Thursday, January 18, 2007

Look Left For Leadership

If you thought embracing capitalism was ‘the’ sure-shot way to any nation’s success, allow us to whisper sweetly that you couldn’t have been far from being magnanimously... wrong!

More than three decades ago, the Vietnam War ended and US troops went home. Yet, ‘Nam still haunts the psyche of many Americans. After all, the US had done then to Vietnam, exactly what it did to Iraq a few years ago. Even today, the grey images of the Vietnam War are fresh in people’s minds. Images of a girl running in terror, her body scorched by napalm; images of people fighting to board a helicopter, as it took off from the roof of the US embassy; images of a nation destroyed and devastated by the US of A. Yet, a few months ago, when George Bush arrived in Hanoi for a trade summit, he saw a country that was booming. Most interestingly, today, America has become Vietnam’s biggest trading partner.

Vietnam, which is known as ‘the Paris of the East’, with its beautiful lakes and lush green parks, is today glistening. Vietnam is today the fastest growing economy in South-East Asia. The war, which had scared the nation years ago, today has turned into a big tourist attraction. You would find war memorabilia being traded like hot cakes in the market place. Hawkers jostle to sell dog tags and Zippo lighters that supposedly belonged to American Pilots! The war is over, today Vietnam is racing ahead. It promises to become a developed nation by 2020. Vietnam’s growth rate of 8.4% has exceeded that of Thailand, Malyasia, Taiwan, South Korea and even India in some quarters. In fact, American companies like Intel and Nike are pouring in billions of dollars into Vietnam. In 1990, 51% of the people of Vietnam were living in abject poverty. Today, only 8% of its people earn less than $1 a day. Vietnam is the latest Asian economic tiger and it’s roaring real loud. This time, it’s truly – good morning Vietnam!

Vietnam may have opened its gates to the outside world, yet it’s a communist country and has an authoritarian one-party state. Freedom of speech and democracy may be an alien concept, and still no one seems to be complaining. To top it all, the pace of its exports to the United States is rising faster than even China’s. The new middle class wealth is visible in the swarm of motorcycles that have filled the city streets. In fact, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could not resist a ride in one of them when they visited Vietnam sometime back. Researchers predict that it won’t be long before people start switching form bikes to cars – after all, the country is really doing well for itself. Life expectancy has increased, infant mortality has decreased. Most of the children in Vietnam are enrolled in schools.

Vietnam leaders have promised to make Vietnam a modern industrial nation by 2020. Of course, many nations, including ours, have promised this to their people; the only difference being – Vietnam means it!

If the Vietnam saga sounds great, China perhaps would be nothing short of brilliant. Take a look at a few numbers and statistics and then decide for yourself. Between 1979 and 1997, China’s GDP grew by 9.8% annually, about three times greater than the world average. Some 170 million people were lifted out of poverty. Even the United Nations had to admit that never in the history of the world have so many people made such economic progress in a single generation.

In the 1970s, China was an insignificant participant in the international market. Reforms started in 1978; and since then, China has recorded one of the world’s highest growth rates. Today, China is unarguably one of the most dominant players in the international arena.

Even the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 did not halt the wheels of growth of China. At that time, when the West and Japan stopped investing in China, the Chinese living outside the mainland put in huge investments and provided the much needed funds to China. In three years, China’s growth went upto 12% per annum. The world was startled and soon the Americans, Europeans & Japanese were once again interested in China. After all, a little repression, a little violation of human rights, are not reasons enough to stop a good investor. Bill Clinton soon granted China the MFN (most favoured nation) status and the World Bank once again resumed lending to China.

Today, China is booming. China’s GDP rose from $150 billion in 1978 to more than $1.6 trillion in 2004. And to say China’s exports are booming, is a very huge understatement.

Deng Xiaoping had said, “To get rich is glorious;” and China has shown this to the world. The ideological debate of whether capitalism or socialism is better has come to a conclusion. You see China and you realise that communism is not only relevant, but potentially the key to deciding the shape of the country’s future.

