Adman Prathap Suthan pitches marketing ‘Namaste’ as India’s contribution to an evolving post-COVID culture

From President Donald Trump to Prince Charles, everyone has endorsed the quintessential Indian greeting.

The managing partner and chief creative officer of Bang in the Middle, Prathap Suthan, is well-versed in the art of telling enduring stories about brands. 

Suthan’s bang-on ideas have won him several accolades, including an Euro-Effie for the Incredible! India campaign. But more of that later. 

Question him about what is that one thing, that one cultural trait India can market to the world and Suthan’s answer is a very surprising, ‘Namaste’. 

Namaste
India’s quintessential greeting, Namaste, could be its biggest cultural contribution to a world exhausted by following COVID-19 mandated protocols.

“We will have to rebuild Brand India,” he says. India should set a narrative that plays on its strengths. “For instance, we could have a campaign that focuses on ‘Namaste’, the universally accepted greeting in these COVID times. From President Donald Trump to Prince Charles, everyone who is anyone has endorsed it, and that is a strong message to send out.”

 

Trump doing namaste
Angela merkel doing namaste

 

There can be no better person than Suthan to tell us what it would take to not just open right, but also communicate the right message. Among the stories he told incredibly well so many years ago was through the Incredible! India campaigns, as the National Creative Director of Grey Worldwide India. 

The campaigns won the agency, and India, its first Euro Effies. Since Effies celebrates a campaign’s effectiveness, it is judged on its stated objectives and evidence of performance on those goals. It looked at how India can be packaged for a mature audience who travel whenever they wanted; sought out quiet, health and rejuvenation; and desired to be part of the global buzz about India. 

The incredible! India campaign
The Incredible! India campaigns aligned the Indian experience to the expectations of a mature foreign traveller with a tone that was refined and a look that was unique.

 Coming back to the present-day then. Suthan says the messaging has to work at two levels. 

  • The First Level: To ensure our safety protocols match the best-in-experience worldwide. “As yet, we haven’t been able to establish safe routes or set-up the right infrastructure to open up for tourists. That is a priority. The narrative can revolve around the established safety infrastructure once we are able to do so. The core idea is to put a traveller’s mind at ease.”
Safety protocols important for luxury travellers
India needs to communicate a message about safety protocols and effective social distancing norms to attract foreign luxury travellers.

Suthan believes we will have to be patient when it comes to the expected bounce-back of the travel segment. “Even Thailand, which is offering tourists visa for a stay of 19 days, does not expect more than 300 people in the first week.”

He advises India to follow in the footsteps of countries such as Greece, which has brought in drones to photograph the country and monitor the situation on the ground for travellers, or even Cayman Islands which offers travellers wearable devices so that they could be tracked in case of a medical emergency. 

Image 37
India could take cues from Cayman Islands, which is monitoring and tracking travellers through a wearable device.

 

  • The Second Level: The veteran adman and branding consultant emphasises the act of creating smaller campaigns that celebrate the various positive aspects of India: our farms to our democracy, cricket to kabaddi, urban to the rural landscape, yoga to IT, the co-existence of the old with the new…there is a lot to celebrate. “The campaigns have to be imbued with a celebratory feel, they should be flexible and large in their range—from macro to the micro. A campaign that acknowledges and invites everyone to participate in celebrating an idea called India.”

 

It may be prudent to come up with new ideas on how to market Brand India and its experiences to a weary post-COVID world. Suthan offers an example of Iceland, a country that saw tourist numbers plunge after a huge volcanic eruption disrupted its airspace in 2010. The ingenious Icelandic tourism authorities promoted ‘disaster tourism’ for the selfie-seeking generation to get the numbers up again.

Iceland promoting disaster tourism
Iceland promoted ‘disaster tourism’ to get tourist numbers back on track after a huge volcanic eruption disrupted its airspace. 

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