Advertising India without pimping it

I’ve never been a big fan of the Incredible India tourism advertising campaign. I find it orientalist and tacky, like the images below:

Coffee Brown? WTF – why are they advertising india based on the “exotic” skin color of the Indians?

Still, I concede that it’s hard to advertise India without being a bit exotic, after all, you’re trying to appeal to tourists based on cultural novelty. They’re not going to India for the skiing, they’re going because the culture is different.

That’s why I was so tickled by the television advertisement below for the 15th International Pondicherry Yoga Festival [via BB]. I thought it did a good job of showcasing some amazing yoga, but doing so as incredible physical activity rather than random freak show. For some reason, I found the video appealing and it didn’t set my orientalism alarm off, even though they were showing some impressive contorsions.

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Did they do something different here or did they just do it better? Or perhaps you feel these ads are just as orientalist and exotifying as the GOI’s ads … what say you?

35 thoughts on “Advertising India without pimping it

  1. this commercial is just plain beautiful and it feels genuine … like they aren’t merely trying to sell you something.

  2. I think the ad is so over-the-top that it doesn’t come off as offensive. Just cool. And funny. Combined with the music it’s fun to watch. I’d be interested in attending based on that ad. Did anybody else know that Pondicherry changed to Puducherry?

    A few other ads that have caught me eye (I’m prepping for the meetup) are (I can’t find these online):

    The Glad trash bag commercial where movers lift a piano only to drop it and stuff the remains into a gladbag while sequenced bhangra plays in the background.

    The Kashi cereal commercial shot on some spice farm in South India or Sri Lanka.

    Has anybody else seen these?

  3. Ravi,

    I have seen both the commercials you talking about, although I have to admit that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Bhangra music in the Glad Commercial. There is also a time warner VOIP commercial in the New York area where the lady is speaking in Hindi to her relatives and is cooking a desi meal. Time warner has been running minority themed commercials but the one with the Indian couple was the first with a desi theme.

  4. Blue, yes, the O person at the end looks like a skull with some big eyes. Looking over this commercial again, I think it’s nice that the ad shows off the city while advertising their yoga convention.

    The audio isn’t so good, but here is the glad commercial

  5. I loved the commercial. Thought it was cool in a over the top “everyone in India does yoga” way and it was just a fun ad to watch. Visually fun. I didn’t find anything offensive about it and lets get real, any festival about yoga is largely geared towards non Indian folks who need a little bit of exoticism in the first place to show.

    The Glad trash bag commercial where movers lift a piano only to drop it and stuff the remains into a gladbag while sequenced bhangra plays in the background. The Kashi cereal commercial shot on some spice farm in South India or Sri Lanka. Has anybody else seen these?

    Oh I’ve seen them both and found the choice of music super cute in the Glad commercial and I just caught the Kashi ad yesterday and thought it was really nice. Mostly because most of the Kashi ads are along similar themes and it wasn’t exoticizing it was just real.

  6. This post brings back some memories…

    In high school a senior, when I was a junior, used to call me “Coffee”. I thought it was racial, but found out (as I’d recently returned from India back to the USA) that “Sanka” was indeed a coffee brand AND it’s defintely a convinient spin off my name. He kept mocking me in gym, so, we got into a shouting match and the coach intervened before fists started to fly. When the dude found out that I thought it was a racial thing, he apologized and explained the link to me. He didn’t bring it up after that.

    The irony is that a whole bunch of my friends call me “Sanka” now.

  7. Beautiful! and what’s great is that they show yoga can actually be done without $$$$ yoga pants made of bamboo and sweat whisking fibers! loved it.

  8. I may not be 100% correct, but I think I just saw a Domino’s pizza commercial with a desi dude in it.. Did anybody else see that, or am I hallucinating after too much of sepiamutiny?

  9. The yoga ad made my hair stand on end. Yuck. Yoga isn’t about contortion anyway, so the ad is not only exoticizing and orientalizing, it is distorting (and contorting) reality.

    I should have said something which rhymes with ‘yuck’ as in “that freaking ad is the most Godyucking piece of kitschy trash ever to make it on to the internet”.

  10. Isn’t tourist media usually an attempt to exotify? That’s the point, really, that the destination is somehow more fantastic than where you are now. As advertising, it’s semi-accurate, since the exotic is partially true. So shouldn’t the Indian tourist bureau really pour it on thick if they are trying to attract middle-class tourist dollars?

  11. The video was an ad for the “15th International Puducherry Yoga Festival, January 2008″; I think the theme is apt. However, most of the actors come across as rank amateurs with a very rudimentary grasp of technique. I hope the Festival had better quality than that on display.

