Brand India has the support of the ruling dispensation, but it is the broader media of the country that can bring about a big turnaround in the way non-Indians perceive us
It is totally wrong to presume that you cannot shape and/ or change the way people perceive you. After all, we all are humans, have comparable traits, have similar weaknesses, and so on. But what is it that causes a difference to the way people perceive any two human beings — or for that matter two societies or nations?
One can say the answer is talent — wisdom or physical strength or artistic genius — but marketing or branding trumps everything else. The reason is everyone is brilliant in her own confined space but to be perceived so by others, your story and journey have to be narrated in an engrossing manner, in a way that builds a powerful, positive image.
It is no coincidence that the world’s biggest economy, the United States, is also the most pervasive brand amongst all countries. Someone who was not a student of history and political science might not know that America’s rise on the world stage dates back merely one century and it was only after World War II that the country surpassed European and Asian nations.
But is it only the United States’ military strength that makes it so dominating on the world stage? The answer is ‘no’ because it is the country’s soft power that ranks it so high. Despite being placed below many nations in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the Human Development Index (HDI), the US is generally perceived as the best place to live — why?
Branding is such a big push that it can even lead to false perceptions about any country. Besides, this exercise can be both positive and negative. Apple — a device manufacturer and technology company — sells expensive smartphones and computers, frequently facing flak for overpricing and little value addition in new models, yet it is the biggest and most recognizable brand globally.
India — a country that until a few centuries back contributed the most to the world GDP — on the other hand has regularly been mislabeled as the so-called land of snake charmers. A few months back, one prominent US academician made derogatory comments against Indians and called the country a ‘shithole’. Her comments were widely condemned but they should prompt introspection.
Today, many people across the world perceive the United States as the best country to migrate to, owing in part to very deep cultural penetration of things like burgers, jeans, and Hollywood. Not many would know that a big Hollywood star helped popularize jeans as a symbol of rebellion in the 1950s.
In fact, the US movies industry and news media collaborated to sell the American culture to the wider world. This is why all the crime, be it gun violence or narcotics, hides behind a beautiful picture that portrays America as a country of dreams. India, on the other hand — thanks to the indifference of country’s news media and film industry — has lacked powerful branding.
There needs to be no false marketing or misinformation campaign to create a powerful brand, India. That Indian-origin CEOs lead some of the world’s biggest companies and advanced countries are filled with Indian-origin MPs, and even a Vice President (the US) and a Prime Minister (the UK) is a popular narrative. However, what also needs push are our democratic history and rich and tolerant culture.
Even though America claims to be the oldest democracy, it is so when one only considers the modern history of the world. Not many in the same world know that a Greek historian Diodorus has written about independent and democratic setup in ancient India. Sanghas and Ganas were ancient republics in the country, with elected monarchs, and open assemblies comprising both rich and poor.
The problem is that while Americans sold their superheroes like Spiderman to the youth across the world, Indian film industry and media outlets always fell short. Even though Gandhi is a global cultural icon and personalities like Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, and Narendra Modi have fairly wide appeal, India has yet to be identified broadly as a great land by non-Indians.
Virtually every student across the globe reads about Isaac Newton, the English physicist, and Albert Einstein, the German-born physicist. But even in Indian education system, the contributions of Aryabhata — the Gupta-era mathematician who gave the concepts of sine table and calculated the value of pi — are discussed with little zeal.
From Einstein to Levi’s jeans to singer-songwriter Lady Gaga to Apple’s iPhone, it is all about good stuff promoted using effective branding. In India, women have always had a powerful role in the family, yet we are often mistaken as a patriarchal society. The Nalanda University in ancient Magadha (Bihar) was the first ever residential university in the world, yet we are often mistaken as educationally backward.
It is time we recreate the Brand India. This exercise calls for active involvement of the country’s news media and film industry. From giving more space to positive news, including aspects like how the domestic equities market performed better than markets of North America and European countries during the turbulent year of 2022, to making artistically stunning historical movies like RRR can help.
Brand India has the support of the ruling dispensation, but it is the broader media of the country that can bring about a big turnaround in the way non-Indians perceive us.
(The article “Brand India Needs A Big, Positive Push From Country’s Media” published in “Business World”)