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BW Businessworld

Win Some, Lose Some

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Some months ago a telecom operator ran an evocative advertisement of a tiger cub stating "only 1,411 left". That campaign did not account for Shera, the tiger mascot of the Commonwealth Games 2010 (CWG), in its statistics. But the intervening days leading up to the CWG are threatening to prove that the timer is ticking fast not just for India's national animal, but also for her national pride.

The beauty, wealth and stability story that India has painfully crafted over the years — right from the huge investments globally on tourism ad campaigns of "Incredible India", the strides taken by Indian cinema on the world stage, to the examples of successful Indian executives overseas and Indian companies executing big-bang overseas acquisitions — stands in danger of coming under the darkest cloud.

Are we making too much out of a sports event? Certainly not, if what the Olympics did to China's image or how the Soccer World Cup had the world looking at South Africa with a new pair of lens, are indicators.

If policy advisor Simon Anholt, a specialist in National Identity and Reputation is to be believed, sports events by themselves do not brand a country, but are a blank canvas on which the country itself and the international media paint a wide range of opinions. Anholt, who lends his name to the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) that captures the brand power of nations, says that China showed a remarkable rise of six places (from 28th to 22nd) between 2008 and 2009, post its role as host of the 2008-Olympics. India's scores, interestingly, rose in several areas almost as much as China's did, without the benefit of the Olympics. But India's performance in the NBI at No. 26 has been quite volatile compared to China's slow, steady rise. This volatility could only increase if the CWG 2010 lives up to its‘nightmarish' expectations.

The immediate danger to brand India is in looking like a product that over-promised on its modernity and only delivered creaky infrastructure and urban chaos — one that could cause a major downward correction in India's international image and reputation. Of course, all this is even possible without having hosted the CWG 2010, except that the Games bring the country into sharper focus and scrutiny.

In the eventuality of the worst fears coming true, some cases from the recent past suggest that India might weather the storm. When the Satyam saga unfolded, it was believed that brand of Indian IT would take a beating as Satyam was considered one of Indian IT's crown jewels. But there is little evidence to suggest that has happened. However, view the recent past from the backdrop that social media such as Twitter and Facebook had not acquired their cult status two years ago and you are looking into a different kaleidoscope. Social media puts word-of-mouth on steroids and the fact that CWG is a trending topic on Twitter means that bad word-of-mouth is travelling faster than one can realise.

Anholt believes the strong reserve of goodwill towards India in many parts of the world will come to our rescue. There is less than 1,411 hours left to figure that out.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-10-2010)

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