Musings on Brand India

Recently read in the Shanghai Daily that the Indian pavilion at the Shanghai Expo will be in the shape of a Buddhist Stupa, similar to the Sanchi stupa, built in the Maurya dynasty (about 321-187 BC) by Asoka. From the images released to the Media it seems to be quite a humble affair, compared to the architectural beauties being erected by other countries.

As per JWT India, the agency behind the design: With the theme of “Cities of Harmony,” the building will showcase Indian history from 2,000 BC through modern times focusing on the integration between urban and rural regions. Visitors to the pavilion will be led on a journey of Indian cities from ancient times to the present day. The dome/stupa will be used as a 360-degree screen to tell different stories about life in cities through the ages.


Anybody who has been to India knows that there is nothing harmonious about Modern Indian cities. There is no town planning and the skyline is an architectural mess. The truth is closer to “City and Cacophony”. Perhaps, given the overall Expo theme of “Better city, Better life”  every country has been told to have a theme closer to it. Let us spare the Indian Mandarins (and their agency) for coming up with such a banal theme.

Made me think about “Brand India”, though. Hypothetically speaking, what is the territory India can (or should) occupy credibly. Hypothetically because nation branding is a complex matter and a much bigger endeavor than a few communication campaigns.

Here is what I would tell my communication agency, if I was the owner of the brief to create a cohesive, credible and differentiated narrative for India for the 2010 Shanghai Expo and beyond. Those interested in a more detailed analysis of India and its identity can read Amartya Sen’s book “The Argumentative Indian”.

Brand Archetype : SAGE

Brand Essence : Wisdom through the Ages

Reasons to believe :

a. ancient contribution to worldly (details here) as well as spiritual wisdom (Vedas, Upanishads, Birthplace of 4 religions)

b. unique Gandhian non-violent approach to the Independence movement

c. strong presence of Indians today in thought leadership positions in various academic disciplines, research/scientific organizations and corporates

d. innate curiosity, quest for knowledge and love for argumentation and debating amongst Indians.

e. image of a place where people come looking for answers, for ’soul” discovery.

f. more recent (last 9-10 years) image built via the IT industry of a technologically sophisticated and conceptually gifted talent pool capable of working with ambiguity and complexity.

Brand personality : Wise, Stable, Benign, Adaptive, Inclusive

Brand Values : Inner beauty over external gloss, Celebrate complexity and contradictions

Infact, if anybody should be championing a move away from an obsession with GDP growth and not seeing it as a core indicator of progress, it should be India (not Nicolas Sarkozy. Read his diatribe against GDP here). This is India’s rightful place in the comity of Nations and not being the 2nd part of the CHINDIA economic story.


One response to “Musings on Brand India

  1. A strong mouse in weak mood

    I like this post topic…also the India on ‘SAGE’ :), it is deeper than the common perceptions/images of India built around us.

    Admittedly, there are acknowledged characters of Indian today– argumentive, conceptual, technological strength and extreme logic, which led it proven successes in many scientific arenas. But for me, India still remains its deeper attraction on the essence of ‘spiritual legacy’: the penetrating religious belief, the mystery sadu, the diversified cultures, the widely-tolerant philosophies, the unique Gandhi approach and even the profound Yoga theory behind physical practice…everything tells it. It’s an imaginative land left us more on spirituality over tangible materiality, from which I believe those argumentive and democratic pattern were originated.

    But frankly, ‘harmony’ is that bad idea ? 🙂 It does not come from no-where. Through eyes of an outsider, India is indeed a place with a lot contrary balances, or say unique harmonies: the extravagant life/architecture style and the poverty in slums, the technological modernity and the deeply rooted religious values, the fashionable gadgets with traditional sari dress, the faithful belief with adaptive personality, the introvert inside and expressive outside… rather than ‘cacophony’, the contrasted civilization is always one of the ‘India attractions’ for me to experience…(but unfortunately havn’t yet^_^)

    Having said that, it reminded me of the ‘Made-in-China’ campaign (produced by China ministry of commerce and played in CNN), which was called a significant progress of ‘China branding’ by the media commentators here. As myself a Chinese, the campaign did not raise any of my proudness as being a member of a ‘world factory’, neither I think it can convert the negative perception associated with ‘made-in-china’ among people around the world… will it? Yeah, maybe it is a progress for china to start think about the ‘country branding’, but obviously too slow.

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