Bifurcation has come at great cost to the people of undivided Andhra, not only financial and culturally, but reputationally.
The TRS propaganda machine exacerbated divisions by sowing suspicion and mongering grievance. This created the requisite atmosphere of discord for splitting the state. In the process, however, the nation itself has now become familiar with some of these stereotypes and has not altogether rejected them. We have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Damage has been done.
All this, of course, in an environment where Delhiite variety ignorance already views Telugu speakers as cookie cutter Madrasis (a trope that our Tamilian brothers are only too happy to perpetuate with their frequent declaration of “South Indian” this and that). But the truth of the matter is, we must take our requisite share of blame, for despite being excellent businessmen, the people of Andhra have been terrible marketers.
First and foremost, we have repeatedly allowed outsiders to define us (and then separate us) first with the foreign-derived Telangana label, then with the Madrasi/Dravidian colonial line, and then the generic bollywood South Indian. While there is nothing wrong in being associated with the South, which, let’s face it, is undeniably the most cultured part of India; at the same time, 80 million people should be confident enough to assert their own identity and polish it–this is the importance of Push and Pull Marketing. Andhras have failed at both.
Push marketing is assertively ensuring that people understand your distinctiveness through identification and repetition. If your North Indian friends and acquaintances keep referring to you as South Indian, you must emphasize that you have your own identity and they should pay you the courtesy of being aware of it. After all, Bengalis don’t appreciate being referred to as North Indian–why should Andhras, with the reciprocal? Similarly, we don’t say “North Indian-Rajasthani” just “Rajasthani”. There’s something inherently disrespectful and step-brotherly about even the national press discussing cross-cultural marriages of Indians as “Gujarati and South Indian”. Arey baba, which state?…
Our Tamilian friends–God bless ’em– are masters at this. Through their impressive love of language and pride in culture, they have been able to overshadow our brand (in fact, until recently with “IT gulti” snipes, we didn’t have much of one) despite our outnumbering them by well over a crore (80 million to 65 million). While they have been very successful at promoting awareness, there is another angle. Our jokes about “Arama aaghaayathyam” aside (Tamil friends, please bear with me and keep reading; I will make up for this), it must be noted that their brand of marketing has had a negative side and fallout: Dravidian separatism and perception as irascible (for all our faults, we Andhras are not guilty of this). As such, pull marketing becomes equally if not more important to ensure positive brand imaging.
Pull marketing deals with attractiveness. In strategic terms, it is what international relations scholar Joseph Nye refers to as “Soft Power“. The culture itself, whether through language, art, dance, music, literature, geography, history or cuisine, must be magnetic enough to not only retain the loyalties and interest of its own ranks, it must be able to reach out and positively draw in interest from others. Thus, to have a strong brand, it is not enough to merely shove images in peoples face and gain impressions–the brand equity itself must also be seen as attractive, thereby preventing this from being strictly a game of numbers.
While Punjabis (Bhangra, Mattar Paneer, Maharaja Ranjit Singh) and Bengalis (Sweets, Swamis, Sell-outs…jk, about that last one my Bong brothers…) may have a global weight of well over 100 million each behind them, the comparatively smaller Rajasthanis (Forts, Royalty, Romance)and Gujaratis (Garba-raas, Business, Bright fashion…and now Leaders) have forged excellent brands that are genuinely attractive. In fact, as of this week, the latter are all set to take national center stage.
The Punjabi case is particularly interesting because the younger generation was able to modernize what could have been seen as a rustic village dance and transformed it into avant garde dance music that not only appealed to other Indians, but even other civilizations.
Punjabi Sikh youth gave the whole world chart-topping music to dance to by reinvigorating it with popular hip hop music beats from America–and enhanced the then already robust Punjabi brand. This not only increased pride and reach, it also did something few cultures do–found a way to mine traditional cultural capital and release a version relevant and even popular in the modern context. After evaluating all these points, it becomes clear that the youth of these other Indic cultures are far more likely to take pride in who they are, and outsiders more willing to associate with the brand. Andhras must take note, and act accordingly.
To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad. Chandrababu Naidu single-handedly built not only the “Cyberabad” brand for Hyderabad, but also made Telugu near synonymous with techie. Our penchant for resume embellishment aside, the Telugu-speaking IT worker has almost become a cultural trope–though the Tamilians have managed to stake their claim here too (yet another reason to dislike SRK and Ra.One. How was his character not a Telugu speaker??!). Before the Telangana mess became all encompassing, even Sikh taxi drivers in the West drivers knew about that “Andhrawale Naidu” who put his state back on the economic map and on the road to the future. They even favorably mused on the merits of a CBN PM’ship.
