Destination Branding: Why the ‘Incredible India’ Campaign Failed

The perceived need to create a strong personality and global brand for India led to the development of a branding campaign known as ‘Incredible India’.

However, in crafting the key elements of the Incredible India campaign, the promoters of the effort realized that it was difficult to establish a clear, precise identity for a diversified country like India — unlike the relative ease of positioning and branding single-product destinations such as the Maldives and Mauritius. India is a land of contrasts, a combination of tradition and modernity — a land that is at once mystical and mysterious. India is bigger than the twenty-three countries of Europe put together and every single state of India has its own unique attractions. From a marketing perspective, therefore, India is a multiproduct country, and so ‘Incredible India’ was designed as the mother brand with the respective Indian states establishing their own brand entity and emerging as sub-brands.

The Incredible India campaign had a number of strategic objectives. It was conceived mainly to position tourism as a major driver of economic growth for India, and allied to this idea was the goal of harnessing the direct and multiplier effects of tourism for employment creation, economic development, and revenue generation. In the campaign, India is depicted as a mesmerizing tourist destination with various aspects of the country’s rich culture, fascinating history, enthralling traditions and so on being highlighted through powerful visuals and information-rich content.

Taj Mahal India

Creativity played a key role in the creation of the multimedia content for the Incredible India campaign. The creativity that was prevalent in the multimedia content for the campaign sought to capture and portray the colour in every aspect of Indian life — including the clothes, the spices, and the architecture. The concept was tweaked imaginatively, so “red hot” became the description of chilies drying in the sun, while “pure white” perfectly described the purity of love that the Taj Mahal symbolizes. As the former Joint Secretary of India’s Ministry of Tourism, and one of the principal creators of the Incredible India campaign, Amitabh Kant, pointed out, a new brand like ‘Incredible India’ had to out-think rather than out-spend competition.

Kant noted that it was necessary to be intensively creative, focus on the right clientele and ensure that the campaign was featured in select media. Of all the various creative elements that are incorporated in the multimedia content created for the campaign, the brand logo — Incredible !ndia — is especially noteworthy.

This is particularly in the context of the idea that to be truly powerful, a brand must express itself not just in terms of a product benefit, but in terms of a greater socio-economic truth. For instance, Apple Inc. told a brave new world to reject the old order of IBM and “Think Different”, while Nike admonished procrastinating city dwellers across the world to stop making excuses and “Just Do It”, following it up with the brilliant ‘‘swoosh’’ icon, a graphic device that expressed energy and inspired sport without a word.

Therefore, the ‘Incredible !ndia’ brand logo was designed in the same manner as the foregoing branding endeavours, with the aim of generating active and passionate responses toward the goal of creating a new personality and national brand for India. According to Vysyaprath Sunil, an advertising executive credited with early conceptualization of the campaign, the exclamation mark in the ‘Incredible India’ logo represents “the mind-boggling depth and intensity of the Indian experience”. Sunil further points out that “every aspect of India — be it its ever-accelerating GDP, extreme geography, kaleidoscopic culture, deep-rooted spirituality or even photogenic chaos — is summed up by the simple yet profound exclamation mark”.

The campaign is a multifaceted endeavour that incorporates diverse promotional and marketing strategies and channels. The Ministry of Tourism, as part of its on-going activities, releases print, electronic, online and outdoor media campaigns in the international and domestic markets, under the Incredible India brand slogan. In addition, the Ministry through its overseas offices, organizes road shows, Know India seminars, workshops; participates in various fairs, exhibitions and events to promote various Indian tourist destinations and products. The campaigns include holistic promotion of various Indian tourism products and destinations of the country. From a purely advertising perspective, the selection of media outlets for propagating the Incredible India message was a major challenge for the Indian Ministry of Tourism and the advertising agencies handling the campaign.

The promoters of the Incredible India campaign recognized that in this modern era of globalization and rapid advancement in ICT, outreach could not be confined to the traditional print and television media. Accordingly, the Ministry of Tourism makes heavy use of the Internet as a platform for global outreach for the Incredible India campaign, and the popular video sharing website You-Tube is a particularly useful media outlet for showcasing the creative advertisements and promotional audio-visual content depicting India as the ultimate destination for tourism and foreign investment. Taglines were also prominent in the Incredible India marketing campaign. The taglines are expressed to be symptomatic of a much bigger social phenomenon — i.e. an optimistic and extroverted new India, eager to make its presence felt in the global community. In a sense, therefore, this sub-text attempts to transform Incredible India from a mere branding exercise into a pop culture milestone, denoting a turning point in the evolution of one the greatest civilizations in the world and one of the emerging global powers.