  12. Naah! its not exotification. Its cool. Stop overintellectualizing it. And, we are not brown then? That upsets our ‘community’s feelings’ -BS! People will whine about anything-our culture fetishizes ‘gora rang’ so a brown ad once in a while is okay.

  13. So you think it’s OK for the GOI to run tourist ads in America with photos of Indians with the label “Coffee”?

    Could you imagine France running ads with photos of French men labelled “Whitey”?

  14. Ennis,

    From the website it looks like Coffee Brown is being used in relation to Deserts and not the person in the picture, although I agree it looks misleading. Click on the link and click on the man’s picture and it takes you to details about Deserts of India.

  15. “Could you imagine France running ads with photos of French men labelled “Whitey”?”

    No. Three reasons: 1. France is still probably the most visited country (tourist-wise) in the world, so it doesn’t need to advertise much at all 2. Advertising in a majority white country about visiting ‘Whiteys’ in another country wouldn’t be incentive enough 3. Even if they did, it would be something analogous, such as “Milk” (for coffee, that is) :-)

  16. Once again I don’t think the ad is talking about the color of the person, it is using Coffee Brown to describe the color of the Indian Deserts, I have never met anyone in India who describes themselves as brown.

  17. Once again I don’t think the ad is talking about the color of the person, it is using Coffee Brown to describe the color of the Indian Deserts, I have never met anyone in India who describes themselves as brown.

    Why did they put it on a photo of a person? They were happy to illustrate other colors with photos of natural landscapes.

    You’re right that nobody in India would describe themselves that way, but this is meant for foreign consumption.

  18. The yoga ad made my hair stand on end. Yuck. Yoga isn’t about contortion anyway, so the ad is not only exoticizing and orientalizing, it is distorting (and contorting) reality.

    Agreed. The commercial is disgusting. I especially hate the part with the men crossing the street doing yoga, and the one where they’re HANGING FROM TREES. Geez.

  19. I thought it did a good job of showcasing some amazing yoga, but doing so as incredible physical activity rather than random freak show.

    My problem with the ad was that it was incomplete. If it had shown a gaggle of Indians writing COBOL code with their toes while doing the rope trick, it would have really covered all its bases.

  20. Ennis,

    I agree and that is the part I am conflicted I can’t find the actual picture to check if clicking on it takes to a bigger picture with the landscape. I agree with you that it is stupid as it stands right now.

  21. Why did they put it on a photo of a person? They were happy to illustrate other colors with photos of natural landscapes.

    It is a picture of a Rajasthani man. If you click the “Coffee Brown” pic, it takes you to a page about Desert in India, namely, the Thar Desert.

    Rajasthan = Thar Desert = People who live in the desert, make it worthy of toursim.

  22. Hey Ennis,

    Do you have any questions for the creators of the Incredible India campaign? My uncle’s ad agency is in charge of the account… I can ask around about why they chose to go in the direction they did. I know Sunil the creative director at Ogilvy and Mathur… and I’ll prolly be hanging around in the office in Mumbai some time next week or the week after.

    I didn’t know they did the “pure white/coffee brown” ad… i think some of the other prints that i’ve seen are really quite beautiful… but i do agree that some of them are really obnoxious…

  23. the creative director at Ogilvy and Mathur

    that was cute and totally inadvertent I’m sure. :-)

  24. Umber Desi,

    yup i did… sorry… typo… i’ve had a hectic couple of days… but in all honesty i can ask him about the campaign and get back to you guys.

    i was actually talking about this thread with my brother last night. he used to intern in the office and he agrees that they’re definitely Orientalist but that the ad campaign is geared to a luxury consumer set that has an impression of india as conveyed by orientalist literature [i.e. E.M. Forester or anything by Kipling] and films. I agree that the Indian ad agencies shouldn’t be perpetuating this idea but its about money and about attracting tourism.

    I think the Pure White/Coffee Brown ad was probably just an attempt at being funny. From meeting a lot of the ad circuit in india… they have a peculiar sense of humor.

    I mean here are some of their other ads… http://adsoftheworld.com/files/images/smoke_high.preview.jpg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBTRv14_Jfc

    Anyways… i’m too tired and emotionally spent [sorry... its been a completely nutty week] to get in a huge argument over an ad that I truly don’t think is representative of the entire campaign. Ennis, you’re right that particular example… is really irritating and if i’d seen it on a bus or in a magazine… i’d been annoyed about it too.

  25. 33 VickoVegadenti

    i don’t see a way of contacting your cousin from his site…can you direct me to his contact info? thanks