But this is now all for naught, as Hyderabad is no longer the united capital of the Telugus; the Pune-wallahs, Chennai-ites, and of course the heavy weight champion Bangaloreans, have ensured there is no exclusivity to putting the Cyber in one’s city; and that “Andhra” is in fact now associated with settler/scamster courtesy of YSR and TRS trolls; one provided the proverbial molehills, the others made mountains out of them. And so, we cannot just sit on our hands. Ultimately, brand marketing deals with who and what we are and cuts to the core of our identity and the identity of future generations.
As such, it eminently clear that the people of Andhra (whether from Telangana or Seema) are due for a rebranding. The question is, how?
Rebranding: Do’s and Dont’s
To successfully rebrand a flagging identity, one must understand the do’s and don’ts. It also means understanding precisely what marketing in the internet age involves.
Branding requires not only content and advertising, but also research (into our past and present culture), design (how will this all be packaged), and strategy (what will we emphasize keeping in mind the actions of competitors).
As we move forward, here are some rules to keep in mind:
Rule #1: Always keep the Target Market in Mind
The single biggest mistake companies, whether in services or products, make is forgetting who their target market is. Simply put, if you don’t know where you are from and who you serve, you don’t know where you are going and why they will buy.
Our target market is divided into the following segments:
1. Telugu Speakers:
While we can always subdivide this into Seemandhra/Telangana or Youth/Old, the reality is our brand must first be appealing to our own Telugu people.
This means being authentic and distinctive. The Andhra brand must not only purvey what is authentically our heritage, it must also show how we are different (from other Indians, especially South) in a positive fashion.
Thanks in part to the effective push marketing job of Tamilians, the Telugu/Andhra brand is either unknown or second-rate. Understanding how to be a distinct and attractive brand to other Indians is critical to making sure our youth feel their own culture is respected by others. Young people get validation from their peers. We must show them how our culture is valid, even in the modern context.
This means not trying to be a lamer version of somebody else. Rather than trying to just create the next Bhangra (probably not going to happen, fellas) or Chicken tikka, the approach should be, “yes they have that, but we have this”. It also means emphasizing your own brand when the consumer misunderstands or mis-brands you.
Most importantly, the Andhra brand will be appealing to this segment if we jettison our inverted mass culture influencing high culture approach and return to high culture serving as example to mass. If we focus on promoting the lifestyle of unschooled provincials and preposterous storylines in our movies–we will only be seen as such.
3. Global elites
Punjabi, Rajasthani, and Bengali are the most established brands in the eyes of global (especially youth) elites (although Gujarati is now about to have its day in the sun…). This is due to bhangra, food, upgraded travel destinations, and literature.
Thus, to establish a clear identity for the Andhra brand amid the clutter and cacophony of India, the state of Seemandhra must engage in dharmic tourist development, clean urban and rural living, and emphasize function AND form.
The last one matters a lot. It is not enough to just present something that’s yours–it has to be appealing. See the difference between this and this. There must also be a tangible effort by state leaders to keep the state out of the news for the wrong reasons. Last year’s horrific Nirbhaya crime stained India’s global brand like never before. Andhras must know how to play defense as well, and protect their brand–not only through good governance, but also through PR and brand management.
So while what we purvey and possess must be authentic and distinctive, it must also be presentable and well-presented. With all due respect to our Telangana brothers, Seemandhra will invariably become the authentic representative of united Andhra culture, unfettered by biryani baggage from Hyderabad and Northern involvement. Thus, it is incumbent upon the new Seemandhra state to turn this disaster into an opportunity. To do that, we must first understand our target market.
Rule #2: Do no harm
What is new is not always better. While it is important to update one’s culture and brand, it is also critical not to throw out the baby with the bath water.
A number of classic brands have made changes over there years, sometimes to adapt to changing circumstances. Sometimes classic logos are brought back to cater to nostalgia.
Other times, being seen as slick, fresh, and modern becomes more important. In fact, America, which effectively invented marketing as an independent branch of knowledge, has also historically been the world’s greatest marketer. In 2008, it arguably embarked on one of the greatest political rebrandings for a country.
Rather than going with the old, tried, and tested, they went with what was new and cool. Most importantly, they made it a point to not do harm to the existing brand of what America stood for post-Bush. Rather than go with Bush lite, it was a complete rebranding that presented a global image, while remaining authentically American.
