyakumari, boxing champion Mary Kom promoting Thoubal, tennis player Sania Mirza showcasing the Char Minar… The sum would be greater than one Bollywood star giving 20 lectures and it would appeal to a much wider audience.
And if you're still stuck on Bollywood, then remember that outside India, Irrfan Khan with 15 international films - including the $1.67 billion earner Jurassic World and the upcoming Tom Hanks' Inferno - is the most famous face outside India.
(Here's another bizarre thought: Get Infosys supremo Narayana Murthy in a tourism ad targeting American audiences. It could be a runaway hit.)
Or what if we got 36 young and fresh faces to promote the 29 states and 7 union territories? What if Doordarshan conducted a talent hunt to get them? You'd have a lucrative reality show that would make tonnes of money and get immense publicity (ever country in the world loves reality shows) even before you launched the Incredible India campaign!
Or forget the face and just focus on the director. Remember Vidhu Vinod Chopra directing the Pepsi ad that made waves throughout the country? Just pick out 25 locations you want promoted and come out with 25 beautiful ads to showcase them by a solid director.
That would hit the target audience more effectively.
(Get Hollywood star Morgan Freeman to do a voiceover and you'd secure the attention of every foreign tourist!)
Another point I am making is that it's extremely lazy to get a Bollywood superstar. Most of the ads they come in are mediocre and the director thinks that their mere presence will get more than half the job done.
It may work when Amitabh sells Gujarat because he's already a superstar for the rest of country. That's not necessarily the case with every place other in the world. It also has a greater chance of backfiring as the intolerance controversy showed in the Aamir case.
Let's start showcasing our incredible country for a change and not our country's incredibly rich superstars!