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Branding is not about advertising, but good delivery: Amitabh Kant

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Branding is not about advertising, but good delivery: Amitabh Kant

Amitabh Kant, Secretary, Industrial Policy & Promotion, Government of India, made a case for advertising rooted in reality to build a brand as keynote speaker at the Indian Advertising Association India Chapter’s Silver Jubilee Summit at Kochi on Thursday. The man behind such cult branding campaigns as God’s Own Country, Atithi Devo Bhaba and Incredible India, and now the custodian of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative, said unless reality matches what you are advertising, it does not help the brand.

“Branding is not about advertising, if reality does not match... this is an essential premise to build a brand,” explained Kant, who literally changed the reality of India’s tourism industry before branding the country and taking it to the world. “Brand-building is all about delivery - the convergence of good advertising, good product and good delivery,” he added.  

Talking about the ‘Make in India’ campaign to take India to a high trajectory of growth, Kant said, “We are the last giant economy to open up. We have mapped the pillars for a resurgent India, such as making it an easy place to do business, making India part of a global supply chain, liberalizing the FDI regime, making India an R&D powerhouse... the challenge now is to create the infrastructure to support that.” 


Kant spoke of building Brand Kerala under the ‘God’s Own Country’ tag in the early 1990s to make it a premier destination with a well thought-out strategy based on government facilitation of local entrepreneurship. “We went back to the very roots of culture and tradition in Kerala... brought back the time-tested Indian system of medicine, revived art forms, boat races, tiger trails, local cuisine... brought back carpenters who had migrated to the Gulf to work on houseboats... It was the first commercial done by any State in India,” Kant said. At the end of it, Kerala was one of the top 10 destinations in the world, and Kant recognized as the wonder-kid on the block. After the Kerala success story, Kant was summoned to Delhi to work on branding India itself.


Kant’s presentation, ‘Branding India: An incredible Story’ depicted the brilliant journey of branding India which began at a time when India was at an all-time low. “I landed in Delhi right after 9/11... then Parliament was attacked, the tourism industry was in a shambles, countries like Singapore, Malayasia had cut their tourism budgets, and there was general gloom,” Kant said. “But a survey did reveal that India’s image perception was very high, with its culture and heritage, and that meant great potential.” The Atithi Devo Bhaba and Incredible India campaigns followed, and the Kerala success was replicated on a much larger scale, along with the creation of budget hotels, opening up air travel, developing airports, etc. “The marketing-led strategy managed to bring demand back to India, promoting it as a multi-product destination, larger than 24 European countries put together. One of our premises was ensuring cleanliness – you can’t be a great tourist destination if you don’t have basic cleanliness,” Kant recalled, adding that India still needs to put much more into Travel and Tourism to maintain the momentum.


Amitabh Kant began his address with a candid admission that he had been approached “to be a back-up speaker in case actor Shah Rukh Khan cannot make it to the summit”. Showing a great sense of humour, Kant told the story of Albert Einstein’s driver who had heard the scientist speak so many times at different forums that he felt he could easily stand in for the scientist and deliver a talk if required. So when the University of Columbia invited Einstein to talk, it was the driver who gave a scintillating speech there. Only during the question-and-answer session did he point to Einstein sitting in the audience and said, “My driver will answer all the questions.” Kant therefore advised the audience, “I’ll speak but if you have any questions, ask Shah Rukh Khan!”

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