Andhra’s challenge is to find a way to do the same, without doing harm.
Rule #3: Focus your Pitch
It is not enough to make sure you know to whom you are selling, but to make sure it is relevant to them and easily understood by them. And so, one of the primary principles of marketing is that branding takeaways should be simple, short, and strategic. Just as you can’t please everyone, you can’t be everything. Typically, the consumer should be able to carry away three things–and if you’re a competent marketer, they should be positive things.
Therefore, our redesign of the Andhra brand must be relevant to the times. It is not enough to merely replicate the past, we must understand the global cultural-context we are in. This means presenting one’s self as tolerant, respectful of women, dynamic, fashionable, and progressive–while staying true to our roots and culture. This means keeping the baby, but throwing out the bath water.
It means not only ensuring our laws are in harmony with these principles, but also that attitudes themselves should be reflective of this, and our people open to criticism. Thus, our people must not only know how to be brand ambassadors, they should be able to receive and digest feedback. To be fair, this last part is an All-India failing, but perhaps Andhra can be the first to turn this around.
There are of course, many more rules and factors one should consider, but these are the most important, and should cover the essentials in the short space available. Irrespective, while the government of the new state would be well-advised to retain the services of a marketing consultant, it is incumbent on all people of Andhra to do the hard work of first learning about their culture (past and present) and intelligently mining, packaging, and presenting it to our youth, our fellow Indians, and fellow global citizens.
Each one of us is a brand ambassador for Andhra.
First, why do I insist on the “Andhra” label?
In the wake of bifurcation, our Telangana brothers (and even some in Seema) more than ever are insisting on Telugu rather than Andhra. But we must hold firm to the latter for many reasons. The most obvious basis is that the ancient name of our people and united region is in fact Andhra. Even the language was referred to as Andhram and the people Andhras (whether it was the Sons of Viswamitra ,the infamous Chanoora, or the glorious Satavahanas). This is also why my preference is to refer to “residuary Andhra Pradesh” as Seemandhra. It protects the all gulti-land applicability of Andhra, avoids calling it rump or residuary, and denotes the districts that it encompasses.
It also ensures that while TG may have broken off as a separate state, it must remain in the hearts and minds of all Telugu-speakers and Indians that Telangana is still a land of Telugus/Andhras. Some may be in favor of naming the coastal state “Telugu Nadu”, but this is also folly. For 1) it implies that Telangana isn’t Telugu (it most certainly is and will remain so) and 2) won’t help our existing”madrasi” branding issues due to the original TNadu next door. Reasserting the dignity of the name Andhra will restore pride in our people and their ancient heritage. It will also serve as warning to those with nefarious designs.
Let us also face it, much like Bengaluru, Telugu isn’t exactly a name that will strike fear in the hearts of our enemies or even give us international marketability. Our name for our undivided people and culture must itself command respect and be attractive to the foreign ear as well (i.e. Bangalore). Let us continue to refer to our beloved language as Telugu, but let us all (Telanganite or Seemandhraite) identify ourselves as Andhraites, Andhras, and sons/daughters of Andhra.
Naysayers may claim that it’s more convenient to make the regional culture synonymous with language (i.e. Bengal-Bengali, Gujarat-Gujarati, Odisha-Odia), but our friends from Kerala have managed to have their Keralite and Malayali too. There is no reason we cannot do the same.
Next, we must identify, understand, and agree upon our brand equity. Brand equity is the sum total of the images, ideas, sounds, flavors, principles, and symbols with which the brand is associated. As stated above, these should be distinct (from competitors), authentic (does what it says), and attractive (should be appealing to our youth and outsiders).
When designing the logo for the Andhra Cultural Portal, this was the brand equity we wanted the site to communicate for Andhra.
1. Diamond of India
2. Sweet Language
3. Culture without Condescension
1. Diamond of India
There is an exquisite sloka from Bhavabhuti‘s Sanskrit drama Uttaramacarita:
Vajraadapi katorani| Mrudooni kusumaadapi
Lokottaraanaam chetaamsi| Ko nu vighyaatumarhati
Harder than a diamond and softer than a flower
Who can gauge the conduct of super-eminent persons?
I believe this best describes our people when we are at our best. We are very accommodative (perhaps too much) of outsiders, but become hard as the diamonds our land is famous for when we are wronged. In the process, we advertise the fact that our region was historically famous for (and the only source of until recently) diamonds–and that our people too share the same quality. (This is also true even without Telangana’s Golkonda mines as Seemandhra retains a few diamond mine sites as well).