Furthermore, a new direction has been forged with the Incredible India events worldwide, a concept that revolve around the ‘soft power’ of India. This soft power is drawn from the graceful forms of classical music and dance, the robust and earthy folk culture, the exquisite craftsmanship of artisans and weavers who nurture the craft traditions of the country, as well as the cuisine — all of which indicate a rich cultural dimension to India that is both alluring and worthy of exploration. Efforts have also been made to ensure that the Incredible India campaign is a bottom-up, citizen-driven effort towards reorienting ordinary Indians about how to boost their country’s image through their actions and relations with foreigners and tourists. In this regard campaign, the Ministry of Tourism launched an educative sub-campaign named ‘Atithidevo Bhava’, endorsed by the famous Indian actor Amir Khan, with the aim of acquainting ordinary Indians with the right behaviour and etiquette as regards dealing with foreign tourists. Another important aspect of the campaign was the effort to instil a sense of responsibility among local people regarding the preservation of India’s heritage sites and culture and promoting cleanliness and hospitality in the tourist places.

Photo: Indi Virtual Info

Gains and Shortcomings of the Campaign

The Incredible India campaign was well received by travel industry enthusiasts and tour operators alike. Many observers suggest that the promo campaign has succeeded in making a powerful visual impact and creating a perception of India as a captivating destination for tourist travel. Favorable comments on various travel websites and blogs also indicate that average travelers find the campaign informative and interesting, and this points towards its effectiveness in arousing desire in potential tourists seeking a fascinating destination for their next travel.

Following the campaign, a major surge has been noticed in the Indian tourism sector, leading the country to tap unexpected growth with regard to international tourist spending. Early evidence indicates that the campaign successfully established India as a high-end tourist destination, generating a 16 percent increase in tourist traffic in the first year. Reports also suggested that, as a direct result of the campaign, India has emerged as the fastest-growing market in the Asia-Pacific in terms of international tourist spending.

However, in spite of the relative success of the Incredible India campaign, some critics point toward a mismatch between the idyllic image of India depicted by the campaign and the reality on ground that tourists encounter in the country — especially in terms of inadequate infrastructure, too few hotel rooms, crowded cities, unsanitary conditions, and violent crime. Critics have also suggested that the campaign failed to cover the different aspects of India, in terms of the complexity and diversity of the country’s culture, people, geography, and tourist attractions. Such critics also contend that the overly centralized ‘Incredible India’ tagline does not effectively reflect the rich differences between several parts of the country. In this context, critics imply that the promoters of the campaign did not fully appreciate the difference between selling a product and selling a multiproduct — in the sense that a country as large and complex as India cannot be successfully marketed using the same strategies applied for smaller, less diversified nations.

From a social marketing perspective, it has also been suggested that the Incredible India campaign does not take full advantage of the power of the Internet — particularly social media — in propagating the message about India’s position as an interesting tourism destination. Although the campaign has a Facebook page and a twitter handle, there is insufficient activity on these platforms to indicate a serious attempt at consistent social media marketing.

Recent statistics indicate that despite the considerable gains brought about by the Incredible India campaign, India still lags behind many countries in terms of annual tourist visits. According to 2011 World Bank estimates, India attracts approximately 6.5 million visitors yearly, which is a significant improvement from the roughly 2.2 million visitors it used to attract in the late 1990s — prior to the initiation of the Incredible India campaign. However, for a country as large as India, the number of annual tourist visits is evidently small when compared to countries such as Malaysia (which attracts nearly 25 million tourists), Mexico (23 million), Ukraine (21 million), Thailand (19 million), and Singapore (10 million). Indeed, a comparison with China, which is apparently India’s rival and de facto benchmark, shows the extent to which India’ tourism sector lags behind. At 57 million foreign tourists a year, China is behind only the United States and France as the world’s most visited country. These figures, while not suggesting that the Incredible India campaign has been an outright failure, indicate that much still needs to be done to establish India as one of the world’s foremost tourism destinations.