Never before have these words been more true than today. There is no place to hide. There is no place to show a facet and be something else. Also, there are no distinct boundaries between a brand and her consumers – they are merging and becoming inseparable.
India, the land of infinite spiritualism. The land of cultural heritage. Colour. History. Temples. Taj Mahal. Yoga. The images are endless. Also the land of Nirbhaya. Of news that is hitting every corner of the world on assault on women, and rape. Of tourists and ordinary Indians.
So, how does this brand – India – handle this very complex contradiction that is India – touching, breathtakingly beautiful, refreshing, desirable – and broken in so many ways?
Let’s go to the first place where the brand would be represented. Where the expensive advertising with beautiful images lead to - The Incredible!India website.
The first emotion one feels is of contradiction. Beautiful photography that could evoke desire in a wrapper that is pre-historic. But most importantly, there is a seal on the homepage of the Incredible!India site that says “I Respect Women”. This draws my attention immediately. Intrigued, I click on the first navigation item underneath this seal, which says: “Women Tourist: An Advisory”.
And as I read the two paragraphs that are this page, I feel, simply: fury.
Why would a brand like Incredible!India deliberately lie? Do they think this will be taken as the truth? Really? With the amount of worldwide negative publicity and true stories by tourists that are available freely on the net?
Why not talk about our grief as a nation about Nirbhaya? Why not say what we, as a nation, went through when Nirbhaya happened? Or how real Indians feel when our women are treated with disrespect?
Why not become the custodians of advice? Why not create a “safety index map”? Why not talk about what danger could be about? Why not describe the exact ways to “exercise caution”? Why not provide telephone numbers that you can call? And before even saying anything – why not actually try to do something? Why not start a program for women travelling alone where they can pair up with an Indian from the destination through a recruitment drive for an “ambassadors of India” program that is run first in India to get women on board who care?
And then say the right things. Not the “correct” things – but the right things. Be a human and say what you would to a fellow human: It’s not really safe. The incidents are definitely not isolated. Be careful. These are the ways… but we are, as a country, working on it. Meanwhile, we have a beautiful, incredible country – which you can get a lot from. But everything is not what it seems – and we want to make sure that we are providing you the right information, tools and ways to be safe as you travel through India.
A brand = its marketing. And as a brand, and its marketing, Incredible!India is a major #fail.
(The author is chief executive officer, VML Qais, and is based in Singapore. Views expressed are personal).