History itself is replete with evidence. It took the Delhi sultans 5 wars (in which they were twice unceremoniously defeated and stubbornly stymied once) before Maharaja Prataparudra of the Kakatiyas was finally undone. Even military historians have admired this redoubtable obstinacy in the wake of the full resources of northern India (and Maharashtra) at the disposal of the Turks. Vijayanagara is of course the more famous example, and, last but not least, our Nayaks and Palegadus (polygars) who stubbornly resisted both the Nizam and the British (Veerapandia Kattabomman being the most famous).
This redoubtable hardness is also apparent in our Ukku Steel, prized throughout the Medieval world.
Thus, emphasizing Andhra as the Diamond of India ensures recognition of a credible and appealing brand. It is a tagline that emphasizes not only the historic wealth of the state, but also represents economic opportunity in the future, for investors. If Rajasthan can brand itself “Land of Kings” and Kerala “God’s own Country“, there is no reason why Andhra cannot be “The Diamond of India“.
And for all our hard-on-their-luck lotharios out there, it should also help make your case to the ladies. After all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend…
2. Sweet Language
Bengalis may have cornered the market on Mithai, but all the rasagollas in the world wouldn’t make Bengali as sweet as Telugu. Despite their penchant for self-promotion (or pretentiousness as Monsoon Wedding termed it), Bengali has generally resonated only really with Bengalis .
Yet Telugu to this day, wins the admiration of virtually all the South, and beyond. As Krishna Deva Raya himself said “Desa bhasha landu Telugu lessa“. Even the infrequent Northerner who has heard it appreciates its closeness to Sanskrit. Indeed, while Hindi is arguably the most appealing all-purpose language and Sanskrit the most refined and civilized, mana Theeyamaina Tenugu is undoubtedly the sweetest. Thus, this should be the second pillar of our rebranding effort.
The “Italian of the East” moniker given by the medieval Italian visitor Niccolo Conti may be useful when presenting to Westerners, but it ultimately does injustice to our more ancient and more literary language. It is like calling Chanakya, “India’s Machiavelli”. The Theeyamaina Tenugu/Sweet language slogan however ensures that Telugu is admired on its own merits, rather than association with a …cough, cough…foreign brand.
3. Culture without Condescension
I know I have taken enough pot shots at Bengalis and Tamilians already, so let me pay them a few compliments. Tamilians have done an excellent job of revitalizing classical dance & music not only as artistes but as patrons (supporting even our own Balamurali Krishna gaaru). Indeed, Tamil Nadu’s Bharatanatyam has become the de facto classical Natyam of Bharat (take that Kathak!) both in India and among NRIs of all regions. M.S. Subbulakshmi was truly a nightingale–verily the voice of Vaikunta–and she is known throughout the country for her traditional singing. As for Bengalis, they have produced undeniable giants like Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. Though not in the same league, Jhumpa Lahiri (nee Nilanjana Sudeshna) has managed to subtly promote Bengal as well with her mono-themed books.
Nevertheless, both these brands, especially the latter, due to their high culture accomplishments, have been noted for their snobbery. Punjabis on the other hand have managed this condescension without the requisite high culture… (sorry mere pyaare doston Punjabian–but after that glowing advertisement above, I had to bring you guys back down to earth for your own good…).
Nevertheless, Telugu speakers have managed something unique. Despite their ancient cultural accomplishments and literary language of great refinement, they are almost always willing to accept others and even respect their languages in groups, colleges, and communities. This easy-going nature is Culture without Condescension.
A key part of this is very likely due to the high artform to which we have historically raised our comedic wit.
Rather than being thin-skinned in a conversational context, our people appreciate badinage, witty repartee, and good-natured teasing. We can take a joke as well as give one. Even the Hindi film industry’s go-to Comedian in the 90s was an Andhra wallah.
Therefore, we posit these three factors as the pillars for our Andhra brand. This will enhance recognizability, respectability, and (cultural, economic, and political) relevancy.
Like it or not, we live in an era of the “survival of the fittest“. That means globalization has ensured that protective walls cannot be erected to preserve ancient, traditional cultures. To make sure our Telugu language and Andhra culture not only survives but thrives in the new millennium, we must make sure it is appealing not only to our youth, but also to the rest of the country and world. That is the best way to ensure the state prospers not only culturally, but economically and politically as well.
To Rebuild Andhra we must first Rebrand Andhra.