India: Economic Growth & Development

Monday, January 01, 2007

Brand India: need to better manage negative branding?

A lot of talk about Brand India nowadays at the start of Year 2007. In this article, India's Commerce Minister for State, Jairam Ramesh sees Brand India as “India is a cafeteria of brands and we need to expand the menu for the global audience." For him, the branding effort is a means to an end i.e. to generate value and wealth for the country. Working with The India Brand Equity Forum (IBEF), Mr. Ramesh has set out to "identify sectors that could spawn global Indian brands and activate branding initiatives for them".

According to Dr Jagdish Sheth, professor of marketing at Goizueta Business School at Emory University, Yoga and alternative medicines such as Ayurveda, are the Indian ideas most popular in the US.

“So much so that large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have announced initiatives to target senior citizens market with herbal medicines and Ayurveda players from India can leverage that”

The article goes on: He sees increasing “Eastern-isation of the world” in the coming years and India along with China will influence the Western world. Take the case of Indian curry. The brand of casual Indian food has already taken over traditional fish & chips in the UK.

Yoga is successful because it is not seen as religion
So says Sat Bir S Khalsa, a researcher with the Harvard Medical School here.

According to Khalsa, close to 15 million Americans practice Yoga, which itself is a booming industry worth billions of dollars. A similar scene has unfolded in Europe, where thousands have taken to Yoga in a bid to soothe ruffled minds and normalize bodily functions hitherto sickened by prevailing lifestyles and a certain lack spiritual activity.

The paid circulation of Yoga Journal, the leading Yoga magazine in the U.S. has grown from 90,000 to 325,000; the readership as of 2006 was over 1,000,000. YJ estimates the number of yoga practitioners to be 16.5 million and attributes the success of the magazine to "honoring the 5,000-year-old tradition on which it is based."

A similar Yoga phenomenon is being seen across Europe. In France, it is growing rapidly and providing employment opportunities to Yoga instructors

"I earn around 2000 Euros per month. In Crest alone there are 1,000 people like me and roughly 60,000 Yoga teachers in France. The figure could be around 8,00,000 for Europe," Sharma said. However, some traditionalists like former dean of the Bihar School of Yoga, Swami Mangaltirtha, a professor of bio-sciences, rue the fact that Yoga is being overtly commercialised and manipulated in the name of adaptation. "We have been conducting regular teachers' training, diploma and therapeutic classes since the 1980s in the city of Crest in southern France. All our students are French," Kaivalyadhama Trust's French head Lav Kumar Sharma said.

The Indian State of Kerala appears to have taken the lead in offering
health tourism built around the traditional therapies of Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Homeopathy and combined it with Yoga and meditation. It makes sense for Kerala to work closely with The Yoga Journal to market this idea further.

Deepak Chopra is successful precisely because he offers Indian spirituality
Yoga is successful because it is not religion but that does not translate into a foolproof formula for success. The Times of India queried a select panel of Indians "Who best defines Brand India abroad?". Film maker Shekhar Kapur votes for Deepak Chopra "Deepak has a readership of 30 million outside India and is considered one of the 100 most influential men of our time, yet continuously keeps reaffirming his Indian roots as the very basis of his writings."

Unfortunately, yet another filmmaker, Mira Nair, misses the point when she names Indian writers like Amitava Ghosh and Jhumpa Lahiri as her choices. Apart from the fact that hardly anyone outside western literary circles has even heard of these authors, it is debatable whether these folks really do represent authentic, or an imagined, India.

Mahatma sells Brand India
A Hindustan Times-Cfore survey among 1,067 persons found that the Mahatma, far more than Bollywood, sells Brand India as a totality.

One wonders whether it is a Munnabhai spinoff. But 46 per cent Indians view Mahatma Gandhi as the country's best brand ambassador — a good 23 percentage points ahead of superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Cricketing idol Sachin Tendulkar, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani trailed way behind in the Hindustan Times-Cfore survey among 1,067 persons with different backgrounds.

Of course, to be considered a Brand, there must be tangible value attached somewhere. The box office success of Munnabhai globally, as well as in other countries around the Indian Ocean, do indicate the vibrancy of the Mahatma Brand. However, way before Munnabhai, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi had already capitalized on the Mahatma as well as another, more negative brand: the Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Yes indeed, the Hindu-Muslim conflict has become an India brand, at least in some circles. An example of a negative brand with a positive value attached to it. Perhaps the Commerce Minister needs to expand his mandate to more effectively manage such negative branding.