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Can the sounds of a place or an evocative poem about a town or simply a primary school essay on a village be used to promote the tourism of all these locations? If we look at branded content by Kerala Tourism, then the answer is yes, very much so. A location, of course, is made up of its monuments, parks, sanctuaries, waterfalls, and other such attractions but it also is constituted by its people.

The ubiquitous yet unique humanness of a place lies at the centre of recent videos by Kerala Tourism. They foreground the inherent element of extraordinary in the otherwise seemingly ordinary destinations within the Indian state. The tourism promotion strategy here drops the well-known theme of ‘splendour of heritage’ to focus on the mundane, on everyday experiences.

#1 Humans by nature:

The concept behind ‘Humans by Nature’ lies in the essential blending of humans into nature and living side by side. Scenes from nature such as the vast ocean or the deep forest feature as large backdrops in the video, enhanced further in scale by human beings who appear minuscule. For instance, there are napping tourists under a large tree, a sole fisherman in the middle of an ocean, and small kids running alongside great elephants.

Navigating through the everyday lives of Keralites, one sees people bathing beside an elephant, commuting to work on boats, sitting in both internet and food cafes along with French or Russian tourists or just being spellbound when a Kathakali dancer emerges in his entire glory.

The video brings forth the nexus of cultures and religions, which is an important feature of life in Kerala by showing clips from temples, churches, and mosques. The fact that people remain at the centre of it all is reinforced at the end by multiple shots of people from the video staring into the camera, directly.

#2 Kerala Monsoon Vibes:

From petrichor to the cool monsoon breezes, rain has been romanticised beyond measure. Yet, Kerala Tourism curates an experience of rain as it occurs in the lives of inhabitants. Rain signifies a break from the monotony of everyday life. It is a symbol to reset. The rain in Kerala is shown to be so magical that it exercises a hold over the lifestyles of all those experiencing it and even brings about an essential change.

Hence, the video, which is shot mostly within one odd household in Kerala, creates a universal appeal by addressing the need to take a break. One resonates with the family in the video as they sit back observing the rain and actively enjoying their sense of touch.

#3 Alleppey: Human by Nature:

This short film fires up one’s imagination through the simple technique of showing the backwaters of Alleppey in black and white! The video is punctuated by a beautiful poem possibly from Changampuzha Krishna Pillai’s iconic Ramanan. The poem evokes images of golden waves and emerald scenery as drone shot-scapes of Alleppey all in black and white fill one’s mind space. The use of a literary masterpiece along with the scenery of a place puts across the locals’ viewpoint effectively. Thus, Alleppey a destination known worldwide for houseboat cruises and the like, is humanised and given a character of its own.

#4 Tales from My Village:

“Hi, friends! Welcome to my home” is how a young school going kid begins this video as she begins a homework assignment and takes viewers around her village. A video essay begins alongside a written one for the school assignment.

Ducks, turtles, classmates bathing or plucking mangoes — all form a part of the journey as the little girl’s boat makes its way to school. Quirky neighbours and floating shops also feature in what is an everyday morning routine in a far-off village in Kerala.

Through a video essay narrated by a young local student, a nameless village in the backwaters of Kerala not just comes to life but is also made into a destination that is worth exploring.

#5 The Voice of Vypin:

The curious title makes for an even more curious video, here. The known attractions of Vypin such as ferry rides, authentic cuisine, and dolphins are all kept aside to foreground the ‘voice’ of the place.

This piece explores the role played by the sounds and voices of a place in defining that place. Sounds of waves, birds, forest, and an oar hitting the water are accompanied by the voices of the locals. One hears local boatmen communicating in their own codes and finally, the background score is taken over by a local woman’s folk song.

So, the local sounds come to define the island of Vypin.

Decoding the Strategy

Nowadays, there is abundant information available for just about any place on Earth. Branded content by Kerala Tourism is thus woven around symbols of a place that are not listed usually on a travel website. Known attractions are complemented by unknown human stories. In fact, one does not think of ‘attractions’ while consuming this content, rather the focus is very organically maintained on the signs of local life.

The last few years have seen a heightened fascination with human stories associated with a place. The increased appetite for lived human experiences in far off or nearby destinations can be gauged from the phenomenal growth of initiatives such as Humans of New York or Humans of Bombay. The universality of human stories connects one with a place even before one has a chance to visit it. So, a metropolitan housewife or an overworked employee connects with a housewife in Kerala who is anticipating rain in the hope of taking a break.

The content by Kerala Tourism stays firmly rooted in Nativist themes and celebrates the ordinary. School teachers, nuns, fishermen, housewives, dancers, mahouts are all signifiers of everyday lived culture. These signifiers accompanied by very well-thought-out symbols of calm (sounds, folk culture, forests, elephants, waves, school kids on their morning routine, etc.) construct an imaginary place that occupies a consumer’s mind. The timelessness created through literary pieces or evocative references to centuries-old myths generates a desire to experience all this first hand.

Kerala Tourism’s content capitalises on a very prominent contemporary phenomenon associated with travelling — travel vlogs! The videos feature many moments from every day that one would usually see in a travel vlog. The commentary by a vlogger is of course replaced by poetically written monologues in English or Malayalam in the videos by Kerala Tourism. By keeping parts or whole of the narration in Malayalam, an authentic local flavour and feel take over the tourism videos. It creates a sense of actually being in the place already. The local language is a seminal part of travel vlogs as creators often communicate with the locals. The videos by Kerala Tourism depict places like an internet cafe that one might end up visiting for practical reasons and not for reasons of tourism. Interestingly, travel vlogs often cover places like these and more. So, branded content here is in large parts inspired by content produced by prosumers themselves.

Even as everything depicted in the aforementioned videos is ordinary, there is a sense of exoticism that might manifest itself to a consumer sitting in a landlocked city or any other city where the pace of life is hectic. The whole idea of a laid-back life by the water or living so close to nature is given a new meaning by the powerful storytelling that Kerala Tourism uses. Through tales of many subaltern lives in pristine and unpolluted environs, the idea of exploring an alternative lifestyle is made worthwhile.

Taking a leaf out of Kerala Tourism’s book, brands can thus adequately maximise their messaging via exploring the rather ordinary symbols associated with a place or product. They can further amalgamate an already famous phenomenon (vlogging in this case) from the field into their branded content to find a wider resonance. Tales, myths, songs originating from the landscape itself can be employed to create an authentic aura that is both ordinary and exotic at once.