Wouldn’t A Mark Tully Make For A Better Incredible India Brand Ambassador Than A Bachchan?
In the brouhaha over the axing of Aamir Khan we had axiomatically assumed that Amitabh Bachchan should step into the breach in the puerile belief that only film stars can market India to foreigners.
Exit Aamir Khan and enter Amitabh Bachchan as Incredible India brand ambassador. We as a country seem unable to think beyond film stars and cricketers for endorsements and brand ambassadorship. For the superstar of yesteryears, though, it is a sort of promotion – from being the brand ambassador of Gujarat Tourism to that of the entire nation’s. Parenthetically, one wonders if he would quit the first, now that it is subsumed by the second. He must, in fairness to other states, because otherwise it would be construed that he is making an extra pitch for Gujarat. But that is not the subject of this article.
The subject is why we as a nation set tremendous store by film stars and cricketers even in walks of life other than films. That we are starry eyed is, of course, trite but one expects the government of India to view the Incredible India campaign through a different prism than the one it views, for example, the polio drops campaign with. The target audience for the polio drops campaign is starry-eyed Indian mothers and grandmothers. The Incredible India campaign, on the other hand, is aimed at foreign tourists, young and old. The reluctant among them are likely to listen more to an Indophile foreigner than to a film star whose writ abroad runs at best among the Indian diaspora which, in any case, really doesn’t need to be wooed given its umbilical cord connection. And such an Indophile can be country or continent specific.
Why not Mark Tully, the most durable BBC man in India who, post-retirement, chose to make India his home. He knows India, its history and its places of interest better than many Indians. With all these pluses, he would make a good brand ambassador for India among the British in particular and Europeans in general. Fitting the bill for same reasons could be William Dalrymple, the Scottish historian, curator, broadcaster and critic who, above all, is also an Indophile and who, like Tully, believes from the core of his heart that India is a lot more than the land of snake charmers (though his candidature may not go down well with the present Indian ruling dispensation).
Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Oliver, who have had Indian foodies eating out of their hands, can similarly have the foreigner foodies, especially the Americans, who make no secret of their gastronomy fixation, salivating at the prospect of savouring authentic, mouthwatering Indian delicacies. India can be a great destination for gastronomic tourism and who best than these two to lure gastronomes from across the world to India?
Similarly, celebrity hosts of international travel shows on television can also be great brand ambassadors for Indian tourism. Since we are targeting foreign tourists, their appeal will be greater.
The point is that potential foreign tourists are likely to be moved more by a foreigner, though there is a view that countries like Malaysia, Dubai and Australia avoid celebrities, native or foreign, but focus instead on their USPs, be they pristine beaches or forests or dazzling skyscrapers, to woo foreign tourists.
But if a celebrity is deemed a must, then credibility must not be sacrificed at the altar of fame. A renowned dentist endorsing a toothpaste brand is likely to cut ice with adult viewers rather than a pretty film star baring her sparkling teeth. Of course, such a rational choice has to yield to the pester power of children in respect of products amenable to such power, like cold drinks and snacks. Be that as it may, marketing gurus aver that at the end of the day, a satisfied customer is the best brand ambassador. If this weighs with our foreign tourism policy wonks, as it ought to, we must look for an assorted bunch of Indophiles, whose endorsement would carry greater credibility than, say, Amitabh Bachchan’s in their respective areas of influence.
That said, we must also get over our tendency to oversimplify or straightjacket an issue. The foreigner Indophile norm should not be cast in stone as the only inviolate one.
One size, indeed, doesn’t fit all. Alas, in the brouhaha over the axing of Aamir Khan we had axiomatically assumed that Amitabh Bachchan should step into the breach in the puerile belief that only film stars can market India to foreigners. Not quite.
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