Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Aug 28, 2003
Columns - Scene & Unseen
Freedom as a brand
THE midnight of August 15, that fateful night in 1947 saw the birth of a free India.
As free India made its famous tryst with destiny, there began an enigma that is still wrapped in mystery and confusion.
On the one hand you had a geographical area, Bharata Varsha, that seemed to be as old as time itself. On the other, you had a newly-born nation that we call India.
On the one hand you had a fierce pride in the great tradition of culture, music, art, dance forms and history of Bharat.
On the other you have a diffidence that makes one act more like a foreigner than an Indian in India.
On the one hand you have the world marvelling at the rich mosaic of Kanchipuram saris and khadi silk. On the other you have an entire urban generation sporting a "global" look.
Think about it
We are perfectly at ease reading and writing in English and wearing Western clothes. My nine-year-old son feels shy to come out with me wearing Indian clothes because he sticks out like a sore thumb in an ocean of long short pants and baggy t-shirts.
Look around you
Starbucks coffee shops selling coffee at Rs 60 could make a dent in Chennai where traditionally, people have enjoyed the rare privilege of rich "degree" coffee made from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans and thick frothing milk.
Fly the flag
Symbols have long been evocative expressions, communicating a wealth of feelings and emotions. There is probably nothing more evocative than the national flag. It brings out all the pride and confidence one has in one's nation, and therefore in oneself. It stirs the conscience and could be inspirational. Sahara ran a full-page advertisement in which they had Amitabh Bachhan exhorting everyone to fly the tricolour on Independence Day and achieve a sea of flags. The sentiment was spot on. The stars and stripes and the Union Jack have long been revered. We see the tricolour as synonymous with officialdom, and there begins its downfall. It needed a public-spirited Jindal to take the Government to court and win every Indian the right to fly the national flag at their wish.
I believe we need to exploit the poignancy and deep-rooted feeling that a national flag can bring out in our people.
Communication is the single most important tool that can bring back national pride and self esteem. And Independence Day was the ideal day to do it.
What was the result?
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, came out with a tired-looking full-page advertisement with a picture of the Prime Minister and the Red Fort in the background. The copy was a quote from the speech that the PM had read. "I am confident that India will become a developed nation by 2020. Come, let us strive together to turn this resolve into reality."
Thank you Sir. If I come across a set of more uninspiring words I will mail it to the DAVP. They can use it for next year's advertisement.
What about corporate India?
Well some of them tried. "Freedom from engaged tones" read the tricolour headline from Hindustan Petroleum. The copy gave you the corporation's new telephone numbers.
Lagey Raho India said a well-crafted typography in saffron, green and blue. This was a birthday greeting to the nation from Alpenliebe lollipops.
"The freedom struggle began over a 100 years ago, and still continues," read the headline from Metlife India Insurance. The copy talked about freedom from financial burdens through Metlife's financial planning guide.
Corporate India seems to forget that building `India the brand' can only be beneficial. India Inc seems to be trotting along with blinkers on, ignoring the big picture. The perception of a proud resurgent India, confident and self-reliant, can only prompt Indians to buy Indian, and ultimately goad the world to view the `Made in India' label with a little more respect than it does today.
However, for that to happen, we must look inwards first and see what we really have going for ourselves. Then we must bring out the tricolour and wave it for all we are worth.
(The author heads Canco Advertising.)
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