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Monday, 07 November, 2011, 16 : 00 PM [IST]

The Rebranding of Goa

issue34_interactive_1.jpgThere are Perceptions; and then there is Truth.

They could be the same thing, but they seldom are. From a social and economic point of view, Perceptions are more important than Truth.  The Mahatma, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated because of Perceptions. Jesus was crucified because of a Perception and when Pilate was washing his hands he asked “What is Truth?”  There is an enormous industry built up around creating Perceptions: Advertising sells Perceptions even though their high profile campaigns are, often, far from the Truth of the products they peddle... for a while! So what is the general Perception of Goa?

We recently heard a completely unsolicited opinion about this. We were in the Swiss executive lounge awaiting our flight to Zurich. Sitting behind us were two men in dark business suits who had, obviously, been enjoying Swiss hospitality not wisely but too well. They were discussing plans for their next vacation. They got up when their fight was announced and then one of them blurted out “Goa? You must be joking. It was great when we were in college. Today, it is Sex, Sleaze and Scams!”

If they had asked us we would have told them that it was just not true. We don’t believe that any non-Goan knows more about Goa than we do. We’ve researched it, written a book about it, authored a large number of articles on the many charms of Goa, and unashamedly admit that our idea of an unwinding beach holiday is to chill out in Calangute and have our meals in Souza-Lobo. Very un-cool? Perhaps, but that’s what we like.

But if those two well-lubricated gentlemen had asked if we could deny that SSS was a fairly common Perception of Goa we’d not have been able to deny it. We repeat, however, that SSS is not a brand: it’s a Perception. Strictly, speaking, a Brand is a common word or phrase that has been given a whole new Product Image. ‘Saffron’ was a colour and a spice. It now refers, most assertively, to a brand of politics. ‘Truly Asia,’ once conjured up images of the Taj Mahal, elephants and dancing girls and that classically Indian image has been captured by Malaysia. Thanks to Amitabh Kant’s vision and sheer doggedness ‘Incredible’ now evokes India.

But a catch word or an inspired phrase will not sustain a brand image unless the product warrants it. Kerala has been quick off the mark in latching onto ‘God’s Own Country’ because its backwaters, its blue hills, its festivals and Ayurveda support the claim made by its branding.

What, then, does Goa have to offer that other states can’t match? Its beaches? Yeeess but... and that’s an ominous But. If Maharashtra has its way, and it can get its act together, it will give Goa very unfair competition: it has more beaches and a greater variety of them. So, for that matter, does Andhra. So what’s so special about Goa? What attracts visitors to Goa? Every Goan knows it, and so does every visitor, but it’s too politically incorrect to express it in so many words. We haven’t made a living for all these years by being mealy-mouthed and namby-pamby.  So we’ll say it loud and clear. Goa attracts tourists because of its Western lifestyle.
That may upset hypocritical netas and babus pandering to what they perceive as their vote banks. But don’t all Indian parents want to send their kids to ‘English medium’ schools and then, if possible, ‘to the abroad’? Should Goa then claim to be A Little Bit of Portugal in India?  That would be closest to the truth but quite unacceptable. How about Come to Goa and Go West, Blissfully? Too close to the bone, much too double entendre.

Let’s approach this re-branding exercise from another angle. We have to keep the image of Goa’s beaches: they should remain prominent in the brand image. Then the Carnival. It may be politically correct to promote Shigmo but as a regional festival it pales before Bengal’s Durga Puja, Maharashtra’s Ganesh Chaturthi, Kulu’s Dusshera, Kerala’s Onam and many others. Carnival is unique. We must not, also, in our obsession to be all things to all people, forget the vibrant food, dances and wines of Goa.

What image is coming across to you now?  Isn’t it something that is bright and cheerful, the warm and sunny opposite of the dark and slimy Sex, Sleaze and Scams perception?  If you agree with us, then all we have to do is to find the right, we don’t want to give it any of the ad-tech terms; we just want to call it a phrase... a phrase that conjures the right image,  captures the  mind and  lures the heart.  Is that so difficult to find? Not really. We must also say that Goa is the premier, the top-most, destination of choice for everyone, Indians and foreigners alike. In fact, we should aim to project Goa as the brightest light in the whole galaxy of destinations in Incredible !ndia.  How’s that for ambition?

If Goans really believe that their little state is the best destination in India, they should say so. Not just say it, assert it, Blare it from the skies high above! Are we suggesting lofting a huge balloon like the one Kalmadi burnt his fingers on in the CWG? That’s too full of hot air, or hydrogen, or whatever. Our phrase should capture that above-it-all image on its own merits without the taint of high-rising scams. One way or another, there’s been enough dirt dug up in Goa, pun unintended. We want something loftier, very much more inspiring.

So how about ‘Goa, India’s Place in the Sun.’ But after that, the product must sustain the re-branded image. Savvy?
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