Follow the stars

Follow the stars

Celebrities as brand ambassadors for states can help boost traffic of domestic travellers,though not always.

Two years ago,Amitabh Bachchan stepped into the shoes of a discerning traveller to explore Gujarat. Having been signed on as the state’s brand ambassador,he travelled through the Gir forest,Rann of Kutch,Somnath Temple and Mandvi’s Vijayvilas Palace. He soaked in the sights and sounds of the state,flew kites with a local family and even rode a motor-rickshaw as part of the colourful ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign,aimed at boosting the state’s tourism.

Gujarat has since witnessed nearly a 15 per cent annual rise in the number of tourists. This year,the numbers are slated to cross 2 crore after a latest campaign featuring the actor goes on air. “We needed a travelogue-style ad for Gujarat that could demonstrate what it has to offer and Mr Bachchan’s personality suited that requirement,” explains Abhijit Avasthi,National Creative Director,Ogilvy India,the ad agency that designed the campaign.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was hoping for a similar boost to her state’s tourism when she recently roped in actor Shah Rukh Khan as the brand ambassador. The actor’s international appeal is expected to bring in NRIs as well as foreign nationals as tourists.

Tourism campaigns are perhaps following a trend that has been long-established by Indian marketing gurus — make celebrities promote every possible product and service. In 2008,actor Aamir Khan stepped in as the brand ambassador of Incredible India,urging Indians to care for the country’s historical treasures and treat tourists as their personal guests through the ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ campaign.


Among the lesser-known brand ambassadors are actor Prachi Desai,who represents Goa tourism,and yesteryear star Hema Malini,the face of Uttarakhand’s ‘Sparsh Ganga’ campaign aimed at creating awareness about the river Ganga. Badminton champion Saina Nehwal was signed on in 2010 by Andhra Pradesh whereas Preity Zinta is the only celebrity who belongs to the state that she represents,Himachal Pradesh.

But can the celebrities influence the tourist flow of the states? Amitabh Kant,who spearheaded the Incredible India campaign,explains that the country’s 750 million people-strong domestic market has a massive potential to boost tourism. “Indians are movie-loving people and connect with celebrities instantly. Success of Aamir’s campaign for Incredible India is a proof of that,” adds Kant,who was then the Joint Secretary under the Union Ministry of Tourism.

However,adman V Sunil,former creative director,O&M,who headed the team that created the first Incredible India campaign in 2002,has a different take on celebrity ambassadors. Citing the example of Kerala’s successful tourism campaigns without celebrity endorsement,he says,“Using celebrities to sell anything is a lazy solution,especially selling tourism.” Sunil,who now works with Weiden+Kennedy,believes that since celebrities endorse multiple brands,their initiatives for tourism may not stand out. But Kant,who worked with Sunil on Incredible India,explains that certain states,like Kerala and Rajasthan are already popular with local and international tourists. “Other states,like West Bengal and Bihar,can use celebrities to gain attention,” he says.

Avasthi seconds Kant,pointing out that his agency was involved in creating both Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh campaigns and the latter is an animation-style campaign,without any popular face. “It is all about the concept and the need of the campaign. When we took on MP tourism,it was already the 16th most-visited state — people were already aware what it has to offer,” he says. The campaign,however,further boosted the business,escalating the state’s position to fifth.

In spite of the several celebrity-centric tourism campaigns,the ones featuring Bachchan and Aamir remain the only prominent ones. The Uttarakhand government had to face criticism for signing on Malini as the face of sacred Ganga. Nehwal and Desai have not shot for a single ad yet. But then,name-dropping has its benefits.