Indian state tourism ads now focus more on experiences and mood than just mapping places

No longer are state tourism campaigns confined to a fall-flat showcase of a destination list. Instead, the modern ads are increasingly foregrounding a wholesome experience around emotions from warmth to self-discovery and even nostalgia.

Written by Nandini Rathi | New Delhi | Updated: October 27, 2017 6:33 pm
priyanka chopra assam tourism, incredible india, Assam Tourism, awesome Assam campaign (Source: SB Entertainment/YouTube)

Once again the festive season has made way for tourists to pick up their bags and head out into the unknown, and to entice these travellers – of all kinds – new tourism campaigns have started pouring in. The latest and the positively received Awesome Assam campaign featuring Priyanka Chopra, showcasing the state’s beautiful and diverse heritage, is a first since the actor was officially roped in its brand ambassador last year. Coming out of her cherished reverie of the state in the ad, Chopra concluding voices: “Once you visit Assam — it stays with you forever”.

There has been a marked shift tonal shift in state tourism campaigns in last few years: No longer are they confined to a fall-flat showcase of a destination list. Instead, the modern ads are increasingly foregrounding a wholesome experience around emotions from warmth to self-discovery and even nostalgia.

One of India’s biggest successes in the past few decades has been the ability of individual states to market their tourism potential across the world. It is not surprising in the last few years to find Kerala’s God’s Own Country campaign posters compete for attention with Incredible India creatives across world capitals. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the war on Afghanistan and the attack on Parliament in 2001, tourism in India had been looking bleak. Amidst all this turbulence, Incredible India – an ambitious campaign meant to position India globally as a premium tourist destination – was launched on the world stage by the Indian government. Around the same time, Indian states were encouraged to individually develop their own regional images and logos that could be enfolded in the “mother” brand. Over the years these narratives have helped many states proactively manage their reputation and image among their target audience, both international and domestic.

Here’s a look at a few notable state tourism ads from the last few years to see how they have each presented themselves:

Jammu and Kashmir:

Jammu and Kashmir tourism’s new campaign launched in September is set apart as it spotlights the hospitality, pride and Kashmiriyat of Kashmiris — ideas all but totally eclipsed in the violent events over the last year and half. The cozy 5-minute short film driven through the lens of a young Indian tourist couple and their large-hearted local guide brings out the paradise-on-earth themes where the stunning landscapes are unmissable, yet they speak from the backdrop wherein the enveloping bonfire warmth of the visiting experience is highlighted.

“Everybody knows that Kashmir is a beautiful place and we wanted to go beyond this known fact. The next biggest attraction in Kashmir is its hospitality, so the idea of incorporating traditional hospitality as its central theme was born,” Jaibeer Ahmad, executive business director and vice-president, J Walter Thompson, who is a Kashmiri himself told Greater Kashmir. The film has been directed by Amit Sharma, who also made the Google search ad showing the reconnection of two separated friends in India and Pakistan in 2013.

While the previous J&K tourism videos straightaway focused on the state’s immense aesthetic and cultural offerings, the new message clearly speaks to the times where the state’s prominent tourism industry has taken a serious blow amidst widespread perceptions of danger and fear.

Kerala

Kerala was clearly the first mover among the states. The iconic idea of self-discovery is at the heart of its global style campaign. Its last offering “Your moment is waiting” lies in the gray area between advertising and art to paint a sensory encounter with mystique in Kerala that is likely to especially resonate with international tourists. It is made with an eye for tourists seeking an experience that goes beyond words, photographs and mementos.

The protagonist is a racially indistinct woman who almost experiences magical self-awareness as she travels. A masked man speaks to her, she meets her doppelganger during a backwaters boat journey and seems to intimately communicate with nature’s primitive forces in the forest and through the elephant. The images of what Kerala has to offer – ayurvedic massages, majestic wildlife, Kathakali, backwaters – are shown yet they are not the focus in the overarching narrative of her self-discovery.

Experiential marketing aims to bring out resonances of products and services that target moods and feelings. Within it, consumers are viewed as emotional beings who are focused on achieving “special experiences and unforgettable memories” which usually bypass and exceed the rational response to the same attractions. Campaigns like Your moment is waiting, that come with no celebrity frills, capitalise on it.

Rajasthan

The six Rajasthan tourism ads unveiled in 2016 generated plenty of buzz for their innovative approach. Instead of creating an run-of-the-mill montage of palaces, forts, sand dunes and lakes, the focus of the campaign has been on creating vignettes of distinct individual experiences to a catchy common anthem and logo.

The spotlight of the series is on the wide range of experiences that Rajasthan affords. It is embodied in the tagline – “Come to Rajasthan, Jaane kya dikh jaaye”, which suggests a lush territory accommodating individual perspectives of different travellers (a domestic traveler from Delhi, a small child, different foreign tourists). The disparate sketches of Kumbhalgarh Fort of Mewar, Sand dunes of Thar, Garadia Mahadev in Kota, Pushkar hot air ballooning festival, ghosted Kuldhara Village near Jaisalmer and the state’s musical heritage come together to promise a richness in sightseeing and exploration for both domestic and international visitors.

Madhya Pradesh

Rarely would a person be heard saying: “I am going to Madhya Pradesh for a holiday!”. Madhya Pradesh is an advertising challenge when compared to the more thematically-cohesive offerings of states like Rajasthan, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir or Goa. Being a culturally scattered entity, the second largest Indian state chucks the usual aerial shots and visual panoramas to inventively draw attention to its variety of attractions: from the Sanchi Stupa to Khajuraho temples to Kanha wildlife sanctuary – familiar names long nesting in conversations and GK textbooks, recalled in an isolated manner but rarely grouped under heritage of their home state.

The six-ad series by Ogilvy & Mather in the recent years has managed to change that in a short span. With their lush creative use of Indian references, the year-on-year advertisements appear to primarily attract domestic tourists.

Gujarat

This one’s the mother of all state celebrity brands. The dual language Gujarat tourism ads – “Khushboo Gujarat ki”and “Breathe in a bit of Gujarat” featuring Amitabh Bachchan, when they first appeared, had been the first of their kind to use the prowess of a Bollywood megastar to promote a state’s tourism. Somnath temple, Sabarmati, Rann of Kutch, Dwarka, Gir, Mandvi and Ahmedabad are some of the various vignettes in which Bachchan travels and invites others to in his signature courteous manner, which coalesce together wholesomely to draw attention to the gems to be seen within the state.

Soon after its first instalment, and with statistics to confirm its effectiveness, the Gujarat tourism campaign made other states’ tourism departments seriously consider getting a celebrity ambassador on board and even prompted a study by IIM-A about destination marketing through celebrity endorsement. The Bachchan promotion was unique among celebrities not only because of his enduring, inter-generational popularity, but also because he connotes sanskaar and a manner of sincerity, humour and humanity which delivers, as noted by Piyush Pandey, co-executive chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific and creative director of the Gujarat tourism campaign.

West Bengal

From inventing Rosogolla to creating Sandesh, Bengal’s glory for sweets is as old as the land itself. But sweetness is not restrained to just our palates. It finds its way into our language, culture and hospitality, leaving the overwhelmed traveller wanting for more … We are Bengal.”

The state is referred to as Bengal; dropping the ‘West’ from the name – it is complete and wholesome in itself. Sweetness and joy are the themes from the USP of the text and the video campaign, which is led by a unassuming appearing, wide-eyed European tourist who is ‘charmed’ first by the hospitality, colours and beauty of Bengal and finally by the its tourism ambassador, Shah Rukh Khan. Commentators in the beginning of this year had been in two minds about the choice of SRK, a non-Bengali, of all celebrities for endorsing West Bengal tourism – although he does imbue it with a Bollywood-style finish for others who don’t mind. In an ad primarily led by the conventional foreign tourist – his appearance at the end seemed to be a touch base for domestic tourists.

Bihar

Bihar campaign ads are unique because instead of relying on a popular public figure or visually endorsing its offerings to tourists, they are inward looking rebranding efforts which invite nostalgia and intrigue by reflecting on the state’s ancient heritage as a land of knowledge, of festivals like Chhath and as birthplace of Buddhism.

For a long time, Bihar has been a byword for “backward” and bastion of corruption, lawlessness and abject poverty. To counter that, the “Blissful Bihar” campaign which was launched in 2005 aimed to give Bihar a rustic facelift that emphasized its significance as the point of origin of Buddhism. Even its tourism logo is the image of a peepal tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Canadian anthropologist-researcher, David Geary, who has observed the developments around Buddhism related tourism in Bihar for a decade, noted: “Designed to cater to the financially lucrative religious diaspora, the launching of a new tagline in Bihar was synchronous with other elite tourism initiatives with a view of creating “Buddhist circuits” under the rubric “pilgrimage with pleasure””.

The North-East

Before Assam’s own signature campaign, there was the Open Up spot with a poetic cinematography which projected the North-East region of India — an abode of Buddhist heritage and vast natural beauty — like a ‘wild west’ of sorts. True to this individual call in a vast, virgin territory — it is led by no celebrity figure and not even by one distinct protagonist — rather it appears to invite adventure seeking tourists — Indian or otherwise to come discover and in process ‘open up’. The audience is engaged by a visual poetry to come and take in some of the North East — yet this verité persuasion is delivered in a mode quite different from the traditional approach of Gujarat tourism.

“Tourism is not just an aggregate of merely commercial activities; it is also an ideological framing of history, nature and tradition; a framing that has the power to reshape culture and nature to its own needs,” wrote scholar-author Dean MacCannell in 1992. This is precisely what we notice, going through the state ad campaigns above. These marketing campaigns are significant not only because they posture themselves as vibrant tourist destinations but also because they are an affirmation of control of a brand new narrative about the place. They are product of an endeavor to represent and speak with authority.

A campaign of the scale of Incredible India and the corresponding state campaigns under its ambit has not only helped augment country’s tourism revenue over the years, but it has arguably also played a larger role – of reshaping India’s image in the global arena. Over the years, as Geary puts it, the campaign also backhandedly announced the “arrival of a brand new India – one that is confident, self assured, and uses tourism as a window to elevate its geopolitical importance”.

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