Notably, the socialism of the 21st century seems to be different. It’s more of a planned economy than a bureaucratic totalitarian state that existed in Stalinist Russia. Many countries, especially the Latin American ones, have realised that prosperity and happiness can be achieved by supporting and promoting this 21st century socialism.

And if there is one country that has shown what a socialist government can do, that is Chile. From 1973 to 1990, the country dwindled and withered away under the nasty dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Then came Ricardo Lagos whose socialist party changed things, and how. Today, the reigns have been taken over by Michelle Bachelet and Chile seems to be doing very well. Lagos was a genius, whose thesis (written in 1960) earned him the title, “The Mozart of the Economy.” Creditably, he helped reduce the inflation in his economy. In 2005, Chile grew at an impressive rate of 6.5%. Poverty has fallen sharply in Chile, from 39% in 1990 to about 19% today. The Chileans are realising that their economy is looking up and what seemed like a distant dream – of becoming a prosperous and developed country – seems to be well within their grasp. Chile has shown that you don’t have to kowtow the US to be successful. It is firmly against Washington, but with the right kind of leadership it has nothing to fear.

There seems to be yet another socialist who minces no words when it comes to expressing his feelings about USA. It’s the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavéz (above top). He is totally anti-capitalist and knows that the only way to reach promised objectives of a better life and the end of exploitation is through a socialist form of government. Not surprising that 82% of Venezuelans think Chavéz is doing a good job. Come to think of it, it’s more than twice the approval rating by Americans of Bush. Chavéz has used Venezuela’s oil profits to lift the poor out of poverty. Bush used oil to destroy a whole nation and kill its leader (Saddam). The poor love Chavéz, for they see their lives improving under him. Is he the next Fidel Castro? Perhaps, but he is surely a hero. Cheers once again to his leadership – for Venezuela is today the fastest growing economy in the hemisphere.

There’s definitely something about socialism. From Hugo Chavéz to Evo Morales of Bolivia, it seems like a wave of “leftism” has swept over Latin America. There is Lula and his Worker’s Party in Brazil, there’s Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Vazques in Uruguay. They have probably seen that democracy did little to eradicate poverty and corruption or reduce inequalities. The “Left” is returning. And this time, it’s making sure it does not commit the mistakes it made in Soviet Union. This “new Left” is more viable, more sensitive and sensible; and definitely very effective. It would not be long before this region becomes a force to reckon with. Vietnam and China have shown the way and many are following them.

“Revolution is not a dinner party,” wrote Mao Tse-tung when he was a young Communist leader. It required grit, determination, and most of all, compassion towards the poor. Only then can a nation truly progress and become a force to reckon with. Socialism is a very young system. Capitalism could not achieve what socialism has done to Latin America or Asia. Socialism has shown what it can do. Look at USSR and Cuba. It’s probably worth putting our faith in the system and giving it a chance.

India has the best natural resources, the best brains, the best people, the best culture and yet it’s not growing the way it should. What it lacks is a proper ideology and a strong leader. Isn’t it time we learn from others? Isn’t it time to look Left for leadership?

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Where the Bali Hell are you?

We’ve poured you a beer, we’ve had the camels shampooed, we’ve saved you a spot on the beach, we’ve even got the sharks out of the pool! So mate...

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step,” said Lao Tzu many years back. If I may be allowed to re-word it, I’d say a journey of a thousand miles sometimes begins with a single advertisement! An exciting photograph, a catchy by-line, or maybe exciting folklore sometimes, is enough to make you want to visit a particular place. We all dream of far-off places which we want to visit, and if we come across a photograph or a write-up that matches our dream, the chances of going there are increased.

Tourism today is a big industry and countries need to seriously look into the way their nations are promoted and how they are viewed by the outside world. A clever marketing strategy can reap in rich dividends for an economy, and many countries have realised this. Hong Kong has shown how a small island can become a popular tourist destination through sustained advertising. Tourism is a big money-spinner and they are leaving no stone unturned to attract people. This year, till September, 15.7 million people had already visited Hong Kong – and this was the total number of visitors for the whole of 2003. Singapore now plans to rope in 21 million visitors next year. San Diego says tourism is their third largest industry. It gives them foreign exchange, provides jobs to the locals – they earned $6 billion through these visitors. They have come out with a campaign which goes, “365 days of Ahhhhhh!” and they are planning to spend $2.9 million on this campaign.

People who see an ad are twice as likely to visit the state website and twice as likely to call the toll-free number and request information. Kerala, with its sustained advertising, saw a 30% increase in traffic to the South. About 40% of the total tourists, that India gets, head straight to Goa or Kerala.

They are most aware about these places. North India has actually seen a drop in tourists since no good campaign has excited people in a long time. One could just look at the way ‘Truly Asia’ Malaysia and ‘Uniquely Singapore’ have advertised themselves. They have events lined up all the year round, which keep attracting different kinds of tourists and giving them reasons to stay longer. Even a burning desert like Dubai attracts visitors in large numbers. People need a reason to visit, but they also fear the unknown. That’s where the ad steps in! If it’s a famous city, the ad helps to highlight some more unique things about the destination. If it’s a little known place, the ad provides information about the weather, the people and culture – something that Ogilvy did years ago, when he made an ad for Singapore. Back then, no one had any clue what Singapore was like. His ad ran a headline, which stated, “Singapore is fantastic,” and then gave a detailed description of the place.

Not just this, but you must know what to sell to whom. Selling snow to a penguin won’t work, just as selling ski resorts to a Swiss won’t; they have the best ski resorts in the world. Similarly, the French will not be lured by American cuisine to come to America. So you need to be sensitive to the cultural likes and dislikes and tastes of the people. You need to research well to understand what they like and then show your country from that perspective. There is a lot that a well-planned campaign can do for a country. Just keep a few things in mind.

Give a reason, why?

“We’ve poured you a beer and we’ve had the camels shampooed, we’ve saved you a spot on the beach. We’ve even got the sharks out of the pool. So where the bawly hell are you.” What if a beautiful bikini-clad blonde were to invite you like this. It would be irresistible. So it’s proving to be for many as they are packing their bags and rushing to Australia. This was an ad campaign for promoting tourism in Australia and bookings have already started, and they are being flooded with phone enquiries. This new campaign, which would run for over two-and-a-half years, would cost the Australian government $180 million, but it’s worth it, for it’s a $73 billion industry.

You need to give a solid reason why someone should come to your country – a unique position, a unique experience, to encourage the traveller to include your country in his travel plans. After all, people would not go half way around the world to see things they could very well see at home.

Years ago, when Jamaica was a little known country, Doyle Dane Bernbach created a campaign for it. It went like this, “In Jamaica, we treat our country as though it were one enormous living room. Be our guest.” The ad showed two men sitting on beach chairs, with sea waves lapping at their feet, playing chess. It was a classic, when it came to travel advertising. People came to see this beautiful and hospitable country. Today, Jamaica has found a new way to attract visitors. You get a once-in-a-lifetime experience to swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Cove.

One reason that never fails to attract people is celebrity endorsement. Nothing gets a destination more attention than when celebrities visit it, or when celebrities promote it. After hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, not many were sure if they could still holiday there. Nobody convinces people better than a celebrity. So New Orleans came out with an ad campaign, which used all celebrities – who had some or the other Louisiana connections – appear on television asking people to return to enjoy the state’s unique culture, arts, food and music. The campaign was named “Fall in love with Louisiana all over again.” Likewise, New Jersey got help from its celebrity native Jon Bon Jovi and his hit single, Who says you can’t go home! The song rode high on the Billboard list and so did the number of tourists to New Jersey.

India too has found its bevy of famous faces. ITDC has decided to rope in Bollywood stars to promote India as an attractive tourist destination. Amitabh, Rani, Preity would all be used to sell India abroad. Not just this, India seems to have given the world a reason – why they should come here. Kerala, with its wonderful campaign titled “God’s own country,” showed the world the serene backwaters of Kerala. Not just this, Ayurveda and Yoga seem to be the two things that India has to offer, which are capable of transforming people’s lives. The Incredible India campaign too has helped to show how different and unique India is. Tourists are slowly including India in their travel plans too.

Just as a brand needs a unique benefit for people to buy it, a country needs a unique image to differentiate it from others. It needs to offer something unique for people to travel to it.

Change Perceptions

Not many would consider Israel as their idea of a fun-filled holiday. Everyone has a certain not-so-happy perception of Israel. This is exactly what the ad agency targetted, promoting Israel as a fun-filled tourist destination. The 30-second commercial, which appeared on TV in New York, Florida and Los Angeles, showed scenes, touristic images and activities that people did not normally relate to with Israel. The ad ended with a punch line – “Israel. Who knew?” After these ads, people suddenly realised that this was not a place where bullets whizzed over your head as you walked down the streets. It was very much a regular town. Tourism from the United States increased by 31%. Not surprisingly that this year, they are planning to increase their advertising budget to $150 million. Everyone knows Israel is a Holy Land, but not many know it’s a happening land too. Israel has learnt – it pays to advertise, and damn well!

Puerto Rico, everyone believed was dirty, ugly and squalid, till David Ogilvy drew up an advertisement for them. People suddenly realised that it was not a dirty, poor island, but a beautiful holiday destination. Ogilvy’s ad, “Girl by a gate-in old San Juan,” was a master piece. It changed the fortunes of the country as visitors flocked in droves to enjoy the pleasures of this destination.

After 9/11, US saw a drop in the number of the tourists. The one city that rebounded faster than any other city was Philadelphia. This was primarily because of its $2 million summer tourism campaign. The commercial was entitled “Philly: The Musical.” It came with a tagline that went like this, “Philly’s more fun when you sleep over... and over again.” It was a novel way of promoting the “Philly Overnight Hotel Package.” The ad showed a guy who wakes up and is inspired to explore Philadelphia – not realising he is in his pyjamas! The Pyjama Man was liked by all and the advertisement grew to be a huge success.

Think of Japan and you think of two things – the Sumo wrestler and the Geisha. Japan’s major chunk of tourists belonged to the over-50 age group, who were interested in seeing its temples, gardens and Mt. Fuji. The Japan National Tourist Organisation wanted people to change their opinions about Japan being nothing but full of generations old traditions. They wanted people to know that Tokyo was throbbing and pulsating with excitement, much like New York, Paris and London. The ads were titled, “Cool Japan – Fusion with Tradition.” They showed how you could see the Geisha along with the latest modern fashion, the Sumo wrestlers and Buddhist retreats, along with their latest high-tech gadgets, neon lights and manga art. All this at an economical price of £689 for six days. What more can a tourist ask for? So much of fun and variety – all at a reasonable price. Japan should open its gates wide, for tourists are bound to come, and that too, in very large numbers.

The advertisements play a major role in building an image of a country. They can convince you that thousands of miles away is a destination that has everything you are looking for. Tourism ads work like invitation cards to a happening party. We all need a break, and ads give a small preview of the pleasures to be found on the promised land. So, after the deadly Tsunami struck the tourist town of Bali, tourism fell pathetically low. Bali was particularly worried about the fact that Australians were not coming back. They were too scared to return, while the rest of the world had already started to flock back. Only intelligent advertising could help build back the faith. Nothing relaxes you more than a good laugh and that is exactly what the advertising campaigns did. The ad said, “Aussie...look what you’re missing,” and went on to show how the rest of the world was enjoying Bali, and asked Aussies, “Where the Bali hell are you?” The concept clicked and people saw that Bali was back to normal and they could return to it. Depending on place, the ads lure people to pack their bags & sit on a plane, heading straight to your country. The ads show how vibrant & exciting the country is, how everyone is having a good time... Guys, where the “Bali hell” are you?!

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