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Incredible India or incredibly lazy?

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So now it’s the turn of Priyanka Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan to be the brand ambassadors for the Incredible India campaign. After the unsurprising departure of Aamir Khan post the intolerance debate, it’s a relief to know that Incredible India will not have to suffer without having adequate diplomatic representation. We may not re place our vacant constitutional positions for years, but let it not be said that we are tardy when it comes to appointing our brand ambassadors. And indeed, when it comes to representing the incredibleness of the many-splendoured land called India, who better than film stars? After all, which tourist from Sweden, Japan or Australia does not worship Bollywood stars?

To presume that India needs some celebrities to represent it is on a permanent basis not an easy case to make. It could be argued that a particular campaign might need an appropriate per son to carry the message the use of Aamir Khan in a campaign that scolded Indians for being mean and horrible to foreign tourists could perhaps be justified because that is consistent with his earnest persona.But in this case, the celebrity cart has been put before the campaign horse.

To be fair, the indiscriminate use of brand ambassadors is not something that can be seen only in the case of the government, the world of business too is guilty of the same. And while, there is a particular fascination we have developed with the concept of the brand, our understanding of the same is somewhat limited.

The formulation called Brand India is in itself an interesting one, for it seeks to compress the complexity of India into a consumer-friendly confection. The move from India to Brand India erases the messiness of the larger Indian reality and dresses up the nation to serve a specific narrow purpose — attract investments, attract tourists, and in gen vestments, attract tourist and in general, emit good news with catchy slogans, preferably using acronyms.

Why not use Modi as brand ambassador?

In Modi’s case too, the aura of clarifying strength that he projects has been enabled by the deployment of a complex system of actions, images and symbols — the frequent mention of a 56 inch chest, the nuanced use of language, the clever ‘Namo’ contraction, the invocation of Sardar Patel, the declamatory style of communication — these are but a few of the elaborate instruments of branding that are used, both consciously and unconsciously by him. All of them serve to paint a specific picture, which was helps build the aura around the Modi brand of leadership.
Branding is not an act of generic promotion — for both Kejriwal and Modi, branding helps concentrate their message without rendering it simplistic. Using brand ambassadors thoughtlessly, on the other hand, reveals that one has low belief in what one is setting out to market. Unless the ambassador is helping exemplify that which makes the brand distinctive, he or she becomes a prop to get attention that the brand itself is presumed not to have the power to attract.

But then, the lazy use of celebrities is a sign of the times. The celebrity is a marker of significance, regardless of the subject under discussion. It speaks for our desire for aura, without an interest in that which causes it. It is consistent with the lack of nuance in our public discourse, where issues get emotionally inflated into sweeping narratives. As a beacon of the unspecific, the celebrity is effect without content, and that we have so much time for it says something about us.

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