Wednesday, December 28, 2005

City Branding in India …Another Hotlanta in the making?

Laura Ries has presented an interesting perspective on the tagging of Atlanta as “Every Day is an Opening Day”. Though the news is almost a month old, considering the kind of attention tourism has attracted, this concept of City Branding could be pertinent to Branding in the sub-continent too.

First things first. An article featured last month in the Economic Times on Atlanta’s new slogan. It is not uncommon to brand cities in the United States, create slogans and develop campaigns around them. With New York having “I love New York”, Virginia with 'Virginia Is For Lovers' and the famous Las Vegas tag 'What Happens Here, Stays Here', each city has had its own glory with Tagline Branding.
So, it was time for Atlanta to become the cynosure with the help of yet another tagline after its previous similar attempts with 'The City Too Busy To Hate' and 'Atlanta: People Seem To Like It Here' and ‘Hotlanta’.


Tagged “Every Day is an opening day”, the campaign is worth $8 million and has been created by Grey Worldwide. Though I am not even faintly associated with Atlanta, the slogan seems to be conforming more to a generalist viewpoint and there is little that is inferable from it. Laura Ries has criticized the agency for drafting such an idea.

However, the agency explicates that “it was designed to reflect the feeling of anticipation one gets when something they have been waiting for finally happens." (as mentioned by Laura)

I specifically liked one of her remarks “A powerful advertising campaign takes advantage of what is already in the mind and then reinforces that idea. A powerful advertising concept is almost never an abstract idea”.
But again, she rightly points out that in a quest to claim “out-of-the-box” thinking and original creativity, most of the agencies do not reinvent the wheel…they necessarily change the wheel altogether!

I concur with Laura that there has to be some correlation of the tagline to the perception of a place and slogan should affirm to this perception. When Kerala was tagged as “God’s own country”, there was a rationale behind it.

How important or relevant is tagging of a city/state from tourism’s perspective? Take for instance any of the south-east Asian countries – Malaysia “Truly Asia” “Uniquely Singapore” “Amazing Thailand” … What has been the impact of these slogans? Has business improved due to branding?

The basic purpose of these slogans is that they ensure a high recall value of the respective places and reinforce their importance in the travel plans of any tourist. The tagline provides a subconscious image of the place and acts as the differentiator for that location in a cluttered marketplace.
According to an old article in Manic.com, branding is a powerful, concise way to communicate a country’s attractions and is done to create a distinctive image in the minds of people.
So be it South-Asia as a tourist destination or the US, the sub-elements need to have an identity of their own.
Located on the East coast, Atlanta needs to differentiate itself from other tourist hubs in its neighborhood to attract tourists and gain visibility.

Let me come back home… Is it time for cities in India to be branded too? If we take this assumption that differentiating is the objective, then the entities that need to be positioned varies with the markets. For South-east Asia, it would be the countries, for the US it would be the cities and for India, it would be the states (Control is at a State Level in India!) States have their own identity and the respective governments are working towards establishing their individual identity. Be it Jharkhand, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan or Kerala, all these states are eying a larger share of the tourism revenues and have therefore expedited their effort to be visible in the International Marketplace.
However, apart from a guided tour along these areas and scenic pleasures, there is very little that is being promoted. Kerala is scenic and so is Rajasthan. Just that there is “lush green versus camel race” type of decision that a tourist needs to make.
I think advertisers need to go a step further and assess the very existence and core values of particular states – identify their origins, find out their core competencies and then develop campaigns around these values subsequently. These, in effect, would act as sustainable differentiators.
Thailand has been amazing. Singapore has been unique. Malaysia is Truly Asia and India is incredible. Now, everyone knows this. What’s next?

Indian destinations need to speak a different language, and not just keep harping on diversity and convergence of cultures. It’s time branding is given some serious thought, not only at a macro level, but at a more micro level by the City Administrators and District authorities.
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