Aug 13, 2008

Mktg - India's freedom struggle poorly marketed (V.G.Read)

For most people around the globe, the Statue of Liberty is synonymous with the American Revolution , when the 13 British colonies in North America fought for independence from the British Empire. Ironically, the famed lady has very little to do with the actual war for independence ; the 46-meter tall statue was designed by French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi in France in 1884 — more than a century after the Revolution — and was shipped to America in 350 pieces on a French ship, to commemorate the French-American alliance during the American Revolution.

Yet, such is the manner in which the statue has been marketed that to many minds, the notion that it played a pivotal part in the Revolution still holds sway. Ditto with other popular US monuments like the White House, Washington Memorial and Mount Rushmore — all were built much after the Revolution.

Strangely enough, there are umpteen places in India that have monumental significance in the country’s freedom struggle — the Andaman Cellular Jail, Dandi, Sabarmati Ashram, Jallianwala Bagh, Kakori near Lucknow , Alfred Park in Allahabad, Jinnah House and Mani Bhavan in Mumbai, just to name a few. All these places had an intrinsic role in the freedom struggle, yet with the possible exception of Lal Qila and Raj Ghat, none of them have been marketed as tourist destinations.

“What’s most shocking is the neglect that structures associated with our freedom struggle suffer,” says Gurcharan Das, former CEO of P&G India, and author of India Unbound. Very few Indians know where Jinnah House or Mangal Pandey’s tomb is. And at least 99 per cent of Indians would struggle to pin-point Dandi on the map of Gujarat.

R Balakrishnan (Balki), chairman & CCO of Lowe India, concurs that the Indian freedom struggle has been very badly marketed. “It appears that only the English know about the intricate details of our freedom struggle,” he rues.
Particularly jarring is the fact that the nature of India’s freedom struggle — its predominantly non-violent , Gandhian aspect, that is — has won many admirers in the world community.

In that sense, the freedom struggle, in itself, doesn’t call for any marketing: all that’s actually required is kindling the latent interest by showcasing places that have strong linkages with the movement. All that it calls for is taking a leaf out of the American book of patriotism: from Mount Rushmore, which draws as many as three million visitors from across the world in a busy year, to Pearl Harbour, the US has perfected the art of marketing its history.

However, Santosh Desai, CEO of Future Brands, thinks it won’t be so easy, given Indians’ poor sense of history, especially physical history. “Most Indians are smitten by the mythical rather than the historical ,” he says. “While Kurukshetra may evoke an instant connect in Indian minds, no one is interested in visiting the physical place.” Desai also pins the blame on Indians’ “superficial, narcissist and selective consumption” of patriotism. “It’s not about India but about India’s wins. We’re gungho about our victories — be it the 1983 World Cup win or Kargil — but no one wants to remember the painful memories of Jallianwala or the war with China.”

The sorry state of affairs can be easily gauged by just looking at the environs of many of our monuments — barring a few, none are preserved, packaged and presented as places worthy of anyone’s interest. “In England, amenities around the forts, castles and palaces make you want to visit these places,” Balki says. “In India, by the time you reach a place you’re so full of dirt that you don’t want to discover history. We have to learn from England how to preserve our history.” Interestingly, Das advocates public-private partnership models to manage these important sites. He cites the example of Kathmandu’s Patan Museum, which has followed the model and is “one of the best in South Asia” . Das also feels this is too important a responsibility to be left to the government alone — he feels top-notch historians should be roped in as well.

There is no dearth as far as marketing opportunities are concerned. For instance, the restaging of the Dandi March makes imminent sense. The Andaman Islands could be sold on the back of the Cellular Jail as much as it is sold as a scuba diving and snorkeling retreat. Sabarmati Ashram and Mani Bhavan can be made a part of a Discover Gandhi package, while Alfred Park and Kakori can be bundled into a ‘Revolutionary’ package.

As proven in the case of Lal Qila and Khajuraho, monuments can serve as backdrops for light and sound shows. And the merchandising opportunities arising out of these are immense — after all, ‘been there, done that and got the Tshirt’ is an essential aspect of ‘memorabilia tourism’ worldwide. “Something like the Dandi Marathon instead of a Mumbai Marathon will bring alive the history of the place,” observes Desai, adding that these sites need to be marketed as a spectacular re-enactment of history. “Indians are drawn towards spectacles. The Taj Mahal and the Red Fort bring in crowds because of their ‘spectacular’ beauty,” he says.

The problem is one of poor supply — and poor demand. While government has done little to promote and market the freedom struggle, the average Indian hasn’t displayed a keen desire to lap up the history of the struggle either. “The market is not ripe. Someone needs to develop the market; only then will the market grow,” Desai says. The foreign tourist is a potential target , but Piyush Pandey, executive chairman & NCD, Ogilvy India, says it all boils down to the pride Indians attach to such monuments. “Only when you have demonstrated your passion and belief in these places adequately can you think of marketing them to the world,” says Pandey. Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, known for movies like Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa-Akbar , adds: “Maintaining these historic places is not only the government’s responsibility , but also that of the people. Writing on the walls and littering the premises are unpardonable acts. The government and the people need to work hand in hand.”

Even tourism-specific campaigns such as ‘Incredible India’ have never covered the freedom struggle as a ‘destination’ . The man behind the original ‘Incredible India’ campaign, Prathap Suthan — now NCD, Southwest Asia, Cheil Communications — says one plausible reason why the government hasn’t thought of doing it so far is the “possible politicisation of the freedom struggle and the fear of turning it into a communal issue” . Balki, however , says that it’s the little facts and stories centred at the history of the place — and not campaigns like Incredible India — that will be most effective in promoting the sites. “The government should use popular tourist spots to entice tourists to discover these places,” he adds.

Given that popular cinema — recent Bollywood movies like Gadar, Rang De Basanti and Lage Raho Munna Bhai, for instance — has triggered audience interest through themes drawn from the freedom struggle, Pandey thinks it shouldn’t be too hard capitalising on the trend. Desai, however, cautions against pop-patriotism . “You might end up trivialising the struggle, the leaders, the places...

People might remember Gandhi but forget the spirit of Gandhi,” he says. Ultimately though, it’s a question of the importance that is attached to history and places of historical importance. “Only if we maintain them, take care of them, will we be able to market them,” says Gowariker , adding that he has given the issue some thought. “I have certain ideas but that can only be implemented if I am given all the freedom,” he says. Given the infinite layers of bureaucracy attached, this might just prove to be yet another freedom